Own a Pet in Grad School? Consider this first…

PetsPets can prove to be a good choice in graduate school.  In fact, studies have shown that pets (mostly dogs) can help to battle loneliness1, reduce stress2, and improve mood3, three areas that any grad student could use a little help in.  However, if you don’t do your research first, you may feel the opposite of these effects.   That’s why we are providing a guide to deciding whether a pet is right for you at this stage in your life.

Disclaimer: This is just a starter guide – it will require some research on your part before actually getting a pet.  But when you come home to your ever-loving pet, you will be more than rewarded for your hard work!

Is a pet right for you?

“But it’s sooooooo cute!  I want one!”  You really have to stop and think about your situation here.  Some important areas to consider are living situation, time, and money.  First of all, does your house, apartment, condo allow pets?  Is your roommate, girlfriend, boyfriend agreeable to having them around?  These questions are also important when taking into account the time needed to care for a pet.  You might be responsible for house breaking, training, grooming and even walking your pet multiple times a day.  Does your schedule allow for this?  Is this something you are willing to commit to?  And of course you can’t forget the end all be all, money.  As a graduate student you are mostly likely already living on a tight budget, so the question becomes can you really afford a pet?  Consider the costs: homing fee, food, training, accessories, spay/neutering, cages and at the minimum an annual vet bill.

All of this is not to discourage you but to highlight the commitment required to being a responsible pet owner.

What kind would suit you?

You probably have in mind the type of animal you want (dog, cat or maybe porcupine) but the immense differences between the breeds within these groups are often overlooked.  For example, the food bill for a Chihuahua is considerably less than that of a Great Dane.  And the grooming time required for a short hair cat is nothing compared to the daily brushing required by long haired cats.  So, scientist, it is important to do your research here.  Most information about breeds may be found online.  If the animal you are considering comes from a mixed background, find out everything you can on the particular breeds thought to be represented.  Another option you must consider is age.  Are you looking to adopt a newborn animal (puppies & kitties are awfully hard to resist, but contrary to popular belief they do grow up to be adult animals) or an older (read: probably already trained!) animal?  Again, weigh your options against the three areas in question #1.

Where will you get it?

Pets are available through a variety of channels: shelters, breeders, websites, newspapers, friends and the occasional cardboard box outside the supermarket.  Once again, a little research goes a long way.  Check out the place/people that are offering the pet.  Ask for references, tour the facilities, and check out the other animals offered for adoption.  It is important to scope out the former living conditions of your pet to ensure they have been care for properly and that you are not supporting a place that is cruel to animals, such as puppy mills.

How do you care for it?

If you already have a pet, congratulations!  Now the trick is to balance your time while completing your dissertation without going home to a huge mess, like a chewed up sofa (yes, the sofa, down to the wood frame).  Your pet is most likely more similar to you then you realize.  Keep in mind that your pet (1) needs to use the bathroom, (2) needs to exercise (to avoid aforementioned atrocity) and (3) needs your attention.

All of these issues vary based on age, size, and breed.  For example, most kittens will use the litter box relatively soon; however, your puppy may require more time to be house trained.  This means you may be heading home one to two times a day to let them out!  If you have a roommate, discuss your schedules and decide who is on duty (ha) that day.  High energy animals also require more exercise.  (Too bad there aren’t dog sized hamster balls!).  Be sure to walk them as much as your schedule allows, maybe before and after you go into the lab.

If you attend a training session you will learn techniques for leash walking, which will allow your dog to socialize (win, win!).  Dogs can benefit greatly from dog parks, just be sure to read up on the proper etiquette before you attend.  And most importantly give your pet some love.  Remember, research has shown that they are improving your life too!

1. Anthrozoos 2006:18(4).

2. Psychosomatic Medicine 2002:64(5).

3. Aids Care 1999:11(2).

Katie in the process of completing her Ph.D. in Developmental Biology at Washington University in St. Louis, studying the effect of diabetes on pre-implantation biology in mice.  Outside of lab you can find Katie playing softball or kickball, often with a frothy beverage in her hand.  Recently married, Katie tries to balance work with home life by spending her free time with her husband and their animals: two English Mastiffs and two spunky alley cats.

2 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. 13columns

    wrote on November 11, 2009 at 12:04 am

    You are talking about actual pets right- because my project seems to be a real dog…

  2. Keep Your Sanity With a Smile | BenchFly Blog

    wrote on December 2, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    […] Owning a Pet in Grad School? Consider This First – coming home to a little buddy at the end of the day is great, but is it the right thing for both you and the pet? […]

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