Getting a Pet Whilst a Student – Pros and Cons

I’m going to put this right out there, because whether you are a student in second year or higher, are about to go into your second year, have already graduated, or are about to start university, you’ll either have already been through or will go through the following scenario.

You’re halfway through first year and are either excitedly looking for or have just signed the contract for your first student house. You and your 3 or 4 friends that you’ll be living with are super excited, planning a house-warming party and thinking about how great it’s going to be to not live with your randomly allocated halls housemates that never wash up and eat and all your food. You may be combing through the contract, or excitedly chatting about interior design and bedroom allocation, when someone brings it up:

We should get a pet!

I’ve signed 2 contracts for student homes and although both of those living situations didn’t follow through, the pet conversation came up for both. Thankfully, these conversations came to nothing – the first “This clause says we can keep animals! OH MY GOD we could get a puppy!” never came up again, and the Landlord firmly put his foot down to all animals when my flatmate in the second arrangement decided she was shipping her cat all the way from home to live with us in Aberdeen. But it will come up.

Think about it; this is your first real chance at independent living! You’ve chosen your housemates. You’ll choose how to decorate your own room. You’ll pay bills. You’ll almost be a proper adult. And that pretty much means getting that dog or cat your parents never let you have, right?

WRONG! As someone that has taken the plunge and gotten a pet whilst at uni, there are a lot of things most of you wouldn’t consider in the initial excitement of asserting your independence. So before you get on Pets4Homes and start searching for that puppy or kitten, consider this first!

What is Your Full Living Situation?

3 of you in a house? Perfect chance to share the burden of responsibility that comes with keeping a puppy or kitten alive, right? Maybe, but does one of you stick around during the holidays? Chances are even in the biggest sharing households you’ll all go home over Christmas and summer. Who looks after the animal then? Will your parents mind if you bring it home? Do they already have a pet that won’t like the intrusion of another animal? You have to consider every angle.

When my flatmate decided to bring her cat to our student house, I had to remind her where she lived outside of term time – Not in the UK! Neither did our other flatmate. Meaning the burden of summer care would actually have to fall to someone else, most likely me, which is a pretty selfish move! Maybe one of your flatmates just doesn’t like cats/dogs, or is allergic – have you considered how they’d feel about you suddenly showing up with a pet? Do not let your want for a pet cause a huge rift in the household.

When it came to getting Peggy, I lived with my partner and had done for a year. We both wanted a pet. We discussed it at length before settling on the perfect breed for us. We are fairly settled, and I don’t go home for any longer than a week in summer now. The burden of our cat falls squarely on us, as it should.

How Much Will it Cost?

Pets are seriously expensive! Around half of your termly student will just cover getting one. And then there’s set up costs – you’ll need to feed you pet, get it something to entertain itself and other essential supplies. Food (and litter for cats) needs to be bought regularly. Adopting Peggy and getting her initial supplies set us back around £800. I don’t leave Pets at Home now without spending at least £40. And then there’s vets costs (initial vaccinations, fleaing and worming and the necessary spaying/neutering NEED to be done – it’s not an optional cost!), insurance, and extra deposit costs that your landlord will certainly want paid before you let an animal loose in your student home (£250 for us, on top of a deposit we’d already paid!). It all adds up, and will not be covered by a student loan that would be better spent on food for yourself.

My partner is in full time employment. Without that, Peggy would be nothing more than a distant dream. We all know how hard is it to collect everyone’s money each month for bills and rent. Imagine chasing up hundreds of pounds for an animal everyone likes the idea of, but doesn’t want to pay for!

Do You Have the Patience?

Puppies and kittens look cute but they are a lot of work. If you’ve never owned one before, or were so young when you got your last one that you don’t remember the baby stage, it will come as a culture shock. Puppies need to be toilet trained, and that will take around 8 weeks. That’s 8 weeks of waking up to poop on your floor. Both kittens and puppies are more playful, chewy and destructive than a trained adult cat or dog. This will fall on you to train them out of. And when your other flatmates are all hungover and the dog needs walked, you’ll have to get out of bed and do it.

Peggy needs constant care and attention and, as I mentioned here, was not the greatest accessory to writing my dissertation. I love her, but I can only work when she’s asleep! It cuts into the time I have to be productive incredibly deeply!

The Pros and Cons!

That said, having a pet is rewarding and especially good for your mental health. My advice is simple – If you have the financial means, a sound idea of what you need to do to introduce a pet into a new home, the backing of your housemates (a committed backing though, not just an “Oh yeah, that would be nice!” – you’ll need their financial help and for them to share the responsibility), an idea of where all the responsibility will fall, the necessary space, the maturity that’s needed to live alone, and aren’t traveling home much (and if you are, do have the assurance you can take your pet with you), then yes – get a pet. I’d recommend you wait until you’ve lived alone for a time – your living situation may change. Get a book about caring for your chosen pet and read it cover to cover. Don’t just coo over the cute pictures – actually take in what it advises. Research every worst case scenario and make sure your clued up. Ask about local rescue centres and see if they’ll let you get an adult pet if a baby seems like too much of a responsibility. Fully cost it out and make sure you can afford it. And make sure your housemates are prepared to commit too – cleaning up after a pet takes its toll and you don’t want to come home to find a knocked over water bowl or overflowing litter tray that no one else could be bothered to clean up.

However, the pros do not outweigh the cons. The maturity required to look after an animal may not come until you’re older and a puppy and kitten, or even an adult pet, won’t suit a house full of party going students that can’t be bothered to exercise it or get up at 7am to feed it.

Pros

  • The independence of owning a pet is certainly a big maturity booster.
  • Your house will become a social hub as everyone wants to come over and play with your pet.
  • On bad mental health days, you should never underestimate the healing power of a pet cuddle, or the responsibility that forces you out of bed to feed your pet.
  • If, like me, you don’t have a lot of friends, the social boost is a great mood booster.

Cons

  • It takes responsibility – you need to feed, play with, walk/exercise, keep tabs on, clean up after a pet. A cat is not easier than a dog (clean out a litter tray daily and tell me it’s easier!), despite what many people say. If you’re hungover at least once a week, you can’t lay about in bed all day when a pet needs their food bowl filled and needs to be let out at regular intervals to go to the toilet. If you can’t get up for a 9am, you won’t be able to get up and walk a dog. And if you still insist on getting a pet despite this, that’s just bordering on cruel.
  • It’s expensive – the adoption fees, vets costs, insurance, and supplies add up. A student loan just won’t cover them. Cutting costs is not an option – if your pet needs an emergency vets procedure and you didn’t insure it you’ll be looking at a huge bill. And if you couldn’t afford to neuter your pet, you definitely can’t afford the cost of looking after a litter of puppies or kittens. Rescues may seem cheaper but they are often harder to settle and need a lot more care. Many will come with underlying health conditions or require more time and attention. If you can’t fully shoulder the burden of adopting and caring for a pet, you shouldn’t be considering it.
  • Young pets are destructive – Peggy has chewed through 2 sets of Christmas lights and scratched the life out of my sofa. Landlords will often ask for an extra deposit in order to insure costs are covered if a pet destroys furniture or walls. Most people I know, who aren’t students, are shocked by how much chewing a puppy does, and they won’t be selective about what they chew. Dogs are often loud to boot, and the last thing you need is the council investigating you because your neighbor can’t take the barking.
  • Cats seem like the easier option, but forcing an active cat to stay indoors will require more work on your part to keep it from getting frustrated and taking it out on you.
  • Your landlord might have a “No Pets” policy in place. Always ask before planning to get a pet, and respect the decision if they say no. This goes for any rented accommodation, not just student homes!

If, after reading this, you’re certain you could get away with getting a pet, then go for it. If any of the cons or responsibilities are resonating with you, even slightly, then now is not the time! They’ll be plenty of time to get a pet post-uni, when your situation is a little different! Patience is a virtue when it comes to taking another life under your care.

Did you get a pet whilst a student? Are you considering it? Let me know in the comments!

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2 Comments

  1. January 6, 2018 / 3:23 pm

    I enjoyed reading this because i’ve been in the exact position. I am a 3rd year student nurse and in my 2nd year i bought my first hedgehog. Now, 6 months before graduating, i have 2 hedgehogs. I did, however, weigh up the pros and cons before purchasing (and rescuing) my animals & everything has gone great. Good tips though! Especially for bigger pets that roam freely around the house. x

    • January 7, 2018 / 10:09 pm

      Thank you! It definitely pays to weigh up the pros and cons and not commit to such a time consuming responsibility x

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