I live alone. Should I get a pet?


Zina Kumok

Zina Kumok

Blog author Zina Kumok

Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Debt Free After Three.

Published February 26, 2016|5 min read

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Living alone can get lonely. Even introverts and lone wolves need company sometimes, but it’s not always easy to get together with friends every time you need to get out of your own head.

For those people, owning a pet can be one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences available. They can soothe your nerves, keep you company and make your life more satisfying. They can even help you meet new people.

Still, taking care of an animal isn’t for everyone, and you may be wondering, "Should I get a dog?" (Or "Should I get a cat?"). Read on to find out if you’re the type of person who would benefit from taking on a furry friend.

Why you should get a pet

Coming home to an empty apartment may feel less lonely if there’s someone waiting for you to get home. Pets can provide companionship when it’s hard to find in the human form.

A pet may also provide reasons to leave the house, if you’re the type to squirrel away at home when you know socialization is what you need. If you live in a new city, a pet can provide easy access to groups and organizations where you can meet like-minded people. It’s easier to strike up a conversation with someone when your dogs are sniffing each other’s hind parts.

A dog or other animal who requires daily walks can even provide a little exercise for those struggling to get to the gym. Many people find that having an active pet encourages them to be more active in general, especially if that pet likes to play.

People with anxiety or depression can also benefit from having a pet, especially in combination with other forms of treatment. There’s a reason dogs and cats are often brought to nursing homes, hospitals and psychiatric wards — their mere presence is a natural mood-booster for many.

Why you shouldn’t get a pet

If you haven’t had a pet before, getting one when you live alone may be overwhelming. Books and classes may help, but experience is often the best teacher. If you’re impatient and easily frustrated, getting a pet you’re not familiar with can result in disappointment for you and the animal.

Pets can also require more effort than people realize. Easy day trips can turn into fiascos if your pet sitter flakes on you. After-work activities will require more planning and organization, and spontaneous vacations are off the table unless you can bring Fido with you.

Renters may find it difficult to find a place that allows pets without paying an extra fee or deposit, and some landlords will also place a limit on the type of pet allowed. A rambunctious animal can wreck your home, sour your relationship with your landlord and whittle your security deposit down to nothing.

People should examine if they can afford to have a pet. Beyond the costs a pet can incur on your living situation, owners will need to buy food, toys and other supplies. Vet care can also add up quickly, and often at the most inconvenient times.

Pet insurance can lower the burden for unexpected expenses, but it also requires a monthly premium owners may not be aware of. Before buying a policy, owners need to be aware of what’s covered and what’s not.

What kind of pet is right for me?

So you’ve weighed the pros and cons, considered your current situation and decided to get a pet. But what kind?

Not all pets are perfect for those who live alone, and dog lovers need to be especially careful with their selection. For example, a puppy is often a bad choice for single dwellers. They’re like babies — they need to pee often and can keep you awake at night with their howling. A senior dog who naps all day may be a better fit, but some insurance policies might not cover an older dog. Your local humane society or shelter may have seniors dogs available.

Cats are another popular option, but can require as much work as a dog. Kittens may seem warm and cuddly, but owners will need to anticipate the type of damage a kitten might do. Even a cat requires hours of attention and play time. If you’re ready for a cat, they’re a good option. They’re independent, clean and can provide hours of entertainment with their antics. Birds, rodents and reptiles may provide similar benefits to a dog or cat without requiring as much work, but come with their own challenges the general public isn’t as familiar with. If you choose to go a more exotic route with your pet selection, make sure to do your research.

Like your parents said, an animal is a huge responsibility

Beyond the day-to-day duties required to take care of a pet, there are also the emergencies that can show who’s prepared to be a pet owner - and who’s not. A trip to the emergency vet after your cat swallowed a piece of aluminum foil or your dog ate your boyfriend’s chocolate cake can break your budget. Or you might realize that while your friends meet up for happy hour after work, you’re rushing home to take your dog out to pee.

If you’re not sure if a pet is right for you, try fostering one. You’ll have the chance to see how your lifestyle meshes with a pet. If it doesn’t work, you can give the animal back with no hard feelings. If you fall in love, well, you’ve got a new member of the family.

Image: Tambako The Jaguar