• Camden Valley Animal Hospital
  • 02 4647 6199
  • Unit 2 Exchange Parade, Narellan

Selecting Your Pet




Seeking guidance before obtaining a new pet can prevent many behaviour and health problems in pets. Making a consultation to discuss this important issue with our experienced veterinarians will help you select the best pet for your home. It will also provide information on how to prepare in advance for the new arrival. Selection topics to be discussed include the species, breed, age, and sex of the pet, where to obtain the pet and how the kennel, breeder, and pets can best be assessed. Advice on preparing the home will include housing, bedding, feeding, training, exercise, scheduling and health care requirements.

What pet might be best for my family?

The primary reason pet owners might one day need to relinquish their pets is because of the unrealistic expectations they had when they first entered into pet ownership. Before getting started, ensure you understand the time, commitment and expense you will be undertaking over the next 15 to 20 years. While pet ownership has innumerable benefits, it also comes with tremendous responsibilities. The first decision to make is whether a pet is right for you, and if so which type of pet. Most people have their heart set on a specific species even before they do any research and never consider some of the more unusual species like horses, sheep, goats, rabbits, rodents, reptiles, birds, and amphibians. All pets we own require a certain amount care, time and effort. This varies from species to species. For example, dogs require training, exercise, housetraining, out-door activities, aerobic exercise and a significant amount of socialization to learn the social skills to interact with other dogs, pets and people. They also require a reasonable level of supervision especially to prevent damage to the house and yard. Cats don’t require the same type of training but they need to learn to direct their normal repertoire of behaviours (scratching, climbing, perching, playing, eliminating and feeding/hunting) towards acceptable indoor outlets. Rabbits require training for use of litter trays, handling but require a reasonable amount of cleaning cages etc. We need to learn about normal behaviour, the principles of reward-based training, the environmental requirements for the species we wish to keep as a pet. We need to find out how much time, effort, and expense is required for training, housing, environmental enrichment, feeding, grooming, and health care of each of species we want to share our lives with. Further information may be required on the breed and sex of the pet you are considering. The support system you have during times of illness or vacation need to be assessed to insure your pets will have sufficient care at all times. Veterinary advice is invaluable when trying to determine which pet best suits you and your lifestyle. Finally preparation of yourselves and your home prior to the arrival of your new pet can be of huge advantage to you and your pet.

What breed is best for my home and family?

In the rest of this document we will concentrate on birds, cats and dogs as these are by far the most common species selected. If you would like further information regarding some of the more unusual species please make an appointment with the veterinary staff .

If you decide you want a particular species (e.g. dog, cat, or bird) the next decision is whether to obtain a purebred or a mixed breed animal.

Selecting a purebred allows you to have significant control over the selection of physical characteristics and some control over selection of behavioural characteristics. You need to select a number of breeds whose physical appearance appeals to you taking into account the coat type, length, physical size of dog, etc. In assessing this you must take into account the time and inclination you have for grooming, exercise etc. Also consider the lifespan of the breed, since giant breeds of dogs live considerably shorter lives than smaller breeds. If select certain cockatoos it is highly likely they will outlive you and this of course is another consideration.

Selecting a mixed breed pet, reduces the risk of some of the genetic problems associated with inbreeding and it reduces the initial cost of acquiring the pet. However, the best way to predict the behavioural and physical attributes of an adult pet is to obtain a purebred from known parentage. This is particularly important when selecting a puppy or kitten. Unless the parents are known it is extremely difficult to predict the size, health, or behaviour that is likely to emerge as the dog grows up. In contrast, selecting an adult allows assessment of the physical characteristics, health and behaviour of the animal. Observing the parents always gives us more insight into the makeup of the pet.

By selecting a pet from the pound or a breed rescue agency an abandoned animal will be re-housed, this should only one part component of selecting the best pet for your home.

Before the selection consultation, visit dog cat or bird shows to observe the appearance of the adult individuals of each breed. Do some reading. There are a variety of books, and Internet sites that can help to guide you through the selection process. Some books concentrate on the physical characteristics, history of the breed, or health concerns, while others cover breed behavioural characteristics, and how to select individuals from a breeder, shelter, or litter. Behavioural factors to consider as you try to decide upon a breed of bird, dog or cat include activity level, exercise requirements, coat care, size, vocalizations and any reported behaviour problems of the breed (or species of bird). Perhaps the most important factor to consider is the origin of the breed (or species of bird) as the traits and behaviours for which the breed has been bred and selected (herding, protection, hunting, etc.) are the most strongly inherited. These factors are also important in the type of household, exercise and training you will need to provide for your pet, and the types of behaviour problems that might arise. Once you have narrowed the selection down to a few choices, your veterinarian can guide you regarding the physical and behavioural problems you need to be aware of for each pet. Most bird species have had little if any selection performed for behaviour, they have predominantly been selected for ability to breed and plumage. Most birds are from aviaries although a proportion are hand raised fledglings which can present unique pets and challenges.

Remember most behaviours are moderately inherited which means the majority of animals behaviour is affected by its’ environment.

At what age should I obtain a pet?

Puppies are most social from about 3 to 12 weeks of age. For the first seven to eight weeks, primary socialization should be directed to other puppies and littermates to aid a puppy to develop healthy social relationships with other dogs. From seven weeks on, well before the socialization period ends, socialization should be directed to people, new environments and other pets. For these reasons, an ideal age to obtain a new puppy might be at 7 to 8 weeks of age. This allows adequate time to be in its new home, and bond to its new family, well before its primary socialization period ends. However, one drawback of obtaining a puppy at this age is socialization and play will also need to continue with its own species, so if you do not already have another dog in your home, this may be a challenge to accomplish successfully.  It may suffice to arrange for regular play sessions with the dogs of family, friends and relatives.  If this option is not available, puppy classes should be considered. 

Since the most receptive period for kitten socialization is 3 to 9 weeks of age, a kitten should either be obtained by 7 weeks of age, or the new owners must ensure the kitten has had adequate human contact prior to 7 weeks of age. Don’t obtain a kitten much earlier than 7 weeks since this deprives it of social contact with its mother and littermates.

Timing of acquisition of birds depends very much on the species, whether they are hand raised or not etc. For more specific information please make an appointment with the veterinarian.

Acquiring an adult dog or cat can avoid some of the problems of bringing a new puppy or kitten into the home. This is especially true for dogs where the time and commitment required to train a puppy are considerable. Fulfilling the play, feeding, elimination, and exercise needs of a puppy or kitten may be impractical for a family who spends much of the day away from home. On the other hand, an adult dog or cat that has had insufficient or inappropriate training or insufficient socialization may have behaviour problems that are difficult to resolve.  However, unlike puppy the testing of puppies, temperament testing of adult dogs and cats may be a useful means of assessing behaviour.  For owners who are ready and able to meet the demands of a growing puppy or kitten, obtaining a pet during its primary socialization period is strongly recommended.

Should I consider a male or female pet?

In dogs, males tend to be slightly larger in stature than females of the same breed and somewhat more assertive. Castration of male dogs reduces sexually dimorphic behaviours such as mounting, roaming, urine marking, and aggression directed toward other male dogs (see our handout ‘Neutering’ – canine). Castration in cats reduces urine odor and sexually dimorphic behaviour traits such as roaming, fighting, and urine marking (by about 90%). See our handout ‘Neutering’ – feline.

Where should I obtain my pet?

Perhaps the most important reason to obtain a pet from a breeder or private home is to observe the physical characteristics, health and behaviour of the parents. Although often not available for assessment, the genetic effects of the father, especially in cats, when it comes to boldness and assertiveness. If the parents have been previously bred, contacting the owners of any siblings from previous litters might provide even greater insight.  Choose a breeder who is open and willing to answer questions, and who will allow you to tour the kennel and meet the parents. When a puppy or kitten is obtained from a breeder or private home you are also able to observe the early environment and assess the exposure to people that the pet has had. A personal relationship with a good breeder is of great value in helping the pet settle in and it may be helpful should later problems arise. Be certain to ask your veterinarian to prepare you with appropriate questions for the breeder including eye examinations, hip dysplasia certification for the parents and any other health or behavioural problems to which the breed may be prone. Dogs cats or birds acquired from pet stores, puppy mills, or shelters, may have received insufficient early socialization, are at higher risk for contracting disease, and developing behavioural issues. Of course parents of these pet store purchased animals cannot be observed.

How do I decide which pet to choose?

The value and effectiveness of performing assessment tests on young puppies and kittens is highly debatable since many behaviour and health problems do not emerge until the pet matures. Different puppy temperament tests have been detailed in the literature, but there is no good available evidence they are predictive of future behaviour. What puppy testing can do is identify problem areas that may need attention from an early age.  For example, puppies or kittens that are excessively fearful, timid, pain sensitive or noise reactive and those that exhibit excessive biting may be less suitable. Recent studies have shown assessment testing may become increasingly more accurate as the dog ages.  In fact, one advantage in selecting an adult pet is it might be possible for a trained observer to be able to accurately assess the pet’s temperament and personality to determine what behaviour problems might arise. A number of temperament and assessment tests have been developed, which might provide some insight as to what problems are likely to arise.  However, most of these tests have yet to be rigorously evaluated as to their predictable. (For a list of some of these tests see references below).

For cats, three personality types have been identified: 1) sociable 2) timid and unfriendly or 3) active and aggressive. Because the socialization period for litters ends earlier than in dogs, early handling is extremely important. Kitten assessment tests can be a valuable tool in determining the effects of genetics, socialization and early handling. If the cat tolerates handling, lifting and petting with little or no fear or resistance it is likely to make a good family pet. Fearful, timid, hard to restrain or aggressive cats should be avoided.

Selection resources:

Numerous internet sites are available that contain breed facts and pictures and breed selection guides. In addition, breed organizations and rescue groups offer detailed advice on individual breeds, but may be somewhat biased in favor of the breed.

Internet sites are also available that can serve as guide for pet selection.

Sources of pets -- animal welfare League

We look forward to you giving us a call on 46476199 and making an appointment to discuss this important matter.