December 17, 2020

Reminder: Pets are a huge personal, financial responsibility

By haziqbinarif

Don’t impulse buy a pet for yourself or anyone else. Every pet, from a dog to a hamster, has a unique set of needs and can be a large financial responsibility.

PORTLAND, Ore. — With the excitement of the holidays around the corner, here is your yearly reminder that that impulse purchasing a pet (of any size) is not a good idea.

But don’t take our word for it, even the experts say so.

Don’t gift a pet without doing the research

“It is so wonderful to think of bringing a pet into your house and having that love and sharing that love,” said Associate Veterinarian Sarah McCormack. “But you need to think about all of the pieces of the equation.”

Dr. McCormack works at the Northwest Neighborhood Veterinary Hospital, located at 2680 NW Thurman St. in Portland.

She warns people against purchasing pets they have not thoroughly researched. 

“A pet is a big responsibility and it’s not the kind of thing that you should gift to anybody without giving them some notice so that they can plan ahead and they can make sure that they have the right household that is prepared for everything that will be required,” said McCormack. “That might look like: do they have enough money to feed it? Does it need vaccines? Does it need to be spayed? It’s a big financial responsibility short term and long term. I think a lot of planning goes into it, it shouldn’t be a gift for the holidays or any other time. Everybody in the family needs to be on board.”

It is almost important to remember that small pets like hamsters, chinchillas, hedgehogs and reptiles need specific care. Each small animal has special care requirements that often require some level of education about the animal.

Many small animals need a bigger space to roam than one might assume. McCormack said you should ask yourself questions like:

“What kind of diet do they need to eat? What kind of things do you avoid feeding? Where are you going to keep them? Do you have an appropriate house for them? What kind of bedding will you use? You need to do research about what you’re getting yourself into.”

It’s important to know how long the pet may live which can range from a couple of years (most hamsters) to 20 years or more (some reptiles).

“It’s such a super good idea to bring in your pet as soon as you get it just to make sure you’re doing the right thing,” said McCormack.

The holidays are stressful for your pets, too

A good reminder for people who already own pets is to remember that the holidays are not just stressful for humans but also for pets.

“For the holidays, especially with COVID, we are all super stressed out right now and pets are very astute at reading those signals and they can get stressed out as we are,” said McCormack. “They can get stressed with a new routine make smaller adjustments if you have a shy pet, keep in mind lights and those things, are they going to affect your dog? If you’re planning to travel, probably and hopefully not this year, in general, who will take care of the pet and what will you do if that falls through, do you have a friend you can depend on who has watched a pet before? Again, it takes a lot of responsibility.”

Even though the holidays are full of treats for humans, it is important to remember not to feed your pet things outside its diet. For dogs, McCormack said not to feed them anything with onions or garlic and nothing too fatty. Foods that are fatty can cause stomach aches and onions and garlic can mess with the red blood cells in a dog, which are needed to provide blood to the animal’s organs.

McCormack also wants to remind people who have cats and other curious animals that string, tinsel, ribbon, wrapping and packing materials can be an emergency waiting to happen. String, ribbon and other things can block your animal’s stomach and get caught up in there and need to be removed.

“That can be a $3,000-$4,000 surgery. That is a big expense and it’s heartbreaking to have to make a difficult decision if you haven’t planned ahead,” said McCormack. “You can apply for pet insurance – and there are lots of pet insurances out there. They can cover up to 90% of procedures.”

It is important, perhaps now more than ever, to try and do everything you can to avoid an emergency trip for your pet.

“Vet places are really busy because we have all our regular patients and then most everyone over the pandemic has adopted a kitten or a puppy, which is wonderful because a lot of the shelters are empty, so we have all our regular patients and all these new puppies and kittens too,” said McCormack. “We have a lot of education to do – we’ve been very busy and the emergency rooms are pretty overwhelmed. Anything that people can do to avoid an emergency visit ideal.”

McCormack said that fostering can be a great way to introduce yourself to life with a pet and see if you are ready for the responsibility.

So, what do you gift a pet lover?

The Oregon Human Society is not looking for foster families right now but Laura Klink said there are other ways you can give a gift to someone looking to get a pet.

“I am a big proponent of fostering,” said Klink. “But some other things you can do for the holidays, if you do know someone in your circle is looking to get a pet, you can get them a gift card or a basket full of supplies. So, you’re not giving them a pet but getting them started on the right paw.”

There are also gift certificates you can purchase at many shelters to cover adoption fees for those looking for pets in the future. It is a way of giving people things for their future pet without rushing them into a decision about getting a pet right at the moment.

“Here [at the Oregon Humane Society], we have a number of options. You can sponsor a pet on our website, tribute gifts where you can make a donation in honor of someone or as a gift for someone, there are a lot of different options to get a gift for sort of the pet lover in your life.”

And though the pandemic has been challenging, the bright side may be that your pet has had you home.

“With more people staying closer to home and having a quieter holiday, it might be a little less stressful on animals if you don’t have tons of new people coming into your house,” said Klink. “Chances are it’ll be a less stressful holiday for your pet.”

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