Regardless of how many times I’ve been asked to write about it, I’ve been reluctant to specify a particular pet that would be best for a vet student. Why is that? First of all, we don’t all have the same preferences (furry vs. scaly, high maintenance vs. low maintenance) or even allergies.
I know it sounds cliche when owners say that their pet “chose” them, but I can say confidently that for my first cat, Kali, that was the case. I was confident that I would never own a cat, and I was adamantly a dog person, but clearly that changed. I still consider myself a dog person; in fact, I trained my cat like a dog and she very much acts like one — she comes when called, knows sit, down, roll-over, spin, jump…and she’s even been toilet trained. Did I mention I adopted her from the shelter I worked at in Southern California?
I adopted Kali as an adult in 2008 before beginning vet school in 2009. As I made my plans to move to Davis for vet school, I knew Kali would need a buddy to keep her company while I was at school for long intervals. So, I adopted another cat. I am willing to commit in writing to the fact that I will NOT adopt any more cats until I lose one of my current cats (which I hope will be many, many years from now).
After being in vet school for over two years, I can say that cats are very good pets for veterinary students. They are, for the most part, low maintenance compared to kittens, puppies, or dogs. I cannot say it is a bad idea to get a kitten, puppy, or dog, but I can say it is more challenging. Kittens and puppies require much more attention and care. Puppies need training and are often very time consuming. Dogs also require a great deal of time and attention — walking or being let out, cleaned up after, etc. I have multiple friends who have to go home at lunch to let out their dogs mid-day or have to make other trips during the day to their home just to let out their dog because it can’t “wait” any longer before having an accident in the house. This ends up being an extra commitment that students must manage. Many do, but I don’t know that it would be my particular choice at this point in my life to take on that responsibility. My studies are my priority.
In contrast, my cats are on automatic feeders, giving them food twice per day. This allows me to be gone from home for up to 3 days without needing to re-fill their food and they are maintained on their normal feeding schedule. They don’t have to wait up at night for me to get home from school so that they can get the dinner they should have gotten 6 hours ago.
Clearly I’m biased about my cats as I think they are low-maintenance and easy to care for. Granted, that is not only the case and that may not always be the case for me (*knock on wood*). Anything could happen and I may be put in the situation where I have a sick cat on my hands that needs to be medicated 3 times per day (this happened the day before the Class of 2015 began orientation). Taking on a pet is a responsibility. You must be prepared to give up the time and money necessary to care for that animal, no matter what the situation. If you are not prepared to do that, then please hold off on bringing a pet into your life until you are in a better position to do so.
And in case you’re wondering how I managed with my allergies, the answer is: I’ve developed a tolerance. My first cat didn’t set off my allergies very much, but my second cat did. I’ve managed with some over the counter allergy medication on occasion, but overall, I have simply developed a tolerance and don’t need medication on a daily basis to deal with my cats. If you want to read more about dealing with allergies, see my post on Dealing with Pet Allergies as a Vet Student.