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The Pet Prescription: Is It for You?

Owning a pet can reduce stress and improve many aspects of your health. But not everyone is cut out for pet ownership.

What's Your Lifestyle?

Look at your lifestyle to determine whether a pet will be a joy or a burden. If you're on the go working and traveling, you'll have to make arrangements for someone to look after a dog, and to a lesser extent, a cat. Physical limitations may prevent you from taking a dog for walks, especially in the winter months. And a dog that barks at everything may add to your stress (not to mention that of your neighbors). Family members or friends with allergies may decide your home is off-limits. If you pride yourself on a clean house, dog or cat hair will become your nemesis, not to mention that a dog will track mud inside on a rainy day and a cat doesn't care where she spits up a fur ball. Finally, be aware of costs, not just for spaying or neutering, shots, bed, carrier, toys, and food, but also for the unexpected things. Talk to pet owners, and you'll find at some time their cherished pet chewed a keepsake photo album or urinated on an heirloom loveseat or ruined some other valuable. Then there's the problem of illness. Medicine and trips to the vet can be costly.

Lessons From the Pound

The two main reasons people take pets to the pound are 1) the owners move, and 2) the pets' behavior is a problem, according to Mo Salman, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine. He led a study of why people relinquish pets. "One thing that surprised me about the study was finding the short turnover of dogs and cats relinquished to shelters," he said. "Average time was less than a year. My interpretation is that people just didn't give it thought before getting a pet."

The study also revealed people were more likely to give up a pet if they received it from someone else as opposed to getting it on their own. "I think well-meaning friends and family should recognize the person's ability to accommodate the pet's needs," Salman says. "Some matchings are perfect, but others are dangerous. Perfect matching is giving an elderly person who mainly stays at home a sweet, older cat that's always been a house cat. A risky match would be giving her a puppy. There's a balance. People need to consider both the animal and human needs."

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