Living with a pet in college

Georgie Morvis | Student Life

Tonks is just one of many pets owned by Washington University students.

Homesickness is a complex emotion: you miss your mom doing your laundry, you wish you could go on adventures with your friends and you crave food from your favorite restaurant. And most of all, you miss being able to give your dog or cat a hug when you’re stressed out. But some college students have remedied that last problem by getting a new pet in college.


From a beta fish in a bowl on your desk to an adopted puppy or kitten, there are a number of pets that can fill the hole in your heart created by being away from home. However, owning a pet in college is a unique challenge that requires a college student to add an animal that depends on him to an already hectic schedule of school, socializing and extracurricular activities. Here are a few things you should consider before rescuing that adorable puppy from the shelter or adopting that cat that lives in your neighborhood.



First, you actually have to purchase the animal. Even though a beta fish is only $5 at the nearest pet store and a hamster or gerbil are usually less than $20, that’s still money that you could be spending on meals on the Delmar Loop or groceries at Schnucks. Generally, the larger the animal gets, the more expensive it gets. Even pets that require less attention can be expensive, like a tortoise. And an adoption fee for a cat or dog can run up to as much as $500, according to Petfinder. So before even factoring in the annual costs of animal care, you might have already spent all of your federal work study money. After you buy your new pet, though, you must buy it a new home, whether it’s a fish bowl, hamster cage or dog crate. And then you need to feed it. And get it toys. And take it to the vet, if it’s a larger animal. A pet is a huge financial investment, especially for a college student. Make sure you have the budget for your new buddy before you adopt him.



Taking care of an animal does involve a lot of love and cuddling (unless it’s a beta fish), but it also involves a lot of unsavory things. For cats, this can mean finding hairballs in your kitchen or cleaning the litter box. And dogs need to be taken out to go to the bathroom, especially when they are younger. If you have class straight through the day, you’ll need to find someone to let your pet out and play with it during the day. And once you do get home, you’ll have to study and make yourself dinner, too. Pulling an all-nighter at the library might not be as plausible as it was before if you need to get home to feed your pet. And while you can make a schedule, animals are unpredictable. You never know what day your puppy is going to decide to do his business all over the house instead of outside or your cat is going to eat those leftovers you were craving.



While it may feel like you are stuck at Wash. U. for weeks on end, once you have a pet, you realize you leave more than you thought you did. Unless you drove to school, travel will become much more difficult as well. A cat can easily fit in a carrier that goes under the seat, but larger dogs need to be put in kennels on airplanes. And smaller pets generally are not allowed on planes. Thanksgiving break is just long enough that even a low-maintenance pet needs to be taken care of. And winter and summer breaks, if you cannot take your pet home, signify entire months during which your animal needs care. So be prepared to beg your native St. Louis friends to watch your pets over break if you aren’t driving yourself home. I suggest offering to buy them dinner as a way to repay them for saving your skin. Those times you aren’t at Wash. U. most also be factored into your decision to get a pet.


All of this is not to say that adopting a pet in college is out of the question. Plenty of my friends have cats or dogs and still manage to fulfill all of their responsibilities. I have had two fish and a hamster in college and thought they were all excellent pets. Just be sure to consider what an endeavor owning a pet is before embarking on it. Happiness truly is a warm dog.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.