Want to add to your family? The right furry — or feathered — friend can have a huge impact on your mental health, so make sure you make the best choice for you and your lifestyle.
Did you know Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world? According to the RSPCA, there are more than 29 million pets around the country, which means a whopping 61 per cent of Aussie households own a four-legged — or scaled or winged — pal.
Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, those stats are now even higher. During March and April alone, 1.5 million people logged on to animal adoption site PetRescue, and shelters across the country have seen a similar spike in enquiries. It could be that people finally have time to devote themselves to a pet — or that they’re craving companionship in our newly socially distanced world.
Studies show that owning a pet can lower your stress levels and decrease feelings of loneliness, but if you’re thinking of expanding your family, it’s important to consider if you’re really ready. A pet is a lifelong commitment, so as well as assessing your lifestyle (do you have the time, space and money?) it’s also important to consider your personality.
Do you crave affection or a pet that likes to keep to itself? Your preferences won’t only determine if you should adopt a pet, but what kind of pet is the perfect fit for you and your life.
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Your preadoption checklist
1. Why do you want a pet?
Puppies are cute and exotic fish can look great in your home — but these aren’t valid reasons for wanting them. Pets are a full-time commitment and require varying degrees of care, so you need to be up for the challenge. Some animals can live for up to 20 years, so be prepared to adapt to their needs.
Remember, kittens grow up and some birds may not have as much personality as you’d hoped, so you need to be certain you’re in it for the long haul.
2. Can you spend time with them?
Even the most low-key pets still need a little of your time, so if you travel or work a lot and are hardly home, consider what kind of life your pet will have. Even if your pet doesn’t need training or extensive grooming or cleaning, they still need to eat and most need some level of social interaction.
3. Can you afford it?
The cost of owning a pet doesn’t stop with the upfront fees. You’ll also need to consider licences, food, vaccinations, training, toys, grooming, cleaning and the cost of any unexpected health issues. Before you sign on the dotted line, review your budget to ensure you’ll be comfortable.
4. Is your home big enough?
A fish or bird may not need a lot of room, but certain dog and cat breeds need space to run or roam around. Some reptile enclosures also take up a lot of space, so really consider the layout of your home before you bring your new friend in. Also ask yourself if pet hair inside will bother you, or if you’re willing to train your pet so they don’t destroy your furniture.
5. Have you done your research?
Before your pet enters your home, you should review their food, exercise, grooming and health needs, and know exactly where they should sleep. It’s also a good idea to research their behaviour and common health issues so you know how to handle them.
Will they be good with kids? Finally, consider your own lifestyle and personality and how that matches the information you find.
Take our quiz
Vet Dr Alex Hynes reveals your perfect pet based on your answers to these questions.
How would you describe your home?
a) Full of life! I like to keep things tidy, but it doesn’t bother me if things are out of place.
b) Small, tidy and inviting. I’m not there a lot, but when I am I like to be comfortable.
c) My pride and joy! I pay great attention to detail, so everything is in the perfect spot.
d) Organised chaos. I don’t care what other people think, I know where stuff goes!
e) I’m out a lot so it’s mostly clean. I don’t stress about what it looks like, though.
What qualities are most important to you?
a) Loyalty and a sense of adventure.
b) Intelligence and dependability.
c) Attentiveness and compassion.
d) Independence and individuality.
e) Patience and happiness.
How would your closest friends describe you?
a) Outgoing, loving, sociable and always up for a bit of fun.
b) A little introverted, clever, dependable and sensitive.
c) Caring, gentle and attentive to other people’s needs.
d) Unique, independent and not afraid of what others think of me.
e) Always happy, calm and easy-going.
Would you go to a party where you knew no-one?
a) Absolutely, it’s a chance to make new friends.
b) No way, unless my friend swears not to leave my side.
c) Of course. If my friend wants me to go, I’ll go.
d) I’d prefer to just do my own thing at home.
e) Yes, I like meeting new people and checking out other people’s places.
How do you react to stressful situations?
a) I’m results-driven, so I find a way to resolve the source of my stress.
b) Freak out. I tend to worry a lot and can get anxious at times.
c) If I get upset it’ll only make things worse, so I’ll meditate or take a walk.
d) I don’t like to be put under pressure, but if I am, I deal with it and move on.
e) I’m pretty positive, so I just wait it out and know everything will be OK.
In a post-iso world, what does your ideal day off look like?
a) Exploring the great outdoors with friends and family. Nothing beats a good adventure!
b) Cosying up on the couch with a good book.
c) Checking in with friends and family then relaxing before bed.
d) A day spent alone doing my own thing, probably finishing off one of my many projects.
e) People-watching during brunch, followed by puzzles and TV.
And your average week?
a)I love to exercise before or after work most days and like to explore new places on weekends.
b) I spend a lot of time at work, but when I’m not there I’ll have dinner with a close friend or enjoy alone time at home.
c) If I’m not working or running errands, I check in with my friends and family to see if there’s anything I can do for them.
d) I don’t have an average week. I’m always trying something new or starting up another project.
e) Work, socialising and cooking up good food.
Your spirit animal is…
Mostly As: The extrovert
Your perfect match: Dog
Dr Hynes says dogs are great for outgoing people who love a physical connection with their pets (think: lots of hugs and kisses). “Dogs need exercise, love company and benefit from training to keep their mind busy. Extroverts make excellent dog owners.”
Mostly Bs: The introvert
Your perfect match: Cat
“Cats don’t ask for much but love routine, such meals at the same time, as well as their own spot in the sun to relax. They’re often solo creatures,” she says. Cats are best suited to introverted or intellectual people who are often away from home, work long hours or are looking for an independent pet.
Mostly Cs: The attentive one
Your perfect match: Bird
You may think a bird is a low-maintenance pet, but while they don’t take up much space, they need someone who’s kind, caring and has strong attention to detail. “Birds are prey animals who hide illnesses well, so you need to be able to notice if they’re not themselves,” tips Dr Hynes.
Mostly Ds: The individual
Your perfect match: Reptile
“Reptiles have very specific environmental needs such as their temperature, moisture level and size of their enclosure, so they need an owner who understands that,” she says. Reptile owners should be relaxed and love to be different from the crowd. “Reptiles aren’t for the squeamish.”
Mostly Es: The laidback one
Your perfect match: Fish
Studies show that fish owners are often the happiest people, probably thanks to their easy-going nature. “Fish need emotionally stable owners who prefer to admire and wonder from a distance rather than physically connect with their pet,” explains Dr Hynes.