Growing up with pets is a common experience in the U.S. According to the American Pet Products Association, 68 percent of households in the country had one or more pets from 2017-2018, and for good reason.
Pets are one of the many enjoyable facets of life, and can especially brighten up the life of a stressed out, anxiety-ridden college student. There are many reasons why a student might want to get an animal. Some leave behind their family pets when they come to college, and get homesick or lonely. Others have never had a pet before college, and become curious about it later on. Many students are bombarded with cute animal videos and photos on social media all day long. No matter what the reason for wanting to get a pet is, almost anyone can agree that getting a one is a huge responsibility.
The truth is, while there are many benefits to owning an animal, it can also be quite stressful. Studies have shown that human-pet interactions, such as petting or playing, help lower anxiety and blood pressure. Research from the North American Journal of Psychology also indicates that in comparison to students without pets, student pet-owners had lower resting pulse rates in general. However, owning a pet involves a lot more than just petting and playing. The physical and mental stress of caring for an animal doesn’t always fit well with the stress of classes, work, internships, extracurriculars, projects and more.
Animals require an endless amount of care and attention. Pet owners have to ensure their pet is always fed, getting a good amount of exercise, properly vaccinated, has enough necessary supplies and toys, has access to medical care and is taken outside as often as needed. Not only that, but pet owners also have to understand their pets’ displays of affection and bodily cues. These things can take a lot of time, patience and nurturing, no matter what the animal’s age
Even though pets can help people psychologically, many students find it difficult to take care of themselves alone, and wouldn’t do well under the added pressure of caring for an entirely dependent animal. Some students also undermine the kind of attention pets need and grow frustrated when their pets become uncooperative or display signs of unhappiness from lack of attention.
With all this said, how can students determine if they’re ready to get a pet, and what are the necessary steps to preparing for pet-parenthood?
First, it’s important to gauge how much time is being spent at home versus outside of the home. For student spending a majority of their time in class, studying, working, running errands or just investing their time elsewhere, a pet wouldn’t fair well in their absence. Even cats, notorious for being independent, can become very unhappy with their owner if they’re gone for long periods of time. This might vary depending on whether a student lives alone or with roommates, family or friends who can spend time with their pet while they’re gone. However, it’s still the student’s pet at the end of the day, and there’s no reason to bring an animal into your life if you’re not going to be in theirs very often.
Second, take into consideration whether or not you have enough income to support you and your little one. Pets themselves aren’t hard to obtain — the real costs happen when that pet needs to make an emergency trip to the vet, needs more toys or when the pet owner needs to pay housing and traveling fees. If a student is too burdened by school payments, groceries, bills, etc., they might want to consider waiting until they have a more consistent income that can support a pet.
Finally, students have to be honest about why they want a pet, and whether they can give a never-ending amount of love to their animal. Some people get pets only to realize in a week or so that it isn’t as “fun” or “exciting” as they’d hoped. While it’s normal to have a reality different from expectations, it’s not O.K. to subject an animal to abandonment if someone knows they can’t stay invested.
Overall, there are several factors that go into caring for a pet as a college student. While pets are nice to look at and even fun to be around, parenting one is a whole other world. One should be certain they have the patience, funds and time to nurture an animal for the rest of their life. And, of course, anyone looking to get an animal should always adopt, never shop!
Carla Suggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @carla_suggs.