There are thousands and thousands of dogs and cats in the U.S. looking for forever homes. This means if you’re looking to adopt a new best friend, narrowing the choice down to one can be overwhelming! Adopting a pet is an exciting experience but it’s a huge commitment in terms of your time and money. And you need to think about what will work best for your family and lifestyle. So how do you choose the perfect pet for you? Here are some important things to consider:

Time. How much time do you have? Will you be in or out all day? Some pets are very social and can suffer from separation anxiety if they’re left on their own too long. If you want a dog, will you be able to take it for several walks a day? If not, do you have someone who can do this for you? If you want to adopt a cat but will be away for long periods, can you adopt two cats to keep each other company? In any case, you may want to stock up on essentials for when your pet is left alone.

Space. Do you live in a house or apartment? Do you have a garden or yard – and is it fenced? If your cat will be an indoor cat (which we recommend), is there room for an outdoor enclosure where they can play? If you rent, do you have permission from the owner to have a pet?

Cost. What can you afford? Adopting a dog or cat from an animal shelter or rescue organization can cost anywhere from $100-200. This fee will usually cover spay or neutering, some vaccinations and a microchip. If you buy a purebred from a breeder, expect to pay from $500 to several thousand dollars. In both cases you’ll want to calculate annual pet care costs, which include food, toys, pet beds, grooming, vet bills – and lots more!

Purebred or mixed breed. Do you want to adopt a loveable mutt from a shelter or rescue organization, or do you prefer to buy a purebred from a reputable breeder? Keep in mind you can find many purebreds at shelters too, or breed rescue organizations.

Age. This is the big question! Puppies and kittens are adorable but they need a lot of attention and supervision. A young dog or cat won’t be such a handful and may already be trained, while an older pet will make a great companion.

Size. Is your heart set on adopting a big dog or cat? Medium sized? Or small? Or it doesn’t matter?

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Short or long-haired. Are you allergic to cats or dogs? It may be better to adopt a pet with short hair. If you adopt a pet with longer hair, will you have the time and patience to groom her?

Health issues and other special needs. Would you consider adopting a disabled pet? One with an illness such as diabetes? What about an abused pet who needs extra love and care? Or one who’s considered unadoptable because of the way he looks – like these winners of the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest?

Young children. Do you have a young child in your household? Babies and toddlers can be rough with pets – and puppies and kittens are still in their biting and scratching phase. A slightly older (or adult) dog or cat will likely have more patience and be able to escape from little hands! Whatever their age, it’s safest to always watch pets when they’re around young children.

Other pets. If you already have a dog, will she accept another dog or a cat as a housemate? And if you have a cat, will she be okay with another cat or dog invading her space? Some cats and dogs react well to sharing their home with other pets, while others can take time to adapt – and a few never do.

Personality. Do you want a quiet, mellow cat or dog? Or a friendly, active pet? Every animal has its own unique characteristics and temperament, although they may not fully blossom until they feel safe and loved in their new home.

Once you’ve chosen the perfect pet for you, we hope you’ll read our three-part series offering tips for new pet parents.