Should you own a pet?


By: Jennifer McMillen Smith, MSSA, LISW-S, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

Deciding whether or not to own a pet is a big decision. There’s a reason why many couples joke about getting a furbaby before they have a child of their own — a pet comes with many of the same responsibilities!

Regardless of whether or not you’re living with HIV, pets can be a wonderful form of companionship. Not only do pets tend to improve the owner’s quality of life, but they also give a sense of purpose and responsibility. Here are some things to think about when you’re considering getting a pet.


What are you looking for?

There are tons of different reasons people get pets. Some people really want the companionship. They want someone who relies on them and never leaves their side, no matter what happens. The love and non-judgment of animals is unlike any human friendship you’ll have. They’re always glad to see you, even if you had a really bad day. It can also be lots of fun and make you responsible for somebody other than yourself.

Pets are also known to help reduce stress and make you feel less lonely, which can have a positive impact on your mental health. Some kinds of pets, like dogs, force people to get out of the house and exercise more often, because they need to be walked, which can be a great motivation for staying healthy.

Some studies have found that just petting an animal can reduce blood pressure. Sometimes schools, colleges, and clinics even bring in animals to help people feel better during stressful times.

Some people even get a trained therapy or service animal for their specific challenges in life. To learn more, check out our blog on service animals.


Think about your lifestyle

Some animals, like dogs, require lots of daily exercise and stimulation to be happy and healthy. They also need to be taken on walks and will need to go outside to use the bathroom a few times every day. If you are away from home most of the day, it might be worth considering a pet that doesn’t require as much hands-on care.

On the other hand, other animals like cats, reptiles, or rodents do just fine if they’re by themselves for a large part of the day. For example, cats simply use an indoor litter box when they need to use the bathroom, as opposed to dogs who will typically need to go outside each time they need to pee.

Pets also have very different lifespans. Hamsters or guinea pigs might only live for 2-3 years, but a cat or dog can live for over a decade! That could also be an important thing to consider when you’re deciding what kind of pet you can make a commitment to responsibly care for.

This is one reason why it might not be the best idea to think of a pet as a spur of the moment decision for a birthday or holiday gift. It’s normally best to think through the commitment you’re willing to make to this animal who will become a new family member.


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Think about costs

Since a pet will rely on you for everything (food, toys, shelter, exercise, etc.), it’s a great idea to look at the financial costs and time investment that you can prepare for ahead of time.

Pets are a bit like people — unexpected things can happen. They can sometimes get sick or hurt and need to go to the vet. They might need a special diet or certain supplements to help them stay healthy. These are things that can be hard to plan for, but knowing that they can happen can help you know if you’re ready to handle those unexpected parts of pet ownership.


Think about dipping your feet in the pet waters

If you didn’t grow up with pets or don’t have experience with the kind of pet you want to get, it might be a good idea to find opportunities to spend time with that type of animal before adopting one.

For instance, if you really want a dog, get to know what owning one would really be like by spending some time volunteering to walk or care for dogs at a local animal shelter like the Animal Protection League or City Dogs program here in Cleveland. Not only will you get experience and be more familiar with dogs, you’ll also be a great help to the community.

Fostering a pet is another opportunity, too. This is when you make a temporary, short-term commitment to take care of an animal until a full-time home can be found for them. If one of your friends has a pet, you can also offer to pet-sit for them when they are away to get more exposure. And your friend will probably love that you offered to help!


Sharing life with a pet

In the end, the more time you can spend around the kind of pet you’re thinking about getting, the better. This will give you a better idea of what life with them is really like and a better idea of whether it’s a good fit for you.

Owning a pet offers people the opportunity to help another being that needs a home and a loving caregiver, but as most pet-owners would agree, pets give so much back in return. The love, fun, and laughs you’ll experience are priceless. They’ll quickly become someone you consider a best friend.

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