Family with cat
One of the chief considerations when deciding on a pet is your family structure and lifestyle. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Considering a pet for your family? It’s a great idea – studies show a multitude of benefits to having pets. They help deflate stress levels and increase a sense of well-being. But which little critter should you get? Is a dog the best companion or a cat for your home?

We asked two veterinarians about what you should consider before you invite an animal into your home. Here’s a look at what they said:

1. Family lifestyle

Dr Sara Elliott, director of veterinary services at British Veterinary Hospital explains that one of the chief considerations when deciding on a pet is your family structure and lifestyle. She explains: “If you have a busy schedule, are not at home for long periods throughout the day, or travel frequently, a dog may not be the best choice. Dogs require a significant amount of care and attention and do not do well behaviourally when left alone. A cat, on the other hand, while they have their own specific needs, are far more content being left alone throughout the day provided they have access to adequate food, water, safe shelter and a clean litter tray.”


2. Family temperament

It’s also important to take into consideration a four-legged friend’s socialisation needs. Veterinary Nurse Laurel Osgood, at Al Barsha Veterinary Clinic, explains: “A shy, solitary cat who does not like most people would likely not do well in a family with young children, and would probably be better suited to a person or couple who don't do a lot of hosting. On the other hand, some dogs and cats need the kind of activity and stimulation a busy family would provide. The temperament of the animal, and how well it meshes with the family, is very important.”

3. Allergies

Take into consideration that you – or a loved one - may have an allergy to certain animals – make sure you spend enough time with your potential playmate to discover any issues before you commit; it’ll be harder on both animal and family to say goodbye if something flares up.

Cat dog
Spend time with an animal before you decide to adopt it.

4. Motive

Are you set on a dog or cat? Why do you really want a companion? Some introspection is in order before you do the paperwork. “A pet is a lifelong commitment and is a decision not to be taken lightly. If you are a family looking to teach young children the responsibility of owning a pet, we recommend choosing a smaller animal such as a hamster or guinea pig. While these animals also require commitment, care and monetary investment, their day-to-day needs are much more manageable,” says Dr Elliott.

5. Breed

Each breed of cat and dog has its own peculiarities and mood predispositions. “Factors such as whether you have children in the house, the age of the children and exposure to animals must also be looked at concerning the breed. Each breed's behavioural traits and needs vary, and we would recommend conducting thorough research and discussing the best breed for your family with your vet,” says Dr Elliot.

6. Friendliness

“All children should be closely supervised when interacting with the family pet(s) until they are old enough to interact with them appropriately. Cats can be very child friendly, particularly those with easy-going temperaments, and for dogs, breeds like the Golden Retriever and the Labrador are popular with families for a reason. However, every animal is different, and child-friendliness often depends as much, if not more, on the temperament and training of the specific animal as it does on the species. All children should be taught how to appropriately interact with pets, and learn to respect the pet's boundaries and understand when the pet is communicating that it does not like what the child is doing,” says Osgood.

7. Age of pet

While getting a puppy or kitten may seem like a good idea, older animals come with already-learned behaviour which can be a great fit for your family. “Puppies and kittens do not yet have a set character and may change as they grow, but with an adult, you are more likely to know what you are getting. However, it is still important to learn as much as possible about adult animals as an older cat or dog may be less tolerable of babies and toddlers than a younger, more playful dog.

This could be due to chronic health complaints or their desire to spend more time sleeping. Younger children are yet to learn how to respect boundaries and navigate the signs of the animal needing their space. Similarly, if you adopt an animal, you may not have access to the animal's complete history and may have been exposed to children who did not treat them well. This leads to a distrust in children of a similar size and can cause the animal to tap into its defensive instincts to protect itself. It is crucial to select a pet from a reputable adoption organisation to be confident that they will conduct the necessary due diligence on your family situation and work with you to ensure they match you with the best match for both you and the animal,” says Dr Elliot.

8. Costs

  • Food: This of course is the primary cause of outgoings, but it’s also important to consider that sometimes a pet may have special dietary needs that will raise costs.
  • Vaccines and check-ups: “Owning a pet is expensive and many new pet owners often disregard the unexpected costs of owning a pet beyond the standard outgoings for food, such as the yearly vaccinations required by Dubai Municipality for cats and dogs. We also recommend your pet visits the vet every six months for a check-up to ensure your pet is not suffering from an underlying health condition,” says Dr Elliot.
  • Allergies: “Keep in mind that some animals may end up requiring a prescription diet, or regular medication, which can also add to the costs,” says Osgood.
  • Relocation: “Perhaps one of the most overlooked costs is relocation. If you are an expat living in UAE and plan on returning home, there is a significant cost involved, and these costs vary from country to country. We would recommend finding out the costs for your country and ensuring you have this amount saved, especially in case of a quick, unplanned relocation,” explains Dr Elliot.
  • Training: “For dogs, formal training and socialization are important, so the costs of training classes should be factored in also - some families may choose to train on their own, but this is best done only by experienced dog owners who are familiar with dog behavior,” explains Osgood.
  • Breed: “The breed of your pet can also significantly affect costs, as some breeds, particularly the snub-nosed breeds, are prone to health issues which will increase the cost of veterinary care,” she adds.
  • Daycare/pet sitter: “The costs of a doggie daycare and/or dog walker must be factored in if you are going to depend on these things to keep a dog happy, healthy, and socialized, and of course many dogs require regular professional grooming, which must also be accounted for. There is also the cost of boarding or a pet-sitter whilst owners are away,” says Osgood.
  • Grooming: Nail clipping, haircuts and baths can all add up – it’s best to budget before you buy or adopt a pet.
  • Cat litter, in case of a feline companion.
Some animals are more independent than others and don’t mind ‘me-time’. Others however will be miserable if they are left all by themselves for large periods.

9. Do you need a pair?

Some animals are more independent than others and don’t mind ‘me-time’. Others however will be miserable if they are left all by themselves for large periods. “Owners who choose to get a member of the rodent species must be aware of their socialisation needs - guinea pigs, rats, and gerbils should never be kept alone and need a companion of their own species, while hamsters are solitary and should be kept alone. It must also be considered that rodents, rabbits, and more exotic animals will need a veterinarian who is experienced in caring for them,” explains Osgood.

Birds are usually also best left to knowledgeable pet owners, as their care needs are quite unique.

10. Cat, dog, fish, bird – which will make a perfect playmate?

Osgood explains the pros and cons:

  • Cats have relatively straightforward care needs, although some breeds like the Persian or Sphynx require extra time for grooming.
  • Rodents, like guinea pigs and hamsters, do tend to have less time-consuming care needs as long as research is done into what they require - for instance, guinea pigs will require a vitamin C supplement. However, acquiring the care information needed does require something of a time investment in terms of learning about the care requirements for these species. Once this is understood, however, day-to-day care of these animals can be less time-consuming than that of a dog.
  • Dogs are mainstream as pets, though they must be trained appropriately and given enough mental and physical stimulation to keep them in good health - families who are willing to do this, however, often get on well as long as they are not afraid to ask questions of professionals like veterinarians and behaviourists. All prospective pet owners should thoroughly research the breeds they are interested in before purchasing. Not all breeds will be suited to the Dubai heat!
  • Rabbits are not ideal starter pets, as while they are relatively easy to care for in terms of cleaning and feeding, they are also fragile, very easily stressed, and can be quite aggressive when fearful.
  • Birds are usually also best left to knowledgeable pet owners, as their care needs are quite unique and they are often not suited to a high-stress environment. However, for those who are interested in avians, good ‘starter’ choices include the parakeet and the budgie, who are beginner-friendly birds. As with rodents – although to an even greater extent – not all veterinarians will see birds, and understanding of their physiology, behaviour and nutritional needs before purchase is essential. Larger parrots like macaws and African Greys, who are very long-lived and unique care needs, do tend to require a higher time investment and an owner who is confident with birds.
Ask yourself some serious questions before you get a dog.

11. Questions to ask yourself before you get a dog

Dr Elliot recommends the following:

  • Is there enough morning time before I leave for work to properly walk and exercise the dog?
  • Do I have support at home to help with the daily walks?
  • Do I get home early enough to ensure the dog is not left alone for longer than six-eight hours at a time?
  • Can I train the dog to use puppy pads to relieve itself?
  • Do I have enough access to outdoor space within walking distance of my residence?
  • Can I afford to send my dog to doggy daycare twice a week?

While this is not an exhaustive list, they highlight some aspects involved in being a dog parent.

Thinking of getting a cat? Cats are much more self-sufficient than dogs. “However,” warns Dr Elliot, “There are breeds of cats that prefer to be in pairs and, if left alone without the company of another cat, can become depressed. “

She adds: “While the above is true of adult cats and dogs, it is different for puppies and kittens, and both require a more significant investment of time as their feeding schedule is timed much closer together, and frequent human contact helps with their developing socialising skills.”

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