By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM
For college students, the fall semester is well underway. While undergrads percolate chemistry experiments, burn the library lights late into the night, and strike keyboards as they type out the latest term paper, some will find themselves homesick and missing their family pet. Often on a whim, many students go so far as to take a quick trip to the local animal shelter to adopt a puppy or kitten to fill the void. But is this a good idea?
I asked this exact question of my college best friend when she simultaneously announced her daughter, Colleen, had been accepted to Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and was getting a puppy named Fripps as a graduation gift. As you can see, veterinary college suits Fripps and Colleen and they have made lots of friends already.
First, a backup plan
Colleen is lucky — her parents love Fripps. If Colleen’s academic demands become overwhelming, her parents will keep Fripps at their home with their own dogs. Many parents might not be as accommodating as Colleen’s are. So, if you are a college student considering a pet adoption, think about how you will provide for your pet if you have the opportunity for a semester abroad or if your roommate develops allergies. Check with your parents to see if they would agree to provide you with the backup you might need. If the answer is no, you will need to think of another alternative, such as a friend or relative who can take in your pet when necessary.
Since Fripps came before Colleen found a place to live, she leased a pet-friendly apartment. If you already have an apartment, check your lease to determine if yours is pet friendly. Talk to your roommate(s) regarding his or her feelings about having a pet in the shared areas of your apartment. Considering a dog adoption? Investigate doggie day care options for days when you have late classes – or simply want to have a burger out with friends before going home. Fripps goes to the Shaggy Dog three days a week, since there is a three days for the price of two special, and being a college student, Colleen is on a budget. Remind yourself, a pet is a lifetime commitment and those lives can last 10-15 years. A college education is partly about exploring opportunities. Although adopting a pet is a wonderful experience, it may limit opportunities for academic travel and work experiences offered by your college.
Not only does your new furry friend need food, a collar and leash, and a crate or carrier, but preventive healthcare will be a must. A puppy or kitten series of vaccines and a spay or neuter surgery are just the start. Fripps has access to good medical care through Community Veterinary Services at Mississippi State University, but college students on a limited budget must consider how they will pay for routine veterinary care. For some budgets, a prepaid plan might make sense. To help handle the cost of emergency care, college students — and all pet families — should investigate pet insurance. If you are an automobile-less student, investigate how you and your new pet will get home to visit your family and the veterinarian.
Parents listen up!
If your college student sounds pet homesick on the phone, guide them in making a wise decision about adding a pet to their list of college experiences. With some advance planning, your homesick college student may benefit from a friendly furry face greeting him at the door every evening.