College is a place where many people are faced with making life-changing decisions all by themselves for the first time.
When it comes to deciding whether or not to get a pet, however, students should know that there are many things to consider. Though the debate between dog lovers and cat lovers is never-ending, there are certain dynamics that involve all pets.
Primarily, the question is: should you get a pet in college? If the answer is yes, how do you go about deciding which pet is right for you? The decision should not be made on a whim, as taking on a pet requires a commitment that will potentially last years.
There are three main issues surrounding all pets, from Fido to Nemo: cost, space and time. To break it down, we will discuss the most prominent issues and the way the most popular pets fit these categories.
There are different factors that can play a role in the cost of an animal. Some have larger initial costs, while others require continuous additional contributions throughout their lives. There can be unforeseen expenses on top of this, such as medical bills, which can really make an impact in your budget.
If you are living on a budget, getting a pet may not be the right decision for you; however, there are some pets that require much less maintenance money than others.
If cost is a key component, this could help you decide which type of pet to get:
All decisions regarding dogs will be greatly affected by which breed you choose. This definitely matters, and there are many quizzes on the Internet you can take to help you decide which breed is right for you.
Each person is different, so they will have to tweak their doggy requirements to fit their individual needs. Regardless of the breed, though, dogs are an expensive investment.
Costs of a dog include purchase price, food, veterinary and medical expenses, vaccinations, supplies, grooming, training and more. According to RaisingSpot.com, the yearly expense of a dog can be anywhere from $360-$2,520 or more, and with an average lifespan of 12 years, a dog can cost $4,620-$32,990.
“You may spend more or less depending on the dog you adopt and where you live,” RaisingSpot.com said. “Keep in mind that this doesn’t include expenses like emergency medical care or dealing with the issues of old age in dogs, which can run into the thousands of dollars.”
Cats are significantly less expensive overall than dogs, but they can still rack up quite the bill. With expenses including, but not limited to, food, medical expenses, litter and toys, a cat can cost around $1,035 for just the minimum care needed in the first year alone, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
When it comes to pets, there are several different reptile options, including snakes, geckos, lizards, tarantulas, turtles and tortoises.
“I think pet reptiles are excellent,” Dave Karnowski, co-owner of Reptile World, said. “They may not give affection back like a small, fuzzy thing. It’s harder for us to relate to them as it is like a cat or a dog, but for some people maybe that’s good.”
According to Karnowski, reptiles are not expensive to maintain, and Reptile World sells starter kits for its most popular animals that range from $77-$150. These kits include everything the animal needs, from heat to food. The turtle kits even include a free turtle.
The initial investment for reptiles can be higher if the animal requires a heating or UVB component, but Karnowski said the upkeep is minimal; for example, it is $1 for a dozen crickets, which many reptiles eat, and spiders only cost about 25 cents per week. In addition, turtles eat vegetables, so you can feed them from your local grocery store.
Caged rodents, fish
This category includes pets like rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and hamsters, as well as fish. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the annual cost for minimal care for a rabbit is $1,055, while a guinea pig costs $705 and a fish costs $235. Each of these organisms requires purchasing a place to contain the pet, whether it be a cage or bowl, and a continuous food supply.
The next important issue that comes with deciding on a pet is how much space the animal needs and whether or not you are going to be able to provide it. College students have many different living situations, and different pets have a wide variety of spatial requirements.
Some of the pets previously discussed that are allowed in the residence halls include hamsters, guinea pigs, snakes, lizards, turtles, tortoises and fish, according to the K-State Association of Residence Halls, which details the rules and regulations regarding dorm pets.
“Each pet must be relatively quiet, low in odor, nonpoisonous, nonvenomous, harmless and disease-free,” the association’s website said.
In addition, each roommate must agree and sign off on each pet.
Before you can purchase a pet, you need to know the rules of the establishment in which you live. Many apartments and the residence halls forbid certain pets. So you should check with your landlord or hall governing board first to find out if you are even allowed to have a pet.
The Animal Welfare Act requires that dogs “have adequate space to allow the dogs to turn about freely, to stand, sit and lie in a comfortable, normal position and to walk in a normal manner.”
The larger the dog, the larger the space needed, so this could play an important role in your decision on what breed of dog to choose.
In addition, the Everyday Health article “Does Your Pet Belong Indoors or Outdoors?” by Chris Iliades, said that dogs are social animals who like attention and don’t like being outside alone.
According to the article, outdoor dogs stay near their pens to guard their territory and wait for their owners; dogs need exercise, though, and the best way to do this is walking your furry friend. Letting it out for bathroom breaks is typically easier if you have a backyard, which most apartments do not. This is another factor that must be considered.
“If you leave your dog outside for short periods, make sure to provide a safe, escape-proof shelter, shade and fresh water,” Illiades said in the article. “Never chain your dog. Remember that dogs with heavy coats don’t do well in the heat, and short-coated dogs do not do well in the cold.”
Morgan Meeks, sophomore in apparel marketing, said she would already have a dog if it wasn’t for the requirements of her sorority house.
“I haven’t gotten one because I live in a house, so we can’t,” Meeks said, “There wouldn’t be (other) factors for me because I love dogs.”
“I’d feel guilty having a dog if I didn’t have a yard to put it in,” Jared Gross, senior in biological systems engineering, said. “Cats are pretty content indoors.”
According to the Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, cats need enough space to sleep and have quiet space, eat and drink, go the bathroom and be active; cats also need vertical space to climb, a place for their litter box, a place to scratch and a safe way to see through a window or go outdoors.
The type of environment the reptile requires, as well as how big the reptile gets, will determine how much space is needed for the animal.
Colin Cudney, freshman in biology, said he currently lives in Haymaker Hall and is an employee at Reptile World.
According to Cudney, Leopard Geckos make the best residence hall pet; he has two of them and his roommates love them.
Karnowski said he would recommend the Crested Gecko for on-campus living, however, because they do not require heat while the Leopard Geckos do. Neither one take up a lot of room, though, so they can both be managed in the dorms.
Karnowski said to be respectful and mindful if you do get a residence hall pet, especially so you don’t lose your ability to keep pets in the residence halls.
“Not everybody is comfortable with even looking at a snake, so even if you’re not out flaunting it around or throwing it in someone’s face, maybe keep it to your room,” Karnowski said. “Don’t go to the hallways.”
If you have a house, Cudney said he has another preference.
“The Bearded Dragons, if you have a house, they are perfect,” Cudney said. “They are one of my favorite lizards … they form a bond. They are like cats or dogs, really.”
There are many different reptiles, so you can make a decision tailored specifically to your needs.
Caged rodents, fish
The space required for animals in this category is pretty minimal – you need to make room for the cage, bowl or aquarium. You do, however, need to be sure to check the guidelines on just how big the animal’s “home” needs to be, as well as what the requirements are for each, whether it be placing it in a place in or away from the sun, or something else.
The Animal Research Review Panel of the Animal Welfare Branch, for example, laid out ethical standards for housing rats, titled “Guidelines for the Housing of Rats in Scientific Institutions.” According to these guidelines, the rat’s space must permit it to sleep, groom, eat, explore, hide and be active.
Most animals require a clean living environment and access to clean water, so you need to be sure you can provide this. The level of care required by each ranges drastically, so the time required to provide the adequate care is a consideration that needs to be given significant thought.
Once you get a pet, you are taking responsibility for its quality of life.
Dogs need the highest amount of care and require the largest time commitment by their owners. This could potentially impede on the life of a college student, so before deciding on a dog, you must determine how much spare time you actually have.
Jenilee Horn, junior in dietetics, has a retired Greyhound Racer. She said it requires daily feeding and walks, vet care, shots and worming, but it is low maintenance over all as it sleeps 18 hours a day. Horn, however, organized her class schedule around her dog’s needs.
“I keep my classes spread apart so I can run home to walk my dog so she’s not at home all day by herself,” Horn said. “ I would like to get a second dog, but with as busy as my schedule is, I’ll probably have to wait until after college.”
Cats are right behind dogs in the time requirement category. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ “General Cat Care” guidelines, cats must be fed at least one large meal daily (or you can keep dry food readily available), their litter box must be changed at least once a day and they should be combed regularly.
“You have to give a pet attention,” Gross said. “You can’t get it and then ignore it.”
According to Gross, he cleans his cat’s litter box daily, checks to make sure it has food both in the morning and evening, and gives him attention. Gross said that taking care of a cat is low maintenance compared to a human.
The range of care needed by the variety of reptiles varies, but Karnowski said reptiles do not require much time or effort to upkeep. Mostly, you just have to feed them.
Some, including different breeds of geckos, are what Karnowski called “look-at pets,” and you don’t even have to hold them. He recommended being “true to yourself” in deciding how much time you can give a pet before you take it on.
“Some people are like, ‘I just don’t have enough time for it (a reptile),’” Karnowski said. “Well, that’s a bullshit answer. Reptiles don’t give a shit if you hold them. Like, they tolerate you holding them, that’s it.”
Caged rodents, fish
In addition to having food and water readily available, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Rat Care guidelines tell you to remove droppings and old food every day and to replace dirty bedding and clean the cage with warm, soapy water once a week.
These are similar to the society’s Small Pet Care guidelines regarding the different caged animals, such as gerbils and guinea pigs requiring the changing of bedding twice a week, and hamsters needing an exercise wheel.
According to the ASPCA’s Fish Care guidelines, fish should be kept in a tank, not a bowl, and a 20-gallon aquarium is recommended for beginners. the guidelines also said, “it is best to feed several small meals daily, just enough so the fish eat everything before it falls to the bottom.”
Despite all of these factors, a pet can provide the ultimate companionship. Making a decision to get one, however, requires extensive research. Being in college makes the decision to get a pet slightly more difficult, but the nice thing about being an adult, in college or not, is that ultimately the decision is yours.