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Happier Dogs, Cats, Birds, & Fish: How to Avoid Making Costly, Frustrating, & Terrible Pet Purchase Mistakes

By Vicki McClure Davidson


Pet ownership can be joyous and rewarding, but if you're not careful, mistakes with the choosing or caring for pets can be costly and emotional | Photo credit: TheGiantVermin, Flickr, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
Pet ownership can be joyous and rewarding, but if you're not careful, mistakes with the choosing or caring for pets can be costly and emotional | Photo credit: TheGiantVermin, Flickr, Creative Commons, some rights reserved


Whether you go to a pet store, a breeder, a friend or family member, or an animal shelter for a dog or cat, choosing a new pet can prove to be costly, and that's not just the purchase price. There is an investment in time, love, food, medications, and a host of other things that you need to consider before getting a new pet. And there is this important question to ask yourself: will this new pet fit into my family, my lifestyle, my finances?

Dogs are among the most costly of common household pets (food, toys, collar, dog bed, medication, etc.), but all pets have special requirements. Each year, far too many animals bought at pet stores or adopted from shelters are returned because the pet wasn't what the new owner expected. According to the ASPCA, about 5 million to 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year, and of those, approximately 3 million to 4 million are euthanized (60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats). The ASPCA has determined that more than 20 percent of people who leave dogs in shelters had previously adopted them from a shelter.

Make the right decision about which pet is the best fit for you the first time around. Let your head rule, and not your heart, when choosing a pet, and not only will you save grief and money, but your pet will be happier, too.

Do Your Research

Do your research before getting any new pet, even if you're a long-time pet owner. Analyze your own needs, the limitations of your time and home, and your expectations of a pet. By doing this in advance, and not being blinded emotionally and choosing without full consideration, you will save yourself and your pet a great deal of frustration. Too many pets are returned after the new owners realize they've made a big mistake. That's not fair to the animal and can be heartbreaking for children in the family. Five out of ten dogs in animal shelters and seven out of ten cats in shelters are destroyed simply because there is no one to adopt them.

Much of this is just common sense. If you are a neat-freak, don't consider getting a dog or cat that sheds fur more than others. However, be aware that there is no such thing as a non-shedding dog or cat. Dogs that don't shed much include poodles, many types of terriers, American and Irish Water Spaniels, Havaneses, Schnauzers, Chinese Cresteds, Portuguese Water Dogs, Shih Tzus, Affenpinschers, and Brussels Griffons. Dogs that shed a lot or year-round include Beagles, Pugs, Great Pyreneeses, and Siberian Huskies, to name but a few.

All cats shed, but the purebred Sphinx cat (very expensive) is nearly hairless. Two other cat breeds that shed a minimal amount are the Cornish Rex and the Devon Rex. The Cornish Rex cat has short, curly fur that lies close to its body. The Devon Rex also has curly fur that can be in a very thin coat across the cat's body. While they still shed, both breeds shed less noticeably than other cats.

If you want a quiet dog, don't consider acquiring any of the hunting dogs like hounds, because they tend to bark louder and more often than some other breeds. All dogs, however, will bark to some extent, particularly when they are lonely or alarmed. This in their nature, and while you can train a dog to bark less often, it's unrealistic to expect a dog to never bark.

Yorkshire terriers, because of their smaller size, may get much of their exercise needs playing and running indoors | Photo credit: choco@Nerima, Flickr, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
Yorkshire terriers, because of their smaller size, may get much of their exercise needs playing and running indoors | Photo credit: choco@Nerima, Flickr, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Large dogs obviously require more food and running space than smaller dogs. While small dogs need exercise just as large dogs do, because of the smaller size of toy dogs such as Chihuahuas, Pugs, or Yorkshire Terriers, they may get most of their required daily exercise needs just by walking, running, and playing around indoors.

The same is not true of large or giant dogs, such as Saint Bernards, Dalmatians, Collies, Mastiffs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, or Great Danes. These large dogs either will need a large area outdoors to run and play in or you must faithfully walk them every day. For people with busy schedules, this can be a problem for you and the dog. However, for others, suddenly being forced off the couch to take your new big dog out on evening walks, can be an unexpected bonus for improving your own stamina and health.

A good website to check out before making a dog selection is JustDogBreeds, which has a complete list of dog breeds, and has compiled a number of lists, including the best guard dog breeds, the best child-friendly dog breeds, fast dog breeds, the easiest-to-train dog breeds, high stamina dog breeds, hypoallergenic dog breeds, and many other dog breed lists.

Here's a quiz from to help you select the right dog breed companion:


More Free Web Page Apps

PetNet has a Selectapet quiz for both dog and cat breeds that you can take to help you with your decision-making.

Additionally, these days, more people are adopting mutts because purebred dogs often have more inherent health issues than do mixed breed and mongrel dogs. They also cost much more to buy. For more information, check out this post.

Birds As Pets

There are people who think birds are trouble-free pets to own, but that isn't always the case. All birds are messy with seeds and feathers, especially larger birds. Parrots often screech, which would drive other tenants crazy if you live in an apartment or townhouse. Cockatoos and macaws are notoriously noisy. Other noisy birds include lovebirds and cockatiels. Birds that are quieter include finches, doves, and canaries.

Pet birds are delicate creatures, and can accidentally become victims of poisons in the home.

Birds are susceptible to a wide range of toxic substances which can injure or kill them either by ingestion (eating) or inhalation (breathing them in). One of the most common toxicities in pet birds is insecticides sprayed in the home. Others include ammonia, bleach, oven cleaner, glues, nail polish remover, paint, perfumes, heavy metals (e.g., zinc and lead). Be aware that if you let your bird roam about the home, poisonous houseplants like dieffenbachia, rubber plants, schefflera, pittosporum, philodendron, and many others that they may nibble on can be dangerous, even deadly. For a list of safe vs. toxic plants for birds, click here.

Ceiling fans present an obvious danger, as do poorly made toys that can break and be swallowed. Chocolate is lethal to birds, as it is to many other animals.

Exotic birds and other exotic animals, while an intriguing conversation piece, may take more time, patience, and money to care for than you're able or willing to invest. Too many animals are not given the care they need because their owners didn't think beyond the excitement of getting a new pet, or didn't realize the full-time commitment they were making. Don't make that mistake — it isn't fair to the animal.

Fish As Pets

Tropical fish take a tremendous amount of care to keep their saltwater environment liveable and at the proper pH level. While freshwater fish are less expensive and time-consuming to care for, they, too, need special attention to thrive. Do your research before setting up a tank of fish to make sure you are armed with knowledge to be a responsible fish owner.

While other pets can vocalize their distress, fish cannot. Often, a fish will display physical signs of disease, parasites, or incorrect water conditions, but inattentive owners won't realize something is wrong until the poor, suffering fish has died. Don't let that happen — do your homework and be prepared before bringing the fish home.

Pet Personalities

Maine Coon cats are among those cat breeds that are usually good with children | Photo credit: hatchski, Flickr, Creative Commons, some rights reserved


Maine Coon cats are among those cat breeds that are usually good with children | Photo credit: hatchski, Flickr, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Dog breeds vary in personality, activity levels, and temperament with people and other dogs. Do your research — some dogs, like Jack Russell Terriers, may be more active than you want. Even if they're cute as puppies, many dog breeds may not have the inherent temperament you're seeking when they become adults. Older dogs of many breeds may have a problem socializing or interacting well with other dogs, especially if they've not ever been in a multi-dog environment, so consider that if you already have a dog or two.

Also, certain dog breeds have a tendency to more expensive health problems than others, which could result in frequent high vet bills. Cats can be "lap kitties," be wildly active, or be aloof, and depending on your own personality and desires, can be the right or wrong pet choice for you.

Cat breeds that are typically playful, easy-going, and are considered the best with children include Abyssinians, American Shorthairs, Birmans, Burmese cats, Maine Coons, Manx cats, Persians, and Ragdolls.

All animals, however, have their own unique personalities, much of which is not only related to their breed and age, but is greatly influenced by their lives before coming into your home. Animals that have been strays, weren't socialized properly when young, or have been abused will have trust and behavior issues that they may or may not be able to overcome.

Patience and affection are key here. If you have a cat or dog with aggressive or behavioral problems, before you consider returning it or taking it to the pound, do some research. There is a great deal of free expert information online that could help you with your pet's individual problems, whether it's a dog that bites or defecates in the home, or a cat that runs and hides when you bring out a broom to sweep. Dog trainers specialize in helping dogs overcome behavior or psychological problems, and if this is an expense you can afford, is often well worth the money.

Pet Medical Costs and Pet Health Insurance

In a 2009 CBS News article, it was reported that Americans spent $38.4 billion on pets, per the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. The association says that 63 percent of American households own at least one pet and there are almost 74 million dogs and 90 million cats living in the United States. Even the simplest of surgeries can cost thousands of dollars — this is important to know if choosing a dog like a German shepherd or a Doberman or a boxer, breeds that develop hip dysplasia and other joint ailments more often than smaller dogs. The cost for surgery for a pet that has been hit by a car can start at $1,000 and exceed $7,000.

Long-term medications and blood work for a pet with diabetes can exceed $10,000 over the course of their lifetime. Because of their size, medications for larger dogs always cost more than for smaller dogs.

Routine veterinary care is an imperative to keeping your dog or cat healthy. Plan on going to the vet for wellness check-ups once or twice a year, at a cost of at least $100-300 each year. In the long run, not only will your pet be healthier, but you may offset costlier medical bills down the road by catching health problems early.

Buying pet insurance is becoming more common these days. Rates differ from one company to another, have different deductibles, and are usually contingent upon the location, breed of animal, and age of animal. Do your research to see if this is good (and affordable) option for you.

Real Simple has posted a helpful article on the top 10 mistakes that pet owners make and how you can avoid them. Here are Mistake Numbers 1, 2, and 5.

The Top 10 Pet-Owner Mistakes

By Megan Kaplan

Mistake 1: Buying a Pet Spontaneously

Why this is a mistake: That doggie in the window may be darling, but he might not be the right fit for your family or lifestyle.

How to avoid it: Fully inform yourself before you bring home a pet. Every dog or cat has its own needs, some of which are specific to the breed. Terriers tend to dig; Abyssinians explore and climb. If there’s a breed that interests you, read up on it (try the website of the American Kennel Club, at, or the Cat Fanciers Association, at, talk to owners, and get to know someone else’s Border collie or Persian. That said, not every dog or cat is typical of its breed, so “ask about the pet’s history, health, and temperament,” says Stephanie Shain, a director at the Humane Society of the United States. When dealing with a breeder, you should be shown where the pet was raised and meet his parents.

Mistake 2: Skipping Obedience Training

Why this is a mistake: Bad habits can be difficult to train out of a pet. So unless you have the know-how to school an animal, you need the help of a pro.

How to avoid it: Even before a puppy starts formal training, teach him simple commands, such as sit and stay. A puppy can begin formal training at eight weeks (and ideally before 12 weeks), after he has had his shots. “Between the ages of 8 and 16 weeks, puppies readily absorb information about the world around them,” says Andrea Arden, author of Dog-Friendly Training ($13, To help a dog stick with good behaviors, every few years take him for a refresher course. (Find one in your area at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers,

Mistake 5: Neglecting to Socialize Your Pet

Why this is a mistake: Pets that aren’t exposed to a variety of animals and people at a very young age can develop fears and aggressive behavior.

How to avoid it: Introduce your pet to adults, kids, animals, and environments so he’ll take every novelty in stride. It’s optimal for a pet to start the process before you bring him home, since the critical socialization period is early in life. "For a dog, it’s between the ages of 3 and 12 weeks. For cats, it’s between 2 and 8 weeks," says Nicholas Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, in North Grafton, Massachusetts. The breeder or the shelter’s adoption counselor can tell you how much socialization an animal has had.

Click here to read the other seven pet owner tips.


Related Reading:
Choosing a Dog: Cheaper, Healthier Dogs, Mixed-Breed Mutts Becoming More Preferred Than Purebreds
The Do's & Don't's of Making Nutritious & Delicious (for Your Cat!) Cat Food at Home
DIY Dog Fashions on a Bare Bones Budget: Save Money Recycling Old Sweaters & Shirts to Make Cheap, Attractive Dog Winter Clothes & Raincoats
What's the Buzz? Bee Safety and Inexpensive Bee Sting Treatments for Your Dog
Spend Less Money Treating Your Dog's Food Allergies | Special Dog Food Recipes, Breeds Prone to Allergies
A Splash of Thrifty Vinegar: Explanation of Types
Taking Care of Your Horse – The Frugal Way, of Course!
Saving Money on Feeding Your Horse: Feed Tips for Horse-At-Home (HAH) Owners
How to Save Money Boarding Your Horse


Sources:, Exotic Pets, "What to Consider before Choosing a Pet Bird" (, "The Cost of Dog Ownership" (, "Top 10 Household Dangers to Pet Birds" (
ASPCA, Pet Statistics, (
Catser, "Top Cat Breeds for Children (
Dogs That Don't Shed, "Top 20 dogs That Shed the Least" (
Kaplan, Megan, Real Simple, "The Top 10 Pet-Owner Mistakes" (