couple playing with dog while sitting at home on couch

A couple getting a dog (or cat or other pet) together is a huge relationship milestone, but how do you know when the timing is right? During seasons of major life change, the added responsibility is certain to shift relationship dynamics and it’s important to make sure you and your partner are on the same page about becoming pet parents. Mental health therapist and life coach Sarah Fleming shared some things to consider before adopting a pet.

Think you're ready to get a dog or pet together? Here are some questions you'll want to discuss before making this big decision.

What type of pet should we get?

First and foremost, couples thinking about getting a dog or other pet together should consider the type of pet you’ll be bringing into your home. This will determine the level of commitment and responsibility you’re taking on together. Also, don’t dive in without talking to people who have extensive experience with the effort needed to take good care of an animal. Take things slow and even consider a trial session. Pet-sitting for a friend or fostering animals can give couples a small taste of the effort needed.

Do we have any major life events coming up?

Being ready to adopt an animal isn’t only about whether you’ll be a good caretaker, but also about where you are in life, and what’s ahead in both the short and long-term future. Most pets are long-term commitments, with dogs living an average of 12 to 15 years and cats around 15 years. Identify the possible changes that may occur within this time. Moves? Long-term travel? Children? Take into account that a pet will always need your time and energy, despite life’s circumstances.

What are our schedules like?

Think about the amount of time you spend away from the home, for both daily work as well as travel. Animals, like humans, need mental and physical stimulation and can get depressed if they are alone too long. If adopting a dog, you may want to consider a dog walker during the day if you work long hours. It’s also important to have a plan for travel.

If friends or families are not available to help, you’ll want to interview professionals that provide boarding. Also, have a vet in mind before you bring your pet home. Get recommendations from people you trust and have an appointment set up early on to establish care and have any questions answered.

Do we have any allergies? What about our loved ones?

Before bringing your new pet home, make sure to think through any allergies your partner or frequent houseguests may have. This, of course, can help determine the type of animal (and breed) you’ll be able to have in your home. Also, remember to think about the level of cleanliness you both prefer in your house and yard. A pet means dealing with possible shedding, litter boxes, dirty cages, tracking in dirt, and more. Be realistic about how flexible you both are with the work it may take to maintain the cleanliness you desire.

What are our ground rules?

Before a couple gets a dog or other pet together, it’s critical to both be informed on their behaviors and any training required, or have a trainer in mind you plan to hire. Also, don’t be afraid to establish boundaries early on. Will you allow the animal to be on certain furniture? In certain rooms? In your bed? Be knowledgeable beforehand because animals, like children, thrive when boundaries are set and enforced consistently.

How are our finances?

Depending on the pet, they can add a significant amount to your monthly and yearly budget. Consider things like annual vet visits and vaccinations costs, health insurance, boarding and/or dog walkers, food, and supplies like a kennel, leash, brush, toys, etc. Costs can add up quickly and you want to make sure the pet doesn’t strap you or your partner.

If you rent your house or apartment together, consider any stipulations there may be about having a pet in a home. For dogs, there are often weight and breed restrictions and having a pet may increase your monthly rent dues.

Is our relationship emotionally stable?

It’s tempting to race out and buy a pet right away, but make sure you both thoroughly reflect on your relationship before bringing an animal into the picture. Remember that it would not be fair to yourself or the pet if there is emotional instability within between you and your partner. A pet will rarely make things easier on a couple, but will rather exacerbate the stress levels that they may already be feeling. Try to come at this decision from a place of wanting to expand your family rather than filling a hole or fixing something that feels broken.

How we will divide up caretaking responsibilities?

Take into account what the schedule will look like on a daily basis with the pet. If you have a dog, who will get up to take the dog out in the morning? Who will walk and feed the dog daily? If it's a cat, who will change the litter box? It's important to have these things decided on beforehand so they don't cause conflict once the pet is in the home.

Are we open to adopting a pet in need?

If you have decided on a cat or dog, consider fostering-to-adopt or adopting! There are so many dogs and cats that, to no fault of their own, are in shelters and in need of a good home. It can be a mutually gratifying choice to bring an adopted animal into your home and family.

What are our expectations for after we bring a pet home?

For a couple getting a dog or other pet together, be sure to explore the expectations you have of the pet. Animals are individuals with their own personality. Be open to the animal being different than a pet you had previously or different than you envisioned.

Also, remember that taking care of a pet together can be a fulfilling and bonding experience for a couple. It can bring out new sides of your partner that you didn't know were there. You may see a very nurturing and patient side of your partner that you only saw glimpses of before. On the other hand, you may see your partner’s inability to follow through on pet-oriented chores or take consistent leadership and responsibility.

No matter the outcome, it’s important to be open and committed to working through the new dimensions in your relationship that a pet can possibly bring out.