The joy of raising a new puppy or kitten to be your constant companion is one of life's greatest experiences. In a crazy economy, mixed up politics and stressful family lives, pets can actually bring a cohesive and loving touch. So if you want to add a little unconditional love and lots of fun at home, a new pet may just be what the doctor ordered.

There is no doubt that we find the little round heads and big eyes of young puppies and kittens irresistible. Studies show pets are a very positive addition to families or singles and even empty nesters! Pets relieve stress, add joy and give us love unconditionally. Whether you picked out your new friend at a breeder or you've rescued a pet in need of a great home, all puppies and kittens have requirements that you must know before bringing them home.

Prepare for day-to-day needs, like food and playtime, and for ongoing needs, like vaccines and preventive care. Also, plan ahead for those unexpected things, like emergency care or behavioral problems. It's common sense that puppies and kittens need adequate amounts of food and clean water to grow to their potential. What's less well-known is that your choice of food could have a huge effect on the health of your pet. When looking for a proper diet, please ask the advice of your veterinarian. Also look for companies that make a real effort to help consumers understand our pets' nutritional needs. Remember, some of the best medicine isn't medicine at all — it is nutrition.

Whether new owners are trying to save money or they were told "all its shots are done," inadequate preventive care dooms many young animals to suffer some terrible diseases. Feline distemper, canine parvovirus, heartworm disease and severe intestinal parasite infestations are just a few of the serious medical problems seen routinely in veterinary offices. Your veterinarian will save you money and heartache by providing advice about vaccines and preventive care and will customize an individualized vaccine protocol and give the needed de-worming treatments to keep your pet safe. When it comes to your new pet and your veterinarian, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.

Likewise, your pet's mental/social health is as important as its physical well-being. You won't get the chance to redo or undo behaviors learned during this formative time. Behavioral problems are a leading cause for relinquishment and even euthanasia of pets. By spending some time working with your new pet through obedience and socialization classes, you can help prevent life-long issues.

Then, there are the miscellaneous items you will need: crates to help with house training, litter boxes for the kittens, scratching posts, treats, leashes, collars and stain/odor removers for accidents.

All told, Americans will spend close to $60 billion in 2014 on their pets. An average family might spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on their dogs and cats each year. Sadly, emergencies and serious illnesses add to this number. Pet insurance and pet health savings plans can help reduce or eliminate some costs, but common sense and responsible ownership will have the greatest impact.

Many people can't resist the cuteness of a puppy or kitten, but, bringing a new pet home comes with a great deal of responsibility. Acquiring a pet is both an emotional and economic family decision. Be realistic about your individual situation and take some time to determine the best family pet(s) to fit your family.

Dr. Darren Woodson has practiced veterinary medicine in the Farmington area for more than 28 years and has a passion for educating pet owners. If you have a question you would like him to address, email dwoodson@valleyvetpet.com. Please understand Dr. Woodson will choose the questions that are most relevant to our readers.