If you say that you haven’t contemplated trying to sneak a puppy into your dorm or apartment, you’re probably lying. With all of the adorable animal videos that pop up on your Instagram feed on a daily basis, the temptation to get a little creature of your own is oh so real. And although it’s tempting to run out to the first pet store or animal shelter that you can find and buy the pet that your parents never let you have, there are some very real things to take into consideration. In college, it can sometimes be hard to take care of ourselves – let alone a pet. You might be perfectly fine existing on a diet plan that consists mostly of ramen noodles and living under a mountain of dirty clothes, but your pet probably won’t be. Before taking on an additional, furrier roommate, here are seven things you should consider.
1. Are you even allowed to have a pet?
First of all, it’s pretty important to figure out if your building lets you have a pet. Most college dorms don’t even allow students to have pets and if they do allow them, there are usually pretty strict restrictions on the kind or size of pet that you can have. If you live in an apartment, you should probably check with your landlord just to guarantee that there aren’t any additional fees that come with having a pet. While you might think that you have the expertise to sneak a pet past your landlord, it’s really not worth it. If your landlord does notice, you’re still going to have a pet, but you’re not going to have a place to live—which might be slightly problematic. Pets can be very cute, but they probably aren’t worth losing your lease over.
2. What kind of pet would you get?
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s actually a pretty valid question. First, you have to decide on the kind of pet that you want and the “cute kind” isn’t really an answer (sorry, not sorry). Can you handle a big pet or should you opt for a smaller one? Are you going to be able to deal with a pet that sheds or do you need to look for a more low-maintenance animal? It’s important that you don’t just buy the first pet that gives you puppy dog eyes (literally!). The decision of what kind of pet to get is nearly as important as deciding whether you should even get one in the first place.
3. How much time would you have to take care of it?
Regardless of the type of pet that you get, it will more than likely need a decent amount of attention and some require more of a time commitment than others. When you have a dog or a cat, you have to find time to take them outside, play with them, take them to vet appointments, give them a bath—and the list goes on. If you don’t have a lot of time on your hands but still want a pet in your life, consider buying a fish or a turtle. Not only will they be super low-maintenance, but they also won’t take up a bunch of your space.
If you are super involved on-campus, have a part-time job or just a packed schedule, it might be difficult to balance everything you have to do and make sure that your pet is getting the quality time that it needs and deserves.
“My dogs need to be let out to the bathroom every few hours and having a busy schedule makes that difficult sometimes,” says Heather Wicker, a senior at the University of North Texas. “I can’t stay out late anymore unless I find someone to take care of them, and I can’t just up and take road trips like I used to because I have two more lives to think about.”
Pets have to be one of the first things that you think about when you plan your day. You might even have to go home in between classes sometimes to make sure they’re okay. The amount of time that you have to devote to a pet is definitely a major aspect of the decision process.
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4. Do you have enough space for a pet?
In college it’s easy to get accustomed to fitting everything you own, plus one or two things that your BFF or SO owns, into a very small amount of space. Just because your apartment or dorm is “pet-friendly,” doesn’t mean that it’s automatically the ideal place to have certain pets. Some dog breeds are way too big to comfortably fit inside of a small apartment. Even some cats might not have enough space to move about freely.
“It’s not fair to your pet if you aren’t able to walk them as much as they deserve or if you don’t have enough space in your apartment or house,” says Cailin Johnson, a junior at Virgina Tech University. “Be sure that you can walk your dog at least two or three times a day and that you won’t have to crate your dog every time you leave your house.”
If you’re set on getting a pet but don’t have that much space, you should set your sights on pets that can live comfortably in a cage or a bowl.
5. Are your roommates okay with you having a pet?
While your roommates might seem totally cool with you getting a pet at first, their opinions might change when they are woken up to the sound of your dog barking at 3 a.m. because it wants to go outside. Be sure to check with your roommates beforehand to make sure that they are okay with having a pet in your shared home. More than likely, the time will come when you will need them to help you out with your pet.
“Be upfront with your roommates about your pet and let them know if they are going to bark a lot or be messy,” says Jessica Floyd, a senior at the University of Georgia. “Also, be respectful and don’t let your pet in their room unless they’re allowed to be.”
Also, at some point your pet might pee on, chew up or somehow destroy something belonging to your roommates. Being able to remind them that they were on board from the beginning is essential. (It wouldn’t be a bad idea to do a little extra around the house just to stay on everyone’s good side.)
6. Do you have the money to support the pet?
College life usually requires living on a budget – a budget that is probably already tight enough without having to factor in taking care of a pet. Before you vow to cut back on your daily Starbucks consumption to raise funds, take the time to consider all of the potential costs that come with having a pet: vet bills, food and a pet deposit on your lease – just to name a few. These things add up – and don’t even get us started on emergencies that lead to unexpected expenses!
“Unexpected vet bills can arise at any given moment, and because we would do anything for our pets, we pay whatever,” says Heather. “Not to mention pet deposits are outrageously expensive at most places. Pet food is a necessity, and obviously we need treats to give our cute friends. They’ll need toys and bath supplies and grooming tools and whatever else we see that reminds us of the animals we love.”
Pets get sick and accidents happen. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you have to choose between paying your rent and taking care of your pet.
7. Where will the pet go during breaks?
For collegiettes, school breaks are a time for de-stressing and leaving behind some of your daily responsibilities. However, owning a pet might make it a little bit more difficult to achieve your desired level of freedom during breaks. It’s a minor detail that you might not even think about until it’s the day before winter break and you have absolutely no idea what you’re going to do with your pet.
“If you plan to travel with your pet, then it might be wise to get a small dog,” says Lisa R., a senior at the University of Central Florida. “I chose to have a smaller dog because I drive home fairly often, and three hours with a big dog in Toyota Camry just wouldn’t be comfortable for them or me.”
If you live close enough to school and plan on driving home, you can probably take your pet with you. Otherwise, you’re more than likely going to need to make other arrangements. If you don’t think you can find a temporary pet-sitter or pet-sitting service, it might not be realistic for you to get a pet.
If you consider all of these things, and you feel confident about your decision to get a pet – congrats! Even if you’re stuck with some early morning wake-ups and a bit more mess to clean up than usual, having a live-in cuddle buddy that will love you forever is never a bad thing.