Planning on Being a Pet Owner? Here’s What You Need to Know

older man with look alike dog

One certainty that has emerged from pandemic lockdowns has been the importance of pets.

“Houses were selling like mad in 2020 where I live,” says Dr. Maggie Brown-Bury, an emergency and critical care veterinarian at the Veterinary Specialty Centre of Newfoundland and Labrador. She is also the Newfoundland and Labrador representative on the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association Council, an organization that provides animal owners with information and resources. “For many people, owning their own home is the step they needed to take before they could commit to a pet. The pandemic caused lifestyle changes that made people more able to have pets, or more inclined to have pets, out of loneliness for example.”

Pets have always been important to Canadians, with 58 per cent of households reporting having at least one dog or cat, according to the Canadian Animal Health Institute. Since the pandemic hit, pet ownership has grown. According to surveys by Research Co., 18% of cat owners in Canada say they’ve had their pet for less than one year and 11% of dog owners say they’ve had their canines for less than a year.

If you’re thinking about getting a cat or dog, you want to make sure that you’re prepared for the long-term commitment.

Examine whether your lifestyle is suited to pet ownership

Hannah Sotropa, assistant manager of communications at the Toronto Humane Society, advises those who want a pet now to wait three months to see if bringing an animal home suits your lifestyle. Are you willing and able to put in the time to walk, groom and train a dog, for instance?

“Life can change in an instant,” Sotropa says. “Unfortunately, we see animals end up at our doors because their families fell into unexpected hardships or changes. Perhaps they landed a new job or lost an existing one. Maybe their rent increased, or work requires travel, [or there was] the addition of a child, or the pet doesn’t like their new partner.”

Sotropa says the humane society’s pet adoption program has seen a surge of interest since the pandemic hit. Those who have the most success with a new pet are the ones who plan ahead, she says.

If you are choosing a particular breed of pet, make sure to research their personalities as well as their particular exercise, diet and health needs.

“A lot of people get their pets when they are young and it’s not pleasant to think ahead to behavior issues or health issues they might encounter,” says Dr. Jennifer Sperry, veterinary advisor at Pets Plus Us. “But it’s important for pet owners to know, so they can take steps to prevent issues.”

Choose a good veterinarian

Enough can’t be said about having a reliable and trusted veterinarian. Vet clinics have been busy, not surprising considering the increase in pet ownership across the country, so you want to make sure the one you choose can accommodate you and it’s wise to schedule ahead for routine care for your pet.
“Know where you’ll be taking them for veterinary care and get a ‘new pet check-up’ scheduled as soon as you can,” Brown-Bury says. “If you know you’re getting your new kitten in a month, call now and set up an appointment for that first week.”

Also, know what your options are in an emergency. Does your primary care clinic offer after-hours services? What number do you call in the middle of the night or on the weekend and where do you go?
If you have this information at hand before you might need it, you’ll save yourself a great deal of stress and possibly even the life of your pet when urgent medical care is needed quickly.

Assess your environment and pet-proof your home

Cats and dogs, especially young ones, are curious and can get into anything. Just as you would child-proof your home, you also need to pet-proof it before you welcome your new pet home. Lock cupboards and make sure dangerous items such as chemicals or medications are out of their reach. Many plants can be toxic to cats and dogs if ingested so you need to keep them out of reach or remove them from the home. Be aware of possible choking hazards.

Go through every room in the house that your pet will have access to and think about what might catch their interest and be dangerous to them.

Prepare a budget

Owning a pet can be expensive so you want to make sure you can afford it. The Toronto Humane Society says the average cost for a dog or cat for a year is around $1,500. You need to consider costs such as food and training, preventative medicine, licensing and routine vet care. Your pet’s diet is important to its health so you want to make sure you choose a high-quality pet food (your veterinarian or local pet store can offer some guidance on that) and avoid feeding your pet human food as items such as chocolate, avocadoes and grapes which can be toxic.

But you also need to be prepared for unexpected costs that can come up, such as medical emergencies or boarding. Think about how you would handle those situations and be honest with yourself about what you can afford.

Consider pet insurance

One thing that can help cushion the unexpected costs is pet insurance. Pets Plus Us, for instance, covers such things as accidents or illness, wellness care and 24/7 access to veterinary nurses when your regular veterinary clinic is closed.

“I work in emergency medicine so I see firsthand how helpful insurance can be when I see pets that have been struck by a car and have catastrophic injuries requiring major surgery and days of intensive care,” Brown-Bury says. “This could easily cost over $10,000, which many people understandably do not have readily available. If you have pet insurance, it might cover part of that bill, and now you have something that is much more manageable.”

Brown-Bury also advises owners get insurance early. “It is less expensive if you get it when they are young and healthy, and it can sometimes mean the difference between being able to treat in an emergency situation versus having to say goodbye and euthanize,” she says.
As with any insurance, make sure you fully understand your policy and know what’s covered and what’s not covered.

The decision to bring an animal into your home is a long-term commitment that requires careful thought and planning. But, for millions of animal-loving Canadians, the benefits of having a pet far outweigh any cost or effort.

“A pet is not like a plant,” Sperry says. “They reflect something back. They appreciate your efforts and show you affection. It’s nice to have a pet that really relies on you and shows you unconditional trust.”

This information and the opinions expressed in this blog are based on research and interviews with the authorities identified, conducted on behalf of Allstate Canada. They have been provided for your convenience only and should not be construed as legal or insurance advice.