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By Cassie Marston

We’ve all seen the classic Christmas films where a child excitedly opens a large gift box on Christmas morning, hurriedly excited to see if Santa delivered his biggest wish: a puppy. And while adding a furry friend to your family is wonderful experience, there are certain things to take into consideration. Remember, a pet is a commitment for life, and not just a novelty or spur of the moment decision.

Cassie Marston breaks down the realities of adding a four-legged friend to the family.

What is the Right Time and Way to Introduce a New Pet to Your Family?

Has your child been begging you for a little dog or cat this Christmas? Do you yourself miss having a four-pawed friend with whom to enjoy a run or walk every day? PETA warns that a pet should never be a Christmas gift, but if you know you are ready to be a responsible pet owner, why not give yourself the gift of pet ownership and adopt a dog that needs a forever home? All you need to do is calculate the costs and time involved (and don’t forget to include family vacations alongside your pet). If a pet would fit in perfectly in your home, the next step is to ensure that your kids fall as madly in love with your pet of choice as you do!

How Much do Pets Cost the Average Family in South Africa?

For the first six months of your pet’s life, the cost could be approximately R5,000.00 to R10,000.00. The reasons the figure is so high is that puppies and kittens require more vaccinations (three and two, respectively) in their first few months of life, and spaying is recommended at the age of around six months. It is wise not to wait for spaying, because in the case of dogs, for instance, doing so before the first heat cycle reduces the risk of mammary cancer to only 0.5%. Discuss the pros and cons with your vet, however, the absence of ovarian hormones may predispose dogs to a higher likelihood of joint disease and other cancer types.

What about Adult Pets?

Adult dogs and cats cost considerably less to keep in good health (around R15,000.00 = R1250.00 per month). Expenses include food, flea and tick treatments (which you usually need to reapply every month or so), and de-worming tablets (which are given every three months or as indicated by your vet). Bedding, toys, and winter outfits are other necessities you might like to factor in. As your pet settles in, you will discover ways to save on little luxuries; for instance, curated sets of toys and snacks usually cost less than when you buy individual items. You can also get creative at home, making your own dog beds and toys, and even cooking healthy dog biscuits and snacks.

Introducing Your Pet to Your Kids

From the outset, kids can play an important role in everything from feeding to training your new pet. The introduction should be calm and gentle; kids should be told before they meet their dog or cat, that petting them is a privilege, not a right. Allow your new pet to approach your children rather than the other way around. Show kids to stand with their side to their new dog, with their fists closed. Let the dog approach them and have a sniff then show them the right way to pet pets, gently and without ever applying weight or force to their pet. Pulling ears and tails are a definite no-no, but kids will easily learn this as they observe how you interact with your pet with respect and kindness. Finally, don’t leave pets alone with small children.

They say that pets aren’t a good idea as a Christmas gift but if you are adopting or taking a pet to your own home after careful consideration, there is no reason why they can’t make your festive season extra special. Crunch the numbers and come to a monthly total, seeing if it is within your budget. Finally, think hard about whether or not you have the time to train and walk your dog every day, and to introduce your children to their new pet safely and calmly.

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