Research is key to having a happy and healthly pet

Upgrading from a dorm room to an apartment building is a major change. More freedom and a little extra space can lead to the desire of wanting a pet. Ian Cook, a psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA, says “pets offer an unconditional love that can be very helpful to people with depression.” Pets can add structure, unconditional love and many other health benefits to your life.

The problem that many people have is that it is easy to rush into a pet store and pick out the first adorable, fuzzy face you see. The ASPCA estimates that 7.6 million animals in the U.S. are taken to shelters every year. One of the top reasons animals get surrendered to shelters is because they are purchased without checking out pet policies in leases.

Costs can also add up quickly for essentials to keep a pet: food, bowls, enclosure, shots, licenses and leashes, to name just a few. Small pets like fish need chemicals to detoxify and remove chlorine from the water. Pocket-pets like hamsters, gerbils and mice will need chew toys, wheels and a spacious area to stay healthy. Before investing in all these items and wasting your time and money, check your lease to ensure you won’t be forced to give the pet away or pay a fine. Also, apartment buildings may request renters to apply for a pet license.

If the lease checks out, it is time to do some research. Cats and dogs can both be appealing. However, for a first-time pet owner they can be costly due to medical bills. Dogs need lots of training and attention to keep them happy and healthy. Cats may seem independent, but most need some kind of positive outlet (scratch posts, toys and places up high on which to perch) to avoid tearing up furniture. When searching for your perfect pet, look at all your options.

A small animal doesn’t always equal small living quarters. Rabbits need lots of space to hop around and burn off energy. Another small animal growing in popularity are sugar gliders, a small gliding possum whose body measures five or six inches. However, they need plenty of space to “glide” around and can tend to chirp loudly at night. Various studies have debunked the myth that animals can adapt to any environment. Some animals cannot thrive unless they have the room to get adequate exercise.

Don’t fret, there are still plenty of good options for apartment renters. Think about choosing an animal that likes to crawl. This allows the option of having an enclosure with multiple levels, not taking up floor space. Lizards, birds, guinea pigs, mice, gerbils and hamsters are just some of the options that allow you to choose these types of enclosures.

Small size definitely doesn’t mean a small personality. Handling smaller animals may take some patience, but once they are carefully handled enough their personality starts to shine. I’m the proud pet owner of a dwarf hamster, as my apartment doesn’t allow bigger pets. At first he was a biter and very skittish. Now, anyone that steps into my place becomes his new friend. He loves attention and runs to the bars of his enclosure anytime someone walks past his enclosure or a new voice enters the room. People joke that he’s like a small dog. He understands basic commands, follows people around in his exercise ball and even gives “kisses” on the tip of your nose.

Message boards can be a great resource to find information on pets and figuring out what kind of animal will fit into your home. Petfinder.com is a great place to find any animal you could think of if you want to go the route of adoption. Make sure you research throughly before you make a quick purchase. It will make both you and your new little buddy the happiest in the end.