Adding a pet to your household may offer various health and mental health benefits, but owning one is a lifelong responsibility!

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States, owning a pet can improve cardiovascular health; regularly walking and playing with our furry friends reduces blood pressure, and cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which reduces the risks of heart attack and stroke. Pets also increase opportunities for socialising with others, and bonding with animals has also shown to reduce loneliness, anxiety and symptoms of PTSD in humans.

Why you should adopt, not shop!

Firstly, don’t encourage animal abuse by buying pets from puppy or kitten mills.

If you don’t already know, most pets sold in pet shops usually come from mills, and most of the time, animals breeding and born in mills are subject to inhumane conditions. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), in animal mills, dogs and cats are kept in small, cramped cages made of wood or wire mesh or simply tethered to trees. Mothers and their litters often suffer from malnutrition, disease and a lack of veterinary care, while female dogs are bred twice a year and are usually killed or abandoned when they are no longer able to produce puppies.

In Singapore, while it is not illegal to breed cats and dogs, major changes to licensing conditions for breeders were recently announced by the National Park’s Board of Animal and Veterinary Service to improve animal welfare. Since April 1, 2022, those who breed animals for sale must adhere to a strict standard of care including conducting daily health checks for animals and their litters, providing opportunities for social interaction, exercise and enrichment, maintaining proof of vaccinations, annual health checks, veterinary treatment or surgical procedures, producing only one litter every year for breeding dogs who must also be retired when they turn six, and neutering of dogs within six months of retirement. Breeders are also required to ensure post-retirement care for retired breeding pets, and maintaining a record of animals that have died on the premises, including their age, date and cause of death.

In Malaysia, dog breeding is governed by the Local Government Act 1976. According to the by-laws all breeders must apply for licences for the dogs from their local councils, and ensure that breeding dogs are kept in clean kennels of a suitable size, have proper lighting and ventilation, or face fines or jail time. However, while crackdowns on unlicensed mills have been carried out, the Consumers’ Association of Penang admits that many still exist, operating in remote areas unknown to the authorities.

Inbred Problems

While one can argue licensed breeders take better care of their animals, pedigree animals often inherit health issues that require regular treatments and visits to the vet, and dying from complications due to chronic inbreeding. According to a study published in Preventive Veterinary Medicine of 2928 dogs in Denmark, mixed breed dogs are shown to have a longer life span than most pedigrees. An article published in the American Veterinary Medical Association showed purebred dogs were 2.8 times more likely to develop recessive disease than mutts.

For example, dogs with flat faces such as bulldogs, pugs, and shih tzus often suffer from breathing difficulties, teeth problems, and eye, skin and ear issues. According to the global animal welfare organisation, Four Paws and Penn State University, puppies from mills are also usually separated from their mothers too soon after birth, which impairs their immunity against illnesses. Since they are also deprived of contact with their mothers, farmed puppies may also have trouble connecting with their owner and other animals, and exhibit skittishness and nervous behaviour throughout their lives, such as barking incessantly.

Abandonment of Pets

When pet owners realise they have bitten off more than they can chew, many of them abandon their pets at animal shelters and on the streets, which according to animal welfare societies have been an increasing problem through the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Malaysian Animal Association, the number of pets abandoned in Kuala Lumpur increased three-fold during the Movement Control Order as their owners had lost their jobs during the pandemic, and were no longer able to maintain their pets. In Singapore, animal shelters have seen a 30% increase in owners deserting their pets in the later half of 2021, after social-distancing restrictions were eased. This directly contributes to the stray population, especially if pets have not be neutered. Animal shelters will assess on whether an animal is suitable for adoption, but often when they are ill or injured or if shelters are overcrowded, the animals are put down.

Animal welfare society PAWS shares that turning to no-kill shelters do not always save animals from euthanasia. To maintain their no-kill status, these shelters often turn away animals that cannot be adopted, such as those that are badly injured or ill, which only contributes to the stray population crisis.

Owning a pet is a responsibility for life!

Adopting is the most ethical approach to owning a pet which is a lifelong responsibility! Dogs can live up to 15 years on average, while cats can live up to 20 years, so ensure you have what it takes before adopting a pet.

Pets cost money: Veterinary care, food, boarding fees, maintenance expenses, and adoption and licence costs add up. It costs an average of S$25,800 and S$15,600 over 10 years to own a dog and cat in Singapore, respectively. So if you’re unemployed, or struggling with your current financial situation, pet ownership may not be for you.

Pets require time and attention: There are no bad dogs, only owners who have not properly trained them. Walking your dog provides physical exercise and opportunities for behavioural training and socialising with other human beings and their animals.

Not walking your dog or playing with your cat regularly would most certainly lead to bad behaviour at home; boredom would drive dogs to chew up your shoes and cats to scratch your furniture. If you cannot commit to giving your animals regular exercise, do them and yourself a favour and don’t adopt one.

Allergies: If you, or a family member are allergic to pets, think about whether you can live with the symptoms, before committing to a pet. Regular cleaning at home reduces pet dander, and over-the-counter antihistamines can help take the edge off your allergic reactions.

Pets need space: Even if you walk your dog every day, the size/type of animal best suited for your home is determined by the size of your home. If you are living in an apartment, you would not want to adopt a Great Dane or Saint Bernard even if you take them for regular walks, as they will need room to stretch their legs.

Ultimately, when deciding whether or not to have a pet, always be honest with yourself. If circumstances are not ideal for you to own a pet but you’d still like to be in regular contact with your favourite animal, there are many opportunities to do so by volunteering with SPCA Selangor, PAWS Malaysia, SPCA Singapore, or Metta Cats and Dogs Sanctuary, or by visiting your local animal-petting cafes, such as the Clawset Cafe or CuBs and CuPs in Malaysia or Meomi Cat Cafe and We are the Furballs in Singapore.