Starter Pets: Q&A


It might sound like a strange concept, but starter pets can be a great way of introducing animal care into your home.

What Is A “Starter” Pet?

Not meant in any way to be derogatory, a starter pet should be considered the kind of pet that has all the benefits of pet ownership – but doesn’t take as much time, effort, or expense, to care for.

Everyone loves dogs and cats; a huge number of homes tend to have at least one of these animals. However, there’s no doubt that they take a lot of energy and a lot of money to care for. It’s also a huge time investment, with dogs – on average – living for at least 10 years, and cats potentially double that with the right care.

A starter pet is meant to be a way of learning about caring, how to schedule your time for doing so, and adapting your lifestyle to suit.

Which Animals Make Good Starter Pets?

It could be said that any animal that isn’t a cat or a dog makes for a good entry point into pet ownership. However, there are a couple that are often overlooked to consider –


You don’t need a huge amount of space for a chicken; a medium size back garden will usually be sufficient, if you have room for a chicken house and a decent run. Not only are chickens fun fowl to care for, they can also be a source of eggs. If you buy a rooster, you could even end up with fertile eggs, which you can nurture with the help of incubators like those found on This is incredibly rewarding, as you’re there from the moment they break through the shell and look into the world for the first time!


Hamsters and rats are the classic pets for kids. These mischievous little creatures can be a lot of fun and the costs of sustaining them are fairly cheap. You’ll need a good size cage and a good food source, as well as a few toys – has some great ideas for engaging little hamster brains.

Do They Really Prepare You For Larger Pet Ownership?

Oh yes. To begin with, you get into the habit of considering another creature. You establish feeding routines, caring for them, and ensuring they are comfortable. If you’ve never had a pet before (or it’s been awhile), then these are habits that you will need to pick up.

Cats and dogs don’t deal well with being left alone. They are prone to separation anxiety, which can mean you have to completely alter your schedule for them. This isn’t true of starter pets; you might need to make small adjustments, but it won’t be the wholesale changes that cats and dogs require. If you struggle to make these adjustments, that’s a good sign that you aren’t ready for the commitment of large pet ownership.

Which, of course, is fine. There’s plenty of fun, enjoyment, and love to enjoy with smaller starter pets – so why not make the leap into a whole new world of pet parenthood?

The real osmosis education

Audience learning at vet festival

Many times I wish that I could just put a book under my pillow and it will be absorbed overnight as I sleep… I’ve tried (both under and on top) and unfortunately have never got this to work.

What I have found though is that there are some people that you can simply just be in the same room as and you will start absorbing knowledge and learning. These people just have something special – I have no clue whether it is the passion for teaching or something else however they just turn up and you start learning.

I’ve become better at recognising these people. They are the ones that I will look for when I go places to see practice or to conference. This weekend at the Vet Festival has been the same, sometimes I’ve not even bothered looking at the topic once I have seen the speakers name. It doesn’t matter what they are teaching, I will learn something useful because of the way they teach it.

This is something I think Noel has excelled at with the VET Festival as its not just about sitting in tents for a weekend, it is about how on Monday when you are back treating patients the care you can give has improved. Whether it is simply by using drugs in a different way, or just being confident enough to treat based on the clinical presentation instead of the diagnostic tests. It is understanding how to tell the difference between a problem in the eye and a problem in the brain. Or knowing where else to look when you get a tumour in a certain place.

The speakers at VET Festival all had this quality. When Clare overran and told people to leave if they had to not a single person moved. It is this that makes VET Festival truly special…

The philosophy of surgery – VET Festival 2017

Laurent Findji - The VET Festival - Surgical Philosophy

Something that I personally am passionate about is doing the best surgery possible, I honestly respect that there is an enormous learning curve in front of me. This learning curve is about the experience that allows me to understand why and how things are done.

However that does not mean that I should not be trying to be better, and one of the best ways to do this is by learning from others. I’ve recently read the biographies of Dr William Halsted and also Dr Harvey Cushion two of the pioneers of modern surgery who have outlined many of their thoughts on things.

This morning my first lecture was by Laurent Findji who was talking about the philosophy and practice of soft tissue surgery and how this can help you become a better surgeon. This afternoon Laurent is also talking about complications in surgery which I will also be attending however I wanted to make sure I blogged up this first with a clear mind.

So I am going start at the end with a quote…

Good surgeons know how to operate, better surgeons know when to operate, and the best surgeons know when not to operate

Going from this it is something that cannot be taught, and all vets will start at the basic of following recipes to learn how to do stuff. From this an understanding of why should develop and then with this why it enables you as a surgeon to be able to apply the principles without a recipe.

The secret is to choose your patients and your surgeries, there is no point operating on the skin when bone needs to be removed for example. And if you are operating and failing you need to know why as failure is not good for you or your team.

One of the most interesting thoughts from this lecture was about instruments. I’ve seen many instruments being used in the wrong way often, and even going as far as to say that sometimes even for non-surgical uses. Laurent highlighted the following points when it came to intruments:

Safety – if your forceps have been used unscrew a cap, or for holding a needle, can you really trust them? If you then use them to occlude an artery in liver surgery will they hold? Or will you have a blood filled abdomen?

Fluency – sometimes people are fast surgeons, and even worse they are fast without rushing. This is because they understand their instruments, how they are used, and what they are going to do. They will take their instrument into hand and use it.

Economics – are cheap instruments really worth it? Do they give you the performance you need? Do they feel good? Sometimes you really can tell whether an instrument or not with just whether it locks properly or slips.

The top tip from Laurent’s lecture is that you should film yourself operating, then watch this and look at your technique. How much time do you spend thinking? How much time do you spend doing? What can you do better?