Some students decide the best option is to keep their beloved pet at home with their parents, seeing them during the holidays, while others want to take their moggy or pooch with them or even embark on pet ownership for the first time while at uni.
But is it a good idea for a student to have full responsibility for a pet while they’re away studying?
It’s easy to think you could get a dog or a cat as soon as you move into your first shared house or flat, but the reality can be much more complicated. For example, will you have the time to balance your educational commitments and social life with pet ownership, especially if you’re thinking of getting a puppy that will need lots of training and then walking when it’s older?
Then there’s the cost of feeding your pet, which can be surprisingly high, and having enough funds to pay for check-ups, immunisations and any unexpected vet bills. If your financial outlook changed dramatically, would you have enough savings to keep your pet well fed and maintained for the foreseeable future? Don’t ever get a pet until you can maintain a fair standard of living, for both yourself and your pet.
And last, but not least, having to find somewhere to live that will allow you to keep a pet could seriously limit your choices.
Get the timing right
If, having considered all the practicalities, you are still set on getting a pet for the first time, when would be the best time to do so? If there is such a thing as an ideal time, it would probably be during the summer break, as this would give you the greatest amount of free time to get to know your new friend and help them settle in (especially if you’re staying in your university city over the summer), as well as look into pet insurance and buy all the necessary pet supplies.
Remember that, after you get a pet, you won’t have as much freedom as before, so it’s important to choose a time of year when you will have plenty of time to dedicate to them. And think about what will happen when you’re back to your full-time studies – will you still be able to take time out of your day to play with or walk your pet when you’re attending lectures and seminars or cramming for finals?
A safe and suitable environment
Some pets such as larger dogs need to live in homes that offer large open spaces for them to run, jump, roll around, and play for hours. Other pets, such as cats, are well suited to more modest abodes, but would usually appreciate access to a safe outdoor space, so you would need to install a catflap if there isn’t already one present. Any potentially toxic flowers, plants or substances have to be kept far out of your pet’s reach, and if they are not allowed outside on their own, all exits will need to be secured.
Think about the future
When you graduate, you might get a job in your university city or elsewhere, or you may continue your studies at a different institution. Your future could be affected by the end of a relationship or the start of a new one. Consider how a pet would fit into your future plans. Will you be able to find a housemate that is happy to cohabit with a dog, for instance? If not, are you going to be able to afford your own dog-friendly home?
Are you ready?
An important part of deciding whether you’re ready for pet ownership is recognising when you are mature enough for the responsibility. If you are the person who your friends and relatives have depended on for years to take care of their pet-sitting needs, then that could be a good indication of your readiness for pet ownership. If you have no doubt that you would take your pet to the vet at the first sign of major illness, that is also a sign that you would likely put your pets first. Generally speaking, when partying late into the night and changing your plans at a moment’s notice no longer interests you, you can assume that you will be capable of putting your pet first.
Students tend to put a lot of long hours into everything that they do. When they aren’t busy taking classes, they might be working, volunteering, networking or interning. That’s not to mention the fact that students also need time for themselves to relax, sleep, eat and catch up with family and friends. Any pet, regardless of its age, is going to require boundless energy from its owner. So, if you aren’t yet ready to wake early to take your dog for a walk or spend every Sunday afternoon cleaning up your rabbit’s hutch, then the best time for you to have a pet could well be far in the future.
Part of the family
The UK is a nation of animal lovers and pets are very much part of the family. They’re independent beings with their own thoughts, feelings and personalities, and the love and attention that you bestow upon them cannot be temporary in any way, as your pet will bond to you. You therefore need to have room in your heart for your pet – if you are getting over a heartbreak, have concerns about your ability to forge an emotional connection with a pet, or are overwhelmed with personal concerns, wait until it’s a better time for you to welcome them into your life.
After your pet steals your heart, you will want to do everything you can to ensure that they stay happy and well cared for. You never know when a pet might have an accident or become ill and require emergency care, so unless you have significant savings to rely on, you should consider getting pet insurance to cover any unexpected bills, which can be substantial. At Everypaw.com, for instance, loving pet owners can get all of the cat or dog insurance protection they need.
While you have to be responsible to own a pet, you also have to be a pretty well-rounded person. Plan as much as you want – embarking on pet ownership is going to expose you to a lot of things outside of your comfort zone. You can’t be too serious, too selfish or too anxious to be a successful pet owner. Instead, you just have to be willing to see where each day takes you and your pet. If you are truly ready to set out and become a responsible pet owner then you will absolutely love the ride.