5 things to ponder before adding another pet to your pack

Perhaps you think your adorable cat needs a companion to play with while you’re at work, or your kids are driving you crazy because they keep begging for a second dog. Another scenario could be that you love your pet so much and you want to double the joy. It all sounds exciting and enticing but before you run out and grab a new pet, sit down, take a breath, and ask yourself the following questions.

1. Are you having an impulsive moment?

One of the most common reasons that dogs and cats end up in shelters is that the owner saw the animal in a pet store window and brought them home without thinking things through. “Puppies and kittens are a lot of work. Before you bring home a new pet, consider that you are making a long-term commitment,” says Melody Lea Lamb, animal artist and advocate sponsoring the feline rescue group Berkshire Animal DREAMS. “The Humane Society of the U.S. estimates that 3-4 million dogs and cats are euthanized in the United States every year because they end up in a kill shelter. If you have given serious thought to it and decide you can commit to a second pet, just know that there are thousands of 6-month to 2-year-old dogs and cats waiting for a home in shelters around the country.”

Bottom line: Don’t act on impulse. Go home, weigh the pros and cons, and be honest about whether or not you are ready for another pet.

2. Are you trying to replace a beloved pet that died?

Make sure that the family or child is ready to receive another pet. “One set of parents I know felt terrible for their 10-year-old son whose dog had been attacked by one of the other family dogs. They tried valiantly to save the dog but in the end he lost the fight,” says Janette Sasson Edgette, Psy.D, an author and licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in family counseling. “A few months afterwards, they brought home another dog for their devastated son. The son was appreciative and is affectionate with the dog, but there’s always this feeling of it being a ‘replacement’ dog, instead of a pet in his own right.”

Edgette says the parents wish they had waited until their son was ready to open his heart to a new animal. So, how long does that take? “Weeks for some,” she says, “or months for others. It may even take longer. The best way to know if it’s time to get another pet is to include the child in the process of deciding.”

Bottom line: Give your family ample time to grieve the loss of an important pet. No other animal will replace one that has died. Let your children slowly come around to the idea of having a new dog and involve them in the process of choosing a new companion.

3. Are you using a pet as an experiment to see if you’re ready to have kids?

This rarely ends well. Raising a pup and raising a kid are-well, it’s ridiculous to even try to compare the two. “Seeing how you do as a couple while raising a dog together is not a good test for whether you should start a family,” said Edgette. “You can pass the doggy test with flying colors and still find parenthood overwhelming, discombobulating, or too much of a stretch for the relationship.”

Bottom line: Raising kids and caring for a dog are completely different commitments. Don’t assume that being a good pet parent will translate to being a good parent. And always make sure you’re adopting a pet because you want that pet in your life.

4. Are you expecting your next cat to be just like your first?

Maybe your cat is the cutest little fluff ball. She’s sweet and playful and you decide it’s time to double the fun. What you may not have considered is that cat number two could turn out to be prickly and aloof, or worse yet, mean to cat number one. Have you asked yourself how you will break up the catfights? Another possibility with a second cat is a potential medical condition that requires daily treatments. “You might have a diabetic cat that needs insulin injections. Will you still want her?” Edgette says. “You need to think about your willingness to handle situations that you didn’t anticipate and didn’t sign on for.”

Bottom line: No two pets are alike and each animal will have its own personalities and needs. Before you bring a second pet into your home, make sure you’re ready to handle new challenges.

5. Are you trying to make a fashion statement?

With celebrity culture permeating our lives, it’s easy to get swept up in the latest dog-breed trends of the rich and famous. Designer crossbreed dogs like Labradoodles and Cockapoos may strike your fancy, but those dogs require just as much love, affection and attention as any other pet. “Unfortunately, many dog owners bring home a designer dog because they saw a photo in a magazine and thought, ‘Oh, how cute,’” says Edgette. If you fail to do research you could be taking a big chance that the temperament of your new dog will fit in with your other pet(s), your children and your lifestyle.

Bottom line: Pets should never be thought of as fashion statements or trends. Just because your favorite celebrity was photographed with a certain type of animal doesn’t mean you should run out and get a new pet. Do plenty of research before adding a new dog or cat to your home to make sure you’re fully prepared for the responsibility.

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