Pet parenting 101: Are you sure you will always love it?

By Dr Michael Bradley

So you want a pet. Are you really prepared? Or is it just something you like the idea of?

By Dr Michael Bradley |

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Getting a pet animal is a long term commitment.

So you want a pet. Are you really prepared? Or is it just something you like the idea of? 

You want something to come home to, something that's always pleased to see you. Something that's super cool, or cute and cuddly. Something that never judges and always loves you. Something that will never ever tell anyone the secrets you confide in it.

People have kept pets for almost as long as there have been people. All over the world, all throughout history, people have kept animals for companionship and pleasure. From the Ancient Greeks with their cats, and Amazonian tribes with monkeys, to the tropical fish and the pampered pooches of today's Hong Kong, pets are universal.

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Taking on a pet is a serious responsibility, though. You'll literally be responsible for the animal's every need. Its health and happiness will completely depend on how well you care for it. 

Do your homework

Before taking on any animal, the most important thing is research. Hong Kong is a shoppers' paradise and impulse purchases are usually the order of the day. It's very easy to go to a rescue centre, pick a gorgeous puppy or walk past a market, see a really cool turtle and decide to take it home. But there are a few things you really need to think about first.

Why keep a pet? 

What are the reasons you want this animal? Make sure you've thought through your reasons and aren't being swayed by younger brothers or sisters, or - worse still - following the latest "must-have cool-pet" craze.

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Pets mean commitment

Can you afford the time, space and money commitment that will be involved? Any pet you choose to own will take up a certain amount of your time. From having to walk your dog at least twice a day to cleaning your canary's cage, there will be duties that can't be avoided. You may well have time now, but what about when you're studying for exams a year or two down the line? 

Dogs and cats can live for 15 years and many reptiles and birds live for 50 years or more. Can you really commit to caring for something for this long? 

Would your family look after it if you went away to university, or left Hong Kong for a job?

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Space may be tight

Do you have the space for a large hamster or guinea pig cage? Is there an outdoor space where a dog can play? Many buildings in Hong Kong also have restrictions on pets and you'll need to check if they are allowed.

Do you have the space, time and money to take care of a pet for life?
Photo: Edmond So/SCMP

Animals cost money 

All animals cost money to look after. Food and bedding for even something as small as a hamster can cost about HK$50 a week. 

It's not just the day-to-day costs that you need to think about. It would be easy to care for a hamster or a few goldfish with your pocket money, but what would happen if your pet got sick? A regular vaccine for a cat or dog, for example, might cost about HK$300. Would your parents be prepared to help out with the cost of medical treatment? 

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You may also have to pay for someone to care for your pet if you go away on holiday.

Is now the time? 

Is your family situation right at the moment? You'll need to think really carefully if you have younger siblings because small children can unintentionally hurt or mistreat pets, or be hurt by them. You'll also need to consider any allergies that members of your family may have.

The good, the bad and the messy 

Remember, pets don't always just sit in the corner looking cute. Puppies will be hyperactive, chew things and make messes on the floor. Kittens will scratch furniture. Parrots will screech and shed feathers. Even guinea pigs will shed hair and make a mess. 

If you aren't prepared for these things, then a stuffed toy, or a virtual pet app for your iPad might be better. 

Michael Bradley is a vet with Stanley Veterinary Centre, and also works with local Hong Kong wildlife, as a consultant for groups including Ocean Park Conservation Foundation. He has kept almost every sort of pet over the years.