Rainbow Animal Hospital’s Elizabeth Wolf, a veterinarian who’s been practicing for 19 years, gives us the scoop on how animal doctors really feel about your pet choice and why animals make the worst kind of impulse buy.
Besides dogs and cats, what are the most popular pets?
We see a lot of pocket pets. Pocket pets refer to your little rodents—mice, hamsters, rats, guinea pigs and a lot of rabbits. And honestly, they’re more of a pain than a lot of people realize. The little pocket pets [require] a bit of labor.
What’s the most low-maintenance pet?
Cats are probably our simplest pets, provided they don’t have any real health or behavior issues. They are very self-sufficient. Dogs require a lot more energy and interaction. Cats are probably one of the easiest things, but people treat them as very disposable. They’re cheap. They’re easy.
Does cost factor into how people treat their pets?
Unfortunately, people tend to undervalue their pets, because if it only costs $20, then it’s only worth $20. That’s one of the problems with adoption. Our shelters here in town will have a Fourth of July $7 adoption event. A lot of people will do that, and they just don’t think there’s going to be other expenses in the life of the pet. And that’s a nasty surprise to some people. They don’t just have to buy food. Adoption is a wonderful thing, but it does, in some sense, devalue the way that people think about their animals. It’s not to say that every animal that’s taken from a shelter is going to go into a house that treats it like a plastic plant, but it’s an issue.
Does pop culture—movies and TV—play a role in people’s pet choices?
Absolutely. Any breed or animal that’s showcased is bound to get a jump in popularity or sales. Thank God 101 Dalmatians hasn’t been out in a while. If that comes out, we’ll start seeing Dalmatians again. We saw quite a bit of rats when Ratatouille came out.
Are you concerned that Finding Dory will increase interest in blue tangs, which are endangered?
Saltwater tanks are challenging. Here in town, we have good resources for saltwater tank owners, but they are not for beginners. I hope once they see the expense of a tank and the setup, people will be a little daunted. Saltwater tanks are hours a week of work, unless you can afford to have someone do it for you. And then when your power goes out for five hours, everything dies because the filters are off. The ocean never stops filtering. That’s what [these fish] need.
What do people underestimate the most when they are choosing a pet?
Pets are one of the most horrifying impulse buys there is. “Oh, look, it’s cute!” I can’t tell you how many times I hear, “I rescued it from the pet store.” You didn’t rescue it from the pet store. You bought it. That is the truth. It’s a huge impulse buy and you’re buying something that, in the best-case scenario, you’re going to commit to for a couple of years, like a mouse or a gerbil. The big parrots live 60-70 years. I have two friends with parrots that are more than 30 years old, and one of them is counting on their daughter, or, by the time it happens, maybe her grandchild to take the parrot. And the other one has set a trust in their will for their bird to go to a sanctuary. So 60-70 years of commitment for a big parrot. Most healthy dogs, you can count on at least 10 or 12 years.
So people pick bad pets for themselves?
Yeah, popular culture will drive people to do that. [An example is] Eddie from Frasier. Those dogs are high-energy terriers. They’re meant to hunt, dig, kill, chew things up. People buy them because they see these wonderfully intelligent, trained dogs. And they end up getting a little tornado that, without training, is just going to make their lives miserable. Absolutely every animal has a home for it. It’s frustrating as a vet, because all it takes is a modicum of research. The people not to ask are the ones at the pet store, because they’re trying to sell you something.
Do you see any pet-buying trends throughout the year?
We get a lot of Easter bunnies in the spring. Bunnies are a real issue. There are even billboards around town that will say it’s illegal to free your rabbit. It’s not just a pet for Easter.
Are there Vegas-specific trends?
There’s kind of a joke: If you go to the shelter it’s a BOGO—buy a pit bull and get a Chihuahua for free. There was a period in 2007 when people could finance any sort of puppy [at pet stores]. These were the true puppy-mill puppies. We have seen that pull back quite a bit. We see a lot more that are direct adoptions, which is a good thing.
What’s new in your industry?
There’s been a big push in veterinary medicine for people to bring their cats in. People routinely bring their dogs in for preventative care, and we don’t see cats. I may see a cat two or three times in its life, unless there’s a problem. Generally speaking, I see most dogs at least once a year, from puppyhood to the end.
What would you like pet owners to know?
Every animal should get checked out at least once a year, just like we should get checked out at least once a year, to make sure nothing squirrelly is happening. And movies are a bad way to pick a pet.