Everything you need to know before getting your first pet

From choosing the right breed to buying toys and healthcare costs

Everything you need to know before getting your first pet

Getting a pet is an exciting and joyful experience for all the family – but it's also something that requires a great deal of consideration. Before heading out to buy a furry (or scaly, or feathery) friend, research which animal and breed is the right fit for your home and lifestyle.

Cat Henstridge is a vetinary surgeon and blogger at Cat the Vet – having been qualified for over 10 years, she has appeared on Chanel 4's Animal Madhouse and is our resident pet expert.

In honour of National Pet Month this April, we asked Cat the most common questions that people have about getting a pet...

From choosing the right breed to buying toys and healthcare costs, here are Cat's top tips and answers.

How do I choose the kind of pet that would suit my family’s lifestyle?

"Picking a pet that will fit in with your family and lifestyle is absolutely vital," says Cat. "Essentially it comes down to how much time and enthusiasm you will have for them. Some dog breeds require more exercise than others but all will need at least one hour of walking a day and you must be able to commit to training as well.  

"Rabbits and guinea pigs will need daily handling, especially from children, and cleaning out every few days. Even fish need quite a bit of looking after in terms of tank maintenance!

"The best pet for a busy family is a cat. They are pretty self-sufficient - as long as you provide food, water and a cosy bed, they will be happy."

What are the common issues I could run into straight after getting my new pet?

"A baby pet can be surprisingly full on," Cat warns, "especially puppies! Many people underestimate the work involved with house and obedience training, not to mention the sleepless nights. However, what they cost in time and floor cleaner, they more than make up for in love and entertainment."

What equipment should I have before bringing my pet home?

Cat says: "Dogs will need food and water bowls, a cosy bed, a collar and lead. Although puppies won’t be able to go out on walks before their vaccinations are finished, lead training can begin as soon as they arrive".

As for cats, they'll need "bowls, a litter tray (even if you are planning on letting them go out, you will need to keep them indoors for a couple of weeks while they settle in) and a bed. The igloo kind are great because small, snuggly places make cats feel secure. Top tip - cats are easily bored by toys. Buy several but only have a couple out to play with each day and swap them over regularly, so there is always something new for them to investigate".

Thinking of getting a rabbit? It will need plenty of chew toys, as well as "a spacious hutch, with enough space for it to stand up fully and make three hops across, and a large outdoor run, at least 2m x 3m, or you will need to have made sure your garden is rabbit proof," says Cat.

Will I need to take time off work to train my dog?

"Taking a few days off when you first get your dog can help them settle into their new home, but don’t expect to train them much in that time," says Cat. "Like children, young dogs lose focus easily, so little and often is the key to their learning." 

"They also need to be shown how to behave around the family, learning when they can be excited and when they should be calm. You will need to help them cope with other dogs, strangers and other animals. Signing up to training classes when they are young will be very helpful but with a dog the learning never really stops!"

How much time should I dedicate to my pet?

"All pets will need some of your time every day," Cat says.

"A dog will need at least an hour of walking but it will also need your time and attention while you are at home. Dogs are social creatures and value our company. Try not to leave them for periods longer than 3-4 hours if possible.

Cat adds: "Small pets like rabbits, guinea pigs and rats will all need handling and playtime at least once, if not twice a day. As well as helping them to become confident, friendly pets, this also ensures they don’t get bored, which is a sad but real prospect if they spend most of their days confined to a cage.

"If you have a cat, they are the ones who decide exactly how much time they would like you to dedicate to them. Some are happy with a quick head rub, others will be real lap cats and insist on a proper cuddle whenever you sit down."


How can I figure out costs before committing?

"Working out how much a pet will cost you can be difficult but it is important to get some sort of idea, especially as many people vastly underestimate how expensive they can be," Cat says.

"At the beginning, you will also need to buy toys, accessories – and don’t forget the cost of vaccinations and other routine health care.

"Ongoing expenses will include food and pet insurance, because animals are good at getting themselves into unexpected scrapes!"

I have young children - what pet should I get?

Cat says, "Pets are not toys and should never be bought solely for a child. Growing up with animals is a great experience for youngsters but the responsibility and care should always reside with the adult in the family.

"If the child is taught how to behave properly with the pet and to handle them with care, they can become great friends and gain much from each other’s company."

I live in a small apartment - can I still get a pet?

"All animals need a reasonable amount of space to exercise and express themselves," says Cat. "This doesn’t mean they can’t live in small homes but it is important their needs are catered for.

"For dogs this means a couple of long off-the-lead walks every day and toys to play with at home. For cats, if they are 100% indoor, they need a variety of places to rest and hide, a regularly changed roster of toys, a large scratch post and at least one more litter tray than there are cats. 

"Many rabbits are kept as house pets and they can be very contented, especially if they have free access to the home (but you will have to make sure it’s rabbit proofed). Guinea pigs also do well indoors."

Got more questions before you can think about bringing a new pet into the family? Cat recommends these sites for more advice on adopting dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and rats

Make sure you stock up on everything you need for keeping your pet happy and healthy at Asda or pop into your local store.