For most people, having a pet is like having a furry best friend. You play with them, sneak them treats, and talk to them like you do a child. They are the best listeners and the ultimate confidant. You want what is best for your friend, but do you know what it means to be a responsible pet owner?

Owning a pet is a huge responsibility because you are in charge of a living being. Before you decide to adopt or purchase an animal from a responsible breeder, you should make sure that you can adequately care for it. Below are some ideas to consider when bringing a pet into your home.

Acknowledge the lifelong commitment.

Your pet isn’t just a toy that you can play with when you want to be entertained and then forget about it. Owning a pet isn’t always a walk in the park, it can be hard work. A puppy might need to be let out in the middle of the night to use the bathroom; a cat might scratch up your furniture or miss the litter box. As pets grow older, they may develop medical issues and require more care than when they were younger. Too often potential pet owners only look at the fun and happy side of owning a pet – the puppy and young adult years. You must commit to caring for them for their entire lives. Our pets are living longer, so this may mean preparing for twelve or more years for a large breed dog, to late teens or early twenties for small breed dogs and cats.

Budget for Pet Care

The cost of taking a pet home is only the first among many expenses you will incur during your pet’s life. Some costs, such as crates, bedding, leashes and collars will be infrequent or one-time costs. Other expenses such as food, treats, toys, and preventive veterinary care are recurring expenses that should be budgeted monthly or yearly. While everyone hopes to have a healthy pet, unfortunately, many pets get sick multiple times throughout their lives and require veterinary care. You should plan ahead for general illness, urgent care, and emergency situations. It is worthwhile to investigate pet insurance options when you first adopt your pet, as it can often make a tremendous difference in emergency or urgent care situations.

Identification and Laws

Make sure to provide your pet with a form of identification in case he or she becomes lost. Microchipping is an excellent method of permanent identification, which cannot be lost or easily removed. Your veterinarian can implant the microchip under the skin between the shoulder blades at any visit. Once your pet has a microchip, it is important that you register it so that the number corresponds with your information. Traditional tags and identification collars can provide even quicker access to your information if your pet is found. Many localities require dogs to be licensed and wear registration tags, so it is important to know the laws in your area.

Along those lines, follow all other laws in your area regarding your pets as well. Do not keep illegal pets; often types of exotic animals and wildlife are prohibited. For traditional pets, including dogs, cats, and ferrets, visit your veterinarian for rabies vaccines as required by law. And don’t forget to pick up after your pet to prevent the spread of disease. Respect leash laws, and do not allow your pet to be a nuisance to other people or animals, especially through making noise or roaming.

Properly exercise your pet.

Being a responsible pet owner means making sure that your pet gets the right amount of exercise- both physical and mental. Proper physical exercise helps prevent health issues, including obesity and diabetes mellitus. Make sure to provide your pet with some physical exercise every day. Play with your cat with toys to encourage movement on a daily basis. Take your dog for walks, runs, hikes or play tug and other physical activities. Remember to consult your veterinarian for guidance if you are just starting a new exercise regimen with your pet.

Excess energy can lead to destructive and mischievous behavior. Mental enrichment through training exercises, whether obedience or tricks, provides your dog or cat a chance to use her brain, and provides an outlet for that excess energy. And contrary to popular belief, you can teach an old dog new tricks! Studies have shown that mental enrichment can help delay progression of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome or doggy dementia signs. Cats also benefit from daily enrichment, and many enjoy learning tricks and doing training exercises. Increased environmental enrichment for cats decreases stress and lessens the likelihood of inappropriate elimination outside of the litter box.

Socialize and Train Your Pet

Animals that are properly socialized when they are young are more likely to interact better with small children and other pets. The critical period of socialization only lasts till about 12 weeks, so it is incredibly important that young puppies have good experiences with as many different people and in as many different situations as early as possible. After this age, it is much more difficult to overcome any fears or anxieties about new individuals or situations. If you notice your pet experience fear or displaying aggression on any situations, consult your veterinarian for advice to address it as soon as it starts.

Training your pets has many benefits, for both dogs and cats. You strengthen your bond and communication skills when you teach basic manners and tricks. Behavior issues are less likely because they are learning to understand you and you are learning to understand them. Often a trainer can help with teaching basic manners and tricks; ask your veterinarian for recommendations for local trainers. For any behavior issues that may emerge, including any signs of aggression, consult your veterinarian as soon as possible. Your veterinarian can help determine if there are any underlying medical issues and direct you to a professional to develop a behavior modification plan.

Provide for End of Life Care

While it is hard to think about losing our beloved furry friends, it is unfortunately an extremely important part of pet ownership. We honor our pets by giving them a loving and caring end when their quality of life declines or they develop serious illnesses or injuries. Your veterinarian can work with you to help assess your pet’s quality of life and plan for hospice, palliative care, and euthanasia when the time comes. It is a common misconception that you will “just know” or your pet will “let you know” when it is time to say goodbye, instead it is an incredibly personal and difficult decision for each individual pet and their family. For many pet owners, it is helpful to consult a veterinarian long before the need arises, as they can be prepared to make necessary decisions and are already aware of the procedures in place for scheduling at the veterinary clinic, and the process of euthanasia.

Having a pet can bring immense joy into your life. They can be companions to the lonely, an extra sibling to your children and a lifelong friend. They are members of your family, and these guidelines will give you a headstart in giving them the best care possible over their lifetime.