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Finding the perfect pet: University veterinarian says don't buy on impulse

Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017


MANHATTAN — When selecting the best pet, there is just one step — or maybe three: "research, research, research," according to Kansas State University veterinarian Susan Nelson.

"When it comes to animals, don’t buy on impulse," said Nelson, clinical professor at the university's Veterinary Health Center in the College of Veterinary Medicine. "The more research you do beforehand, the better fit you'll have and the happier you'll be with your pet."

Research topics include costs for food and medication, maintenance of their living quarters and hygiene, and other needs, especially regarding exercise and attention. Good resources for breed information include official breed websites, books that contrast breeds and a veterinarian.

"Talk to your local veterinarian about what he or she thinks would be a good fit for your family," Nelson said.

While every human and animal differ, Nelson said there are certain things to watch for when the potential pet buyer is a family with children, a college student or an older adult.

When parents with little ones consider adding a "four-legged child" to the mix, they should ask about the animal's behavior with children and observe it interacting with their own children, Nelson said. They also should research the breed to see if it is one that is considered a good fit for households with kids. To protect kids from pests that pets could attract, dogs and cats should be placed on flea and tick preventative, Nelson said.

Plenty of other pets, beyond dogs and cats, are available that can be great picks for kids.

Hamsters can be OK for older children, who can better handle cage maintenance and possible biting, but the rodents' nocturnal activities could keep a child up at night, Nelson said. Instead, Nelson recommends guinea pigs because they live longer, are more active in the day and are more expressive.

"Guinea pigs have so much personality that sometimes when they see their owner coming, they squeal with happiness," Nelson said. "They tend to be really good first pets for kids."

College students could face pet-owning challenges if they leave town for spring, summer or winter break, so it's important to plan ahead for those breaks before buying a pet, Nelson said.

"Unfortunately, when college kids leave for the summer, pets often get left at parks and other public areas because students can't take them home," Nelson said. "Animal control departments and shelters see many pets that get abandoned by students who don't plan for the long-term commitment of pet ownership."

Nelson said it's important to consider where the pet will be during those breaks and how the pet could affect others who are living or staying in the same spaces.

"If a young adult couldn't have a dog growing up because a family member had an allergy, they may think college is a great time to finally get one," Nelson said. "However, if that family member is still living at home when the pet owner wants to go home for break, what will they do?"

It also is important for college students to ensure that their apartment or residence hall allows pets and that their roommates are OK with a pet living with them, Nelson said.

For elderly persons who are dog lovers, lap dogs are a good choice because the owners can easily pick up the dogs and sit close with them. Also, little dogs on a leash are less likely to pull owners down. Cats also are a good choice for those who favor the felines, Nelson said. Birds are a popular pick for the elderly because they will chirp or talk to their owners, providing a sense of conversation, Nelson said.

"In the end, it's about researching to find the best pet for your needs and making sure you can meet their needs, too," Nelson said. "When the pet's and pet owner's needs complement each other, you've found a match."


Susan Nelson


Veterinary Health Center


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Susan Nelson

Susan Nelson, Kansas State University veterinary professor, says the key to buying the best pet is to research the animal's needs and temperament beforehand.

Written by

Tiffany Roney