Tips for choosing a new pet

Deciding that you want a new pet is a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly. It’s more than just choosing the breed and finding the perfect match for the family – it means getting the buy-in from all the family members, and understanding the lifelong responsibilities and the financial implications that go with having a pet.

Only once the family has agreed on who will do what, who will pay for what and who will ultimately be responsible for the pet, should the next step be taken – choosing the ideal cat, dog, or other pet.

Specific breed or rescue?

Do you know yet whether you want to rescue a pet from a shelter, or if you’d prefer to get your pet from a breeder? With so many pets waiting in shelters for their new forever homes, you may want to consider this option.

If you decide that this is the way you want to go, do your homework about the shelter to make sure that they are reputable. Unfortunately, there are shelters out there who don’t necessarily take proper care of the animals at their facilities.

Reputable breeder

Should you prefer to get your new pet from a breeder, find a reputable one who you can trust. It isn’t only about the person who breeds the animals or even just the animals themselves; it is also about the moral values and ethics that accompany the bettering of the breed and responsible breeding of the animals. A reputable breeder will also be able to assist you in taking the best possible care of the animal. You can find reputable and registered breeders at the Kennel Union of Southern Africa.

Once you’ve found a reputable breeder, ask them questions like:

  1. What are the typical characteristics and nature of the breed?
  2. What are the typical health conditions associated with the breed, and what should prospective owners be aware of?
  3. What is the ideal diet for the breed?
  4. Can you see the parents of the pet to determine what your adult pet will look like one day?

Choosing a puppy

When you are surrounded by puppies, don’t fall for the first set of puppy eyes that you see. Keep in mind that this will be a long-term relationship and, therefore, you need to ask a few questions before you choose a puppy.

Ask the breeder or shelter about the personality of the puppy. You should have a good idea what you want in a dog, and this will help determine which puppy will do well with your family. Do you want a dog with an outgoing personality; do you want a dog who will be active; or would you prefer a dog who will curl up next to you on the couch?

Look for a healthy puppy, and in particular:

  • Clear, bright eyes with no discharge.
  • Clean ears.
  • Healthy and clean teeth and gums.
  • No sign of diarrhoea.
  • The puppies shouldn’t be too thin, nor too fat.

Choosing a kitten

A kitten learns socialisation skills between the ages of two and seven weeks. This is the crucial period when she needs to learn how to interact with other cats, dogs and people. Ideally, every kitten should stay with her mother until she is at least eight weeks old, meaning that by the time she goes to her new home, she should interact with other pets and people naturally. Keep this in mind when you choose a kitten, as well as:

  • Is the kitten playful?
  • Is her fur soft, without any bald spots?
  • She shouldn’t be too skinny, nor too fat.
  • Clean ears and clear, bright eyes without any discharge.
  • No runny nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • Her rear end should be clean, with no traces of diarrhoea.
  • The kitten should be free from infectious diseases like feline leukaemia.

Choosing a rabbit

There are a huge variety of rabbit breeds to choose from. Don’t pick the first rabbit you see and, unless you get reputable references, stay away from pet stores and social media – there are too many scammers out there. Know in advance what you want in a rabbit, like the type of personality, and also consider:

  • He should be bright, active and alert.
  • His fur should be shiny and lush.
  • He shouldn’t be too thin or too fat, and definitely shouldn’t have a pot belly.
  • Ideally, he should have had human contact and shouldn’t be scared of you. If he becomes aggressive and bites, you might have to tame him first.
  • All the rabbits in the litter should be healthy and playful. If one of the litter members is ill, chances are that the others might get ill too.
  • His ears and eyes should be clean.
  • His nose should be dry.
  • Make sure his top teeth go just over his bottom teeth.

Choosing a rat

Many experts suggest having two rats instead of just one, as they are highly sociable animals who naturally live in colonies. But only do this if you can afford it. Ideally, you want a rat who will come up to your hand and sniff it. A rat who cowers in the corner might not be the ideal choice, and neither is an aggressive rat.

Also watch out for:

  • His fur should be clean and shiny.
  • Beware of a sneezing rat, as he may have an upper respiratory infection.
  • Red colouring, that looks like blood, around the rat’s eyes and nostrils. He might have a mycoplasma infection (respiratory illness), or an upper respiratory infection.
  • He should look generally healthy, and not be too thin or too fat.
  • He also needs to be alert and active.

Choosing a bird

Before you even choose a bird, make sure that you have enough space, so that you can buy the biggest cage that you can afford. Think about it for a moment – your bird needs to be able to spread his wings without touching the sides of the cage, and his tail feathers shouldn’t touch the cage either. Also, it isn’t fair to your bird to be locked up in a cage all day long.

Once you know which breed of bird will fit in with your family needs, and you’ve found a reputable breeder, then you can find the ideal bird.

Look for a healthy bird who has:

  • Even-sized nostrils with no blockages.
  • Clear, lively eyes.
  • Clean feathers around his bill and on his head.
  • Smooth legs.
  • No swelling on the feet.


Before you commit to any animal, make sure that you understand what it will entail to take care of your new pet, especially if you haven’t had a similar pet before. All animals need daily attention and affection, and some have daily grooming needs. Never make an impulsive purchase when it comes to animals; rather spend more time deliberating, and do more research.


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