Student life and pets

I’m currently wading through critical theory but I read this article by a student who was lonely so they bought a kitten and I’m pretty cross.

Rats sleeping in a chicken feeder

Photo by K Gupta

Firstly, I’ve grown up around animals. My parents both grew up with pets and our family got our first dog when I was three. Apart from one horrible week where none of us coped, we have always had at least one dog since. We’ve also had fish, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, gerbils and stick insects. I’ve worked at a vet’s boarding kennels and cattery, and have also worked a bit with horses.

At the moment I have five rats who live in what my mum has affectionately dubbed “the Rat Palace” and enjoy a life of luxury. I believe that animals are good for us – they provide companionship and entertainment and relaxation.

However, they’re also a commitment and I don’t think the article really addresses this.

Most degrees last between three and four years. Lots of animals live longer than this and in the case of cats, as much as 15-18 years. What’s going to happen to the cat after you graduate? Animal rescues are already full – are you going to contribute to the problem? Bear in mind that if you adopt an animal from a shelter, it may have already experienced upheaval and abandonment.

Pets can be expensive. You can get yourself into a nice routine of budgeting for food and bedding, shopping around for the best deal – but your pet can always get ill or get injured and vet fees are expensive. Somehow, animals always pick the worst possible moment to get sick. You probably won’t be eligible for PDSA vet care. You might choose to get pet insurance but read the terms and conditions carefully – alternatively, some people choose to put away some money every month into a vet fund. If you’re already struggling with money and living off beans and toast, please think very very hard about getting a pet.

Many students will move house at least once during the course of their degrees and finding a landlord who allows pets can be tricky, especially if you have a dog or cat. I’ve always checked if they’re alright with “small caged pets”. Some people just don’t tell their landlord but you’ve got to ask yourself whether it’s worth the stress, hassle and risk of losing your deposit. It can also be difficult if you want to spend the holidays with parents. If they have pets, your animals might have to be carefully introduced and you’ll have to hope that they all get on. Your parents’ house might not be suitable for a dog or cat (on a main road, allergic family members, no garden etc). If you have caged pets, you either have to work out how you’ll transport the cage or set up another, holiday cage at your parent’s home.

Please think very carefully about getting a “house pet”. It’s great if all your housemates are equally enthusiastic but who pays vet bills? who looks after the pet during the holidays? who does the not-very-fun stuff like cleaning out cages or litter trays? what happens to the animal when you stop living together? what happens if you disagree on an aspect of its care?

Student loneliness is a problem – at one point, I had three contact hours a week as an undergraduate – but there’s more to owning a pet than just wanting one. There was no way I could have had a pet when I was an undergraduate; my life was just too unsettled and I couldn’t have cared for it properly. If you’re desperate to have some contact with animals and you have some experience of caring for them, you could always offer dog walking or pet sitting services, volunteer in a shelter or even temporarily foster an animal. There are much better ways of dealing with student loneliness than going out and buying a kitten.

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5 Comments

  1. I wholeheartedly agree. When your weekly food budget is £25, even vets’ bills for a small animal can lead to a struggle. My hamster fell ill, treatment was £17, so me and my partner lived for a week on bread and oven chips. Bills for dogs or cats can run into the hundreds…

  2. Yes, this is exactly right, great advice to anyone considering getting a pet of any kind and should be required reading! Personally I would absolutely love to get a dog – it’s something I’ve considered for many years and am unlikely to change my mind, I have a reasonable amount of experience with pets, I have enough money for insurance/vet care, I work mainly from home so would be around in the day … but the last two things at least are liable to change in a couple of years when I finish my PhD and will no longer have guaranteed income and will be looking for jobs/postdocs/whatever all around the country. The point, as you say, is that dogs and cats are a significant long term commitment, and if I know that my life is likely (hopefully) to go through a big upheaval within the next five years, I cannot justify getting a pet like that, much as I would love one. Any pet is a responsibility – my rats have had a couple of health problems and racked up some fairly pricey vet bills in the last year or so. I also waited until I had a car before I bought them in the first place so that I would be able to take them to the vets easily or take them with me if we go to stay with family for a long weekend or something (doesn’t happen often but we did do that over Christmas). Not that I think having a car is a prerequisite necessarily, but you need to think about how you’re going to deal with these things even with small caged pets.

    And can I just add, your rats are adorable!

    • The rats thank you :) And thank you for your kind words.

      I’d love to have a dog too but there’s no way my flat is suitable and like you say, the next five years will (hopefully!) involve upheavals and moving around a lot. It’s definitely not something I can consider right now, much as I want to.

      And yes, rats can rack up some expensive bills! I researched vets in my area before getting them and the vets I use are small animal specialists, have experience in rat care and surgery and are on a convenient bus route. I have a cage set up at my parents’ house so I can take them on the train in a carrier – I’ve even navigated the tube with rats. It’s required thought, and if various factors didn’t align (space, housemates, pet-friendly landlords, transport, vet care, holiday cage) I wouldn’t have got them in the first place.

      • One day we shall have our dogs! A retired greyhound is my dream dog. The other issue I find with rats is that it’s harder to find people to look after them if you go on holiday – I’ve had many hamsters in the past and friends have always been very happy to look after them for a few days. For some reason, they are not as keen with the rats, especially with handling them. Poor little things, they do still get such a bad rap! In my experience you are actually much more likely to be bitten by a grumpy hamster than a curious rat. Luckily (?) we don’t really go on holiday.

        • Same! I’d like to find a greyhound that didn’t have enough chase instinct to compete – basically, I want to find the most useless dog in the entire history of sighthounds.

          Rats are unfairly maligned. My worst bite has been from a rabbit and I’ve only had one grumpy rat. You’re more likely to get licked to death by my lot than bitten. Indeed, Bramble seems convinced that she’s the only thing standing between me and a total breakdown of personal hygiene.

          Are you on http://fancyratsforum.co.uk? That’s quite useful for finding rat sitters.

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