Adulting in Veterinary School: ALL the fluffy, scaly, and adorable family members!

March 2019

This is the first two days in a row I have had off in weeks, and it is amazing!  I have gotten so much done this weekend; I think I am remembering how to be a regular functional member of society again!  I even saw the sun today!!  Periodically, as I food-prepped and cleaned, I found my mind wandering to that dangerous topic: pets. 

We are ALL animal lovers, you would not want to come to veterinary school if you were not, but, is it realistic to care for a pet while in school?  There are many students who have pets that they either acquired while in school or brought along with them.  Here are some things to think about if you plan on bringing a new fluffy or scaly family member into your life: 

Companionship:

Pets can provide phenomenal companionship, especially for people that love them (veterinary students), are under significant stress (veterinary students), and who likely live far from home (many veterinary students).  There is nothing like having a horrid day of exams and coming home to tell your pet all about it.

Responsibility:

Having a pet could help you with time and money management.  You might be less likely to go out partying or splurge on extravagant trips if you know someone at home needs to be fed.  However, the opposite is true: will owning a pet keep you from late-night study groups or day-long educational trips? 

Travel, Travel, Travel:

ISU offers around 3 weeks for the winter holiday break alone.  If you plan to travel, who do you trust to watch your pet?  If your pet has special care needs (diabetic cat) or is not everyone's cup of tea (boa constrictor), can you find anyone to care for them?  Do not forget about your clinical year!  You can complete your entire clinical year inside the veterinary college teaching hospital, but the vast majority of students travel for specialty experiences and to network for very-near-future employment.  I nearly adopted a pet recently, but reluctantly backed out realizing I would have to leave him alone for such long periods.

Horrible Circumstances:

I am the type of person that prepares for the worst and hopes for the best.  If your cat goes into kidney failure, dog busts a knee, iguana become egg bound… are you financially and time-wise able to manage?  This is the number one reason why I cannot adopt a pet right now.  If the pet is perfectly healthy and happy, I could manage it.  However, if the pet becomes ill, requires a major surgery, or develops a behavior problem, I do not have the resources to offer the necessary care -not while I am trying to care for myself, my patients, and study.  I have watched many of my friends struggle to manage the difficulties of veterinary school while managing the failing health of a loved one.

Where to Live:

Many apartments and rentable rooms have pet regulations based on species, size, breed, and number.  Pet fees can be substantial, and sometimes logistics such as taking a young puppy out to potty from the fourth floor every 20 minutes just is not practical during finals.  (Even showering some days is not practical during finals!)  If you plan on having a roommate, will your pet/s limit who can or will live with you: does your cat get along with a potential roommate's dog, are your prized fish likely to be gobbled up by a feisty kitten, does your long-haired cat induce allergies in everyone even a bit allergic to them?  

I live in what:

Many students here live in trailers and cheap apartments.  The trailer I lived in my first year was very nice (I would definitely live in a trailer again), but maintaining a regular temperature in that place was impossible.  One roommate's room would be at 85*F while mine was in the 60's -not a joke.  Some apartments are drafty, and some you have no control over your temperature, which is set by a mechanism run by the landlord.  

What's Normal There:

Less of a concern for dog and cat owners, if you own an exotic animal (fish, lizards, snakes, frogs, parrots) does the place where you are attending school have ready access to the supplies you may need in a hurry?  I rescued a fish that required a specific product for rehabilitation during one of my school years.  I turned down the next isle at my local fish store and was incredibly confused, "where are the rest of the fish supplies?!"  Ames, IA is not a common fish-owning community, and the specialty items I was used to finding back home where nowhere to be found on a shelf.  I was shocked and devastated.  That fish, Meelo, was later euthanized due to his declining medical condition, and I decided to never adopt another fish until I had easier access to resources.  

What are the Options:

If you personally do not own a pet, there are still plenty of options for "pet ownership" during your years at school.  If time allows, you can foster for a rescue or volunteer at a local shelter.  You will also likely have MANY classmates with pets, and many of those people are just as busy as you.  So, offer to watch someone's dog for a day in your place or set up a schedule with a friend to acquire a regular running buddy.  I ended up forming an extensive pet sitting service that gave me lots of extra pocket change and many pets to snuggle. 

Sarahbeth (: