Pet adoption: RSPCA guide on getting your first dog

Australia has one of the highest pet ownership rates in the world. Picture: Shutterstock
Australia has one of the highest pet ownership rates in the world. Picture: Shutterstock

Australia is a nation of animal lovers.

We have over 29 million pets and one of the highest pet ownership rates in the world.

Pet ownership is proven to have numerous mental and physical health benefits, such as decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and increased social connectedness with other people.

Pets improve our lives and it's our responsibility to ensure that we are improving theirs in return. Meeting their physiological, behavioural and social needs is just as important as meeting your own.

Financial commitment

In the excitement of getting a new pet, you may forget you are taking on a significant financial responsibility.

Remember some animals will cost more than others, depending on their species, size and health needs.

Upfront costs for cats and dogs include their initial vaccination course, microchipping and desexing.

There are also a number of ongoing costs you will have to factor in, such as food, vet bills (including ongoing regular check-ups and vaccinations), training, worming/flea and tick prevention, toys and bedding, which are all critical for keeping your pet safe and healthy throughout their life.

It is also important to ensure you have an emergency fund to pay for unexpected accidents, injuries or illnesses experienced by your pet.

All pets need lots of love and attention.

All pets need lots of love and attention.

Time commitment

Pets can bring a lot of love into our lives.

By taking the time to bond with your pet to build trust, confidence, and affection you will have an extremely rewarding relationship.

For dogs, this includes daily walks (ideally twice a day), playtime, training and car trips. For cats, this means grooming, affection and playtime.

Puppies and kittens require an especially significant time investment. In many ways they are like having a newborn baby. Be prepared to invest a lot of time, love and patience when caring for young cats and dogs.

It's just as important to spend quality time with smaller animals like guinea pigs and rabbits, who are extremely social creatures. Providing them adequate enrichment and mental simulation is key to having happy little companions on your hands.

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Housing commitment

The size of your home, or garden, is critical in determining what type of animal you should get.

The more research you do into specific species and breeds, and thought you put into what animal will best suit your lifestyle, the more confident you will be in your decision.

If you are thinking about getting a dog, consider if you have a secure and suitable backyard, and plan where the dog will be housed when you are not at home.

Cats can be happy in a wider variety of spaces, from a large home with secure outdoor spaces for them to a smaller apartment without outdoor space, provided there is adequate opportunities to display their natural behaviours, such as playing with toys and climbing to high points around the home.

If you are renting, it's important you disclose your plans to get a pet to your landlord. And take the time to consider your plans for your pet if you move to a different property, or even inter-state.

Life-long commitment

Pet ownership is a 10-20 year commitment. On average, cats and dogs live around 10-14 years, with many of them reaching 15 or even 20 years. You need to be able to look into your future with some certainty and be sure you can love and care for your new pet throughout their life. If you are unable to make this type of commitment, consider adopting a senior pet from an animal shelter such as an RSPCA. Not only will you be giving an older animal a second chance, but you are able to experience the joys of pet ownership in a way that suits your stage of life.

For more information on preparing for pet ownership, visit the RSPCA Smart Puppy and Kitten Buyer's guide online, or RSPCA Knowledgebase.