Things college students should consider before getting a pet

By Charlie Powell, WSU College of Veterinary Medicine

Matthew Mickas WSU VetMed

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine is recommending that college students consider all aspects of pet ownership before taking the plunge.

“Rushing off to get a pet right after one starts a semester in college can often result in a tragedy later on,” advises Matt Mickas, veterinarian and director of the WSU veterinary college’s Shelter Medicine Program. “Pets provide extraordinary emotional benefits for people in all walks of life, but pet ownership brings with it another level of stresses, too.”

Dr. Mickas said there are several things to consider first before a visit to the pet store, a local animal shelter or online ads from private sellers.

“One of the biggest things that disrupts pet ownership is the financial stress of owning an animal in general,” explained Mickas.

“Make no mistake, pets are expensive when one considers the prices of good food, optimal veterinary care, housing and play supplies, and more. Good pet food must be labeled as ‘complete and balanced,’ to ensure it is formulated properly.

“Second, it must be tested in feeding trials to ensure the nutrients that formulate the ration are available to the pet when it digests the food. The big mistake here is simply buying the cheapest dog or cat food that provides the biggest quantity of food.”

Mickas emphasized that even in the absence of a medical crisis, initial pet costs are not inexpensive.

“Average one-time expenses to get started with a pet dog, according to the ASPCA, run more than $565. Average cat costs run about $200 less. These expenses include a sterilization surgery, medical exams and vaccinations, collars and leashes and a crate to house them in.

“Typically, a person enamored with owning a pet doesn’t see these expenses in one lump sum but instead the money trickles out over time.

“Similarly, average annual pet care expenses for food, veterinary care, a license, and other toys and treats run to almost $700 a year for dogs and more than that amount for cats.  Frankly, most college students can’t afford a pet and often they do not have the time to optimally exercise and engage a pet.”

In all cases, Mickas recommends pet owners consider pet healthcare insurance, if they cannot save at least $2,000 or more for the inevitable emergency.

“Veterinarians see clients who are distraught over their pet’s medical emergency and especially when they have not planned to pay for care; it makes the overall emotional impact worse. Despite our best intentions, pets cannot exist on our love and admiration for them alone,” he said.

Landlord and tenant relationships must be considered too, before bringing a pet back to a rental property.

“Absolutely check with your landlord before bringing a pet home,” Mickas said. “Sadly, renters get ‘caught,’ with pets and have not read their lease agreement. It may come down to a person having to get rid of the pet or get a new place to live.”

It’s also recommended to consider a pet’s physical activity needs before bringing one into your life.

“Dogs especially need to be walked at least twice a day and the bigger the dog the more activity they need,” Mickas said. “While walking dogs is wonderful right now in the weather we’re having, they still will need time and activity outside once fall and winter weather closes in. Most students and renters don’t have large yards where large active breeds can be securely left for the day.

“Cats usually are not walked outside, but they, too, need more than just cuddling on a person’s class schedule. Prospective owners need to consider planning time to engage them with toys and activity.”

Owning a pet is a big responsibility and can become a big problem once school is over for the year.

“As veterinarians working with our shelter systems, we hate to see people acquire pets, realize they’ve made a mistake, and then just release cats to fend for themselves or to have to relinquish pets to a shelter,” said Mickas. “It is better to spend the time on the front end of such a relationship decision and make sure it is right for you in your current situation.”


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