Tips on adopting a pet to keep yourself joyfully busy in the time of Covid

Animals make great companions, dispelling the loneliness and depression caused by the pandemic. But you must follow certain dos and don’ts if you plan to bring one home

Namrata Kohli  |  New Delhi 

Having an animal at home means investing in a comforting companion, a stress-busting friend for life that’s playful and loving and keeps the young and old alike happy. Picture Courtesy: Pet Fed

Media strategy and events consultant, Sonia Das, who had been living on her own in Delhi NCR for the past five years, decided to adopt two puppies recently –Kittu, a nine-month-old Indian Spitz, and Jerry, a three-month-old mixed Indian breed. Her idea was to experience “the feeling of belongingness and companionship”. However “becoming a dog mom has transformed me as an individual, as they taught me the real meaning of love and affection. I never thought that taking care of someone can make you feel so good inside. And now, I find it easier to cope with difficult situations around.” The pups are healthy and super active, and merrily gorge on curd, vegetables, apple, lentil and mutton keema with rice.

How much did she pay to get these pets? Not a single penny, says Sonia, as she went through the adoption route and she recommends it over buying animals. She spends Rs 5,000 a month on maintenance and upkeep, but the pups’ medical care is only limited to routine vaccinations.

Pets and the pandemic

With WFH during Covid-19 times, it is common to see people on Zoom calls being surrounded by, or cuddling a pet. In fact, some companies have been doing special pet events such as CashKaro (the cashback and coupons site), which recently organised a virtual pet therapy session “to boost happy hormones”. Says the company spokesperson: “Members introduced their pets on the team call and shared their naughty anecdotes with the CashKaro’s pet-lover community, with their dogs, cats, and pups in full attendance. This started the day on a bright note and lifted everyone’s spirits.”

There has indeed been a sharp spike in the number of pets being adopted during the pandemic. Delhi-based veterinary surgeon Vivek Arora agrees. “Beyond the times when one’s desire to own a pet was either love for animals or demand from children, people now want something with which they can share their time. They cannot go out and party, meet friends or socialise and there is a sense of fear and anxiety – they feel the need to get a companion to share their feelings as well as time.”

Experts recommend pre-adoption counselling rather than post-adoption education. Says Arora, “Just as many couples visit the gynaecologist while planning a baby as they need to be prepared for what is coming and be informed on several related aspects, it is good to know what you are getting into, by consulting your veterinary doctor, before adopting a pet.”

Do not adopt new-born pets. Experts recommend that the correct age to adopt is 10-12 weeks, when socialisation and disciplining of the animal with a human being is far easier, rather than at 4-5 weeks when they are more prone to falling ill. A very small pet has no skills to adapt, or confidence in itself or surroundings, and keeps wondering what is happening to him as everything is new. The pet ends up nibbling and biting as it is insecure. Says Arora, “People who adopt very small puppies end up only complaining about how the pet is chewing on furniture, fighting with everybody, scratching children, barking at things – these are socialisation issues that only a mother can teach the puppy.”

Keep the pet for the right reasons. Some people invest in expensive brands of pet animals for snob value or as a status symbol. However, flaunting a Labrador or a Siberian Husky cannot be the motivating factors. Also, some want to keep puppies as toys for their kids. But puppies grow and then such families find them redundant. An animal activist shares how they raided the house of a few educated elites, including some doctor families, who had locked their pets in a bathroom or balcony and left them alone for hours on end. The primary motivation should be love for the animal rather than its breed. It is perfectly fine to adopt animals from one’s society and surroundings – community dogs and such like — sanitize them and vaccinate them properly. An annual rabies injection ensures that even if they bite, they will not be dangerous to anyone.

Avoid exotic animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs, tortoises and even some kinds of cats. Experts say this market is very vague. Chandigarh-based Manya Puri got a pair of guinea pigs from her friend who had many at her farmhouse. Guinea pigs only stay in pairs and when one died, she had to get another one and like this, had four in all of three years. She says they tend to have a lot of digestion issues though they loved carrot, tomatoes and cucumber.

Vet doctors say it’s often a “handicap” to even treat exotic animals as there isn’t enough equipment and even drugs available. Sometimes these exotic and rare animals, which are used to their open natural habitat, may go through so much stress and nervousness, that even restraining them for an examination can be fatal.

Hygiene and nutrition

A pet parent must be ready to spend time and money on proper pet care, hygiene and nutrition, just as for children.

Pet foods are categorised according to age, size, and the type of breed. Which are the bestselling pet care and hygiene products? Says Amit Kothiyal, Pets World India: “The foods that are among the favourite for dog owners come from brands like Royal Canin, Pedigree, Farmina, and Orijen. For cats, brands such as Meo, Whiskas, Bellotta and Royal Canin are trending. The foods are available in both dry and wet forms, each having their benefits.”

The right kind of food has a direct impact on the well-being of the pet. Either you spend money at the vet later or invest in proper nutrition right away. Processed food isn’t recommended on a daily basis. Says Julia, founder, Canine India: “The quality of food determines the health of the consumer, whether it’s a dog or a person. It is incredible how quickly a dog’s well-being changes with the right nutrition. Home-cooked diets are a lot better and the most premium food for dogs is the same as for humans – fresh organic produce.”

What would a high-quality balanced diet for a pet typically cost each month? This depends on the size of the pet. Says Julia: “A dog needs 2-3 per cent of its ideal body weight in food, daily. So, a toy breed might be fed on a budget of Rs 4,000 in fresh meat, whereas a 40-kg German Shepherd may need a lot more food. It takes some effort to figure the right fitting diet out. It’s possible to feed a balanced and healthy diet on a budget but this requires some dedication.”

Pets have their set of grooming products, like shampoos, conditioners, trimmers, combs, brushes, and nail cutters. Some of the bestselling brands in this space include All4Pets, Himalayas, Aroma tree, Beaphar, Pethead and Wahl. Many pet owners also face the problem of ectoparasitic invasions in their pets, especially ticks and fleas. To counter this problem, customers rely on solutions that help in eliminating the parasites without much delay. The products include powders, shampoos, spot-on treatment, dog collars, and sprays.

During Corona times, people have been overdoing the hygiene and cleanliness bit. According to vet surgeon Arora, “In pre-covid times, people had in any case been using sprays, body cleansers and wet wipes which already have some alcohol content. But pet parents are so paranoid during Covid pandemic, that they tend to use alcohol sprays on cats and dogs and are washing their paws with Dettol. This overexposure to chemicals isn’t good and can lead to toxification and skin issues. It’s better to be as close to natural techniques for both, pets and humans, such as washing with water instead of using chemicals.”

Pet procurement

Always go for adoption instead of “buying”. Purchase of pets is a dirty word in the dictionary of many animal lovers and activists. Says Rupsha Mukherjee, an animal activist who is also working with People For Animals (PFA): “There are many backdoor breeders who forcefully mate the animals and they are active on websites such as Olx, Quikr and many others. A dog mates naturally only twice or thrice a year, but these animal breeders give sedatives and injections and forcefully rape the animal to get more puppies. When reports come to us, we even raid such unethical dealers and have often found pups in a paralysed state and in a pathetic condition.”

She says breeders are more like brokers who tend to keep the animals in the most unhygienic, unethical and unnatural way. She asserts that people should be encouraged to adopt from animal adoption agencies, animal shelters or even social surroundings instead of going after a pedigree breed.

Once you have made up your mind to adopt a pet, you need to agree to certain terms and conditions. The process of adoption is stringent – a house visit is made by the adoption agency which, as the contract mentions, remains the “co-owner” of the pet through its lifetime. You are made to fill up an adoption screening form to ascertain who will take the primary responsibility of the pet and care for it. If such a person is not available, then it would want to know who would take on the responsibility. If the agency feels confident, it hands over the pet and keeps a track record of the pet throughout its life via video calls and WhatsApp chats, and insists on seeing pictures of the animal once or twice a week. Agencies even keep track of whether or not you are getting the pet vaccinated on time, and are directly in touch with the vets themselves who update them.

Certain rules and regulations are listed in the contract. For instance, you cannot tie the dog for 24 hours or leave it alone or lock it up in a room for several hours. If the pet is a small puppy, male or female, it is mandatory for the owner to get it sterilised after 6-7 months. If you are going outstation you have to inform the adoption coordinator also.

Adoption agencies find animals that are abandoned and abused, rescued and dumped. They first rehabilitate and fully cure them before putting them for adoption. Mukherjee urges everyone who has resources to take care and take on the responsibility to adopt an animal out of “humanity as well as social responsibility” – a homeless animal will find a loving family, they are voiceless but they are priceless. Having a pet means you are giving yourself a friend for a lifetime.

Table: What it would typically cost you to maintain a pet at home

Expense Details Cost (Rs)

Pet food

Wet and dry food, treats, biscuits 2,500-15,000a month
Pet clothes Sweaters, jackets, shirts, T-shirts, raincoats, special-occasion wear 10,000-24,000, one-time or need-based

Pet grooming and hygiene

Shampoos, conditioners, brushes & combs, stain & odour control, towels & wipes, tick & flea removers 2,500-7,000 a month

Pet Spa

Nail cutting, haircut, massage, grooming 1,500-2,500 a month
Pet health Vaccinations and health checks 7,000-15,000 a year

Pet bedding

Beds, mats, blankets 10,000-15,000 one-time or need-based
Pet accessories Dog collar, leashes, harness, bow ties, bandanas, shoes and socks, party accessories 7,000-25,000, one-time or need-based

Pet toys

Chew toys, plush toys, squeaker toys, rope toys 2,500-5,000, one-time or need-based

Source: Market Research

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