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Fish and Exotic Pets
Selecting the proper pet
PRACTICAL ADVICE & CONSIDERATIONS
Pets are truly members of the American/Australian family. About 60% of
the households have at least one dog, cat, bird, or other companion animal.
Many have more than one.
Pets are popular because they provide companionship, joy, unconditional love,
a sense of safety, and often a service. These are probably some of the reasons
why you're thinking about getting a pet. Animals are fun to be with every day.
They make us feel good!
Your pet-owning experience will be most enjoyable if you take the time to
consider which animal best suits your family. You can start by answering
some easy questions and gathering sound information and advice. This
process won't take long and it will be educational and fun, particularly
Select your pet the best way--the way recommended by veterinarians. A
pet will become your daily responsibility, so make an informed pet selection.
Don't let the playful antics of the first puppy, kitten, or bird you see or the
latest status-symbol pet charm you into accepting a responsibility for which
you and your family are not prepared.
You've read articles about the millions of unwanted pets that have to be put
to death each year. Pets selected on impulse, "for the children," or as a gift
during the holidays sometimes end up this way. These pets once belonged
to people who fell in love--and then changed their minds.
Selecting a pet should be a family project with everyone's needs, concerns,
fears, and medical history (including allergies) considered. Family members
should decide together what kind of animal they want, the amount of time
they anticipate spending with it, and the amount of responsibility each person
is willing to assume. Be realistic. Promises from some family members,
particularly children, may not be fulfilled.
Your goal is to identify the best animal(s) for your living space, lifestyle, and
budget. Take time, involve the family, and answer the following questions.
Do You Have Room for a Pet?
Active dogs need more space and more daily exercise than older or more
sedentary dogs. Some pets may get enough exercise within the confines
of a house or apartment. For their own safety, dogs and cats should not be
allowed to run uncontrolled, but should be walked on a leash or exercised
in an enclosed area. Most animals are better kept indoors or in a suitable
kennel while you're gone.
Cats, birds, and small mammals can adapt to any size living quarters.
What Activities Do You Enjoy?
You and your family should discuss the reasons you want a companion
animal and what you expect an animal to do with and for you. Most people
keep pets as companions, whereas others enjoy animals for showing,
breeding, hunting, or other reasons. Will the animal you're considering have
the temperament and physical attributes to participate in your outdoor
activities (hiking, hunting, or camping) or in quiet pastimes at home? If
your leisure activities take you away from home, who will care for your pet
during your absences? Read about the temperaments and needs of species
breeds, and identify those that best match your lifestyle.
How Do You Spend Your Day?
Pets depend on people for daily affection and attention. Young puppies and
kittens require time for housebreaking, training, and feeding. Are you gone
all day? Do you frequently work late? What will you do with your pet during
long absences? Feeding, exercise, grooming, and play are daily time
commitments that must be considered in caring for a healthy, happy pet.
Do You Have a No-Pets Clause?
Most lessor's no-pet clauses apply only to dogs and cats; birds or small
mammals may be acceptable. If you want a dog or cat but you lease or
condominium association rules prohibit them, ask that the no-pet clause
be waived or negotiated. Outline your plan to care for your pet, to adapt
to your living environment, and to meet your landlord's expectations.
Assure your association leaders that you are a responsible pet owner
who is aware of the importance of a well-behaved animal and a clean
environment. Furnish references from previous landlords or neighbors.
Agree in writing to pay a refundable deposit or a small monthly surcharge.
How Much Will Your Pet Cost?
The purchase price of animals varies greatly. All pets need food and shelter,
and most should have regular visits to a veterinarian for health checkups and
vaccinations. Depending on the type of animal you choose,. other cost
considerations include emergency medical treatment, grooming, boarding,
licensing, obedience training, and accessories. Pet health insurance for
unexpected illnesses or injuries is available in many states, Veterinarians
and Other Community Resources.
When your family decides it's time to actually look for a pet, each person
should participate in the selection process. A good place to start is a family
consultation with a veterinarian to determine the compatibility of your needs
with those of the animal(s) being considered. Veterinarians can offer expert
advice on the physical needs, health, and behavioral characteristics of
animals, and can direct you to other resources.
Other good sources of guidance and literature on pets include public libraries,
humane societies, animal shelters, animal-control agencies, breeders, pet
stores, obedience classes, and local kennel, cat, and bird clubs. Dog and cat
shows offer the advantage of comparing many breeds at one time.
What If a Pet Doesn't Fit Your Lifestyle?
Be flexible. After discussing the role a pet will play in your life and talking
with knowledgeable people, you may conclude that your first choice for a
pet is not appropriate, so be flexible. Your veterinarian may suggest other
companion animals whose needs more closely match your own.
You can still enjoy the animals around you if a pet does not fit into your
present lifestyle. Try putting a bird feeder outside your window or becoming
an active member of a local zoologic society. Volunteer at a humane society
or animal shelter. Consider a pet when your circumstances change.
A Checkup for Your New Companion
The neighbor, breeder, shelter, or pet store where obtain your pet should
allow you to have the animal examined by a veterinarian and to return it
within an agreed-upon time if the animal is unhealthy. Do this as soon as
possible, before you become emotionally attached to the animal.
Your veterinarian is best qualified to assure you that your new friend is
healthy and to administer the necessary vaccinations. At the same time,
you can discuss proper nutrition and feeding, surgical sterilization, other
preventive health measures, and grooming needs.
Prepare Your Home for Your Pet's Arrival
Before bringing a pet into your home, prepare a special place for it to eat
and sleep. At first, try to maintain the animal's daily schedule for play,
eating, and elimination. Decide where you will exercise your pet. Obtain
any necessary accessories (such as collar and ID tag, leash, scratching
post, litter box, crate, bird cage, etc.) before you bring your pet home.
You should pet-proof your home just as you would child proof your home
to avoid accidents. Put out of reach harmful cleansers, plants, electrical
cords, and breakable objects. Feeding, exercise, grooming, and play are
daily time commitments that must be considered in caring for a healthy,
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Selecting a Dog
There are two types of dogs--purebred and mixed breed. The 124 recognized
breeds are grouped into seven categories: hound, working, terrier, toy, sporting,
nonsporting, and herding. There are thousands of mixed-breed combinations.
Each purebred or mixed-breed dog has a unique personality. Primary
considerations in addition to personality include temperament, size, and coat.
Some breeds have traits that may be objectionable, such as hyper excitability
or a tendency for barking. Dogs originally bred for a specific purpose tend to
retain these characteristics. These dogs may require additional training and
Selecting a specific breed does not guarantee a particular behavior, but
choosing offspring from animals with desirable temperaments does increase
one's chances of getting the best pet. Mixed breeds can be as beautiful,
intelligent., loving, and as companionable as purebreds.
Veterinarians, breed-specific books (usually available at libraries and pet
stores), and dog shows are excellent sources of information about individual
breed characteristics and needs.
Friend or Protector?
Most dogs, even tiny ones, bark when strangers approach their home or yard.
This bark is usually enough to deter intruders. A pet should not be trained as
an attack dog. Attack-trained dogs require special handling and knowledge to
prevent accidental injury to people, including members of your own family.
Puppy or Older Dog?
You don't have to get a puppy to train it the way you like. You can teach an
old dog new tricks. If you decide on a puppy be prepared for several months
of housebreaking and initial medical expenses.
For some families, the best choice is an older housebroken dog whose
temperament, size, coat care, and behavior are established. When adopting
or buying an adult dog, inquire about its background. Ask shelter personnel
or the breeder what they have observed about its personality. Some animals
are given to shelters because of behavioral problems.
Many good dogs, however, are abandoned simply because their owners can
no longer care for them or no longer want them. Sometimes, breeders will
place an older dog in a home when its show or breeding days are over. Many
people moving give dogs away. These animals often make excellent
companions. Providing a homeless animal with love and security can win you
a loyal companion.
Selecting a Puppy
Pick a puppy that is active, friendly, and inquisitive. Avoid the one that appears
to be afraid of everything and snarls at people. If you select a timid puppy
because you feel sorry for it, be aware that such puppies may be fearful
throughout their life. Fearful dogs sometimes become aggressive and bite.
Balance is the key, so look for a well-rounded animal. The temperament of
a puppy's relatives may be an indication of its future behavior. If you are
getting a puppy from a breeder, ask to see the dog's parents. Request the
names of owners of related dogs. Contact these owners for information about
their dogs' behavior and health patterns. A dog's training is an important factor
in determining future behavior.
Healthy puppies learn quickly. Frequent contact with people early in the
puppy's life enhances its adjustment to the human family. Six to 10 weeks
is considered an ideal age to acquaint a puppy with its new home. Do not
engage in rough games with your new puppy; this may encourage aggression.
Teach Good Manners
Obedience training is an excellent way to get a puppy or adult dog off to a
good start. No matter how even-tempered a dog may be, it still needs to learn
how to be a well-mannered member of the family. Obedience training is fun. It
helps prevent negative encounters between family members and the dog.
It reinforces the bond between the handler(s) and pet. Consult veterinarians,
breeders, local training clubs, recreation centers, and newspaper columns on
dogs or pets for details about classes, costs, and requirements.
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Working couples and retirees, as well as other families and singles, have
discovered that cats are wonderful companions. Their entertaining antics
and affectionate behaviors have endeared these animals to millions of
Cats come in all colors and with all kinds of coats--short, long, or curly.
Some cats are quiet and appear somewhat independent, but all cats need
and want attention. Most cats readily adapt to a variety of environments.
As with dogs, there are purebreds and mixed breeds. Each breed has
certain characteristics. Although every cat is unique, certain breeds tend
to be more inquisitive, lively, placid, vocal, or gentle than others.
Veterinarians, cat-fancy clubs, pet stores, and cat shows are good sources
of information about the personalities of various breeds.
Selecting a Kitten
Criteria similar to those used in selecting a dog should be used. The kitten
should be neither too shy nor too aggressive. A healthy kitten actively seeks
affection from people. Easily housebroken and fastidious, cats don't have to
be walked. For these reasons, many apartment owners and condominium
associations allow their residents to keep cats.
Keeping Cats Healthy
A cat's air of independence does not mean that it can take care of all its own
needs. Cats have only one life, not nine! To prevent life-threatening diseases
and enjoy healthy lives, cats require regular veterinary medical checkups and
vaccinations. Ask your veterinarian about the common signs of feline illness.
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More and more people are discovering that caged birds bring color, song
or vocalization, and amusement into their lives. Many birds form strong
attachments to people and make excellent companions. Birds are often
ideal pets for people with allergies to dogs and cats.
Birds are sensitive to sudden temperature changes and many household
fumes, can develop life threatening diseases, and need a balanced diet,
water, light, suitable caging, and proper sanitation. A bird won't sing or talk
if it is lonely, malnourished, stressed, or confined in too small an area.
Investigate the needs of the bird you are interested in owning. Some birds
may require special seeds, fruits, or vegetables, while others need large
cages. All birds require social contact.
The cost, care, and time commitment required to keep birds vary as much
as individual characteristics such as color, size, personality, and life span.
First-time bird owners should avoid the more expensive species. Finches,
for example, are relatively easy to care for and may live only five to eight
years. Canaries and budgerigars (parakeets) have a life expectancy between
five and 15 years and are easy to care for; large parrots may live more than
30 years. Costs increase with traits and rarity. The cost of a male canary, for
example, may be twice that of a female because only males sing. Birds of the
parrot family are highly social, trainable creatures; however, large species can
bite and can be expensive, ranging from $150 for a conure (small parrot) to
more than $6,000 for a macaw.
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People with limited living quarters may find that fish and reptiles such as
iguanas fit perfectly into their lifestyles. Before deciding on a reptile or fish,
learn as much as possible about them and their needs. Poisonous snakes
and other reptiles should never be kept as pets.
Maintaining an aquarium (marine or freshwater) can be a challenging and
exciting hobby. The habitat and fish population can be varied over time. As
with birds, start small and gain experience first. Watching a few fish swim
lazily in a tank can be relaxing for an adult after a long day and fascinating
for a child.
Selecting Caged Pets
For those who don't have the space or time for a traditional pet, good
alternatives include rabbits, domestic mice and rats, gerbils, guinea pigs,
and hamsters. Many of these animals have distinct personalities and
respond to their owner's voice. A proper cage and nutritious food are a
must. Learn to identify the signs of illness in your pet and when the pet
needs veterinary care.
Exotic and Wild Pets
Exotic animals and wildlife do not make good pets. They can be dangerous.
It is illegal to buy or keep them in most states. Owning a young, exotic animal
can be a passing fancy. As the animal matures, it can become aggressive and
probably will be unhappy in captivity. Owners who find that they can no longer
keep an exotic pet usually encounter great difficulty in placing their animals in
a new home.