When you decide to get a pet, there are a lot of things to consider. Some of the bigger considerations:
Clean-up: Who will be doing most of it? How much are you willing to let your kids participate?
Your lifestyle: How much do you travel? How easy is it for you to find a reliable pet-sitter or boarding facility? Can you travel with your pet?
Your personality: How active is your lifestyle? How sedentary is your lifestyle?
Your preference: Are you allergic to certain animals? Which pet do you naturally gravitate towards?
Time: Realistically, how much time do you have to devote to a pet?
Children’s Ages: Do you want to teach your child how to care for a pet or is it more for the pure enjoyment and the whole family will participate in the upbringing? Certain pets are better suited to an older child than to a youngster.
Let’s take a closer look at the most common pets and their needs.
RODENTS (hamster, gerbil, mouse, rat, guinea pig, chinchilla)
The recommended age to participate in caring for a rodent is age 8. Rodents are not recommended for younger children because the rodents are easily injured — they can get squished, sat on, stepped on and the like. Rodents are great starter pets for children to learn how to care for an animal.
They live in a small cage filled with newspaper shreds or wood chips. As long as you thoroughly clean the cage weekly, rodents don’t stink too much. They don’t require bathing or much personal care and are usually only fed once a day. All you really need to do is hold and play with them a few times a day. Keep in mind that rodents are “squirmy” and will always require supervision when taken out of their cage. Rodents typically tend to only live 2 to 3 years — so there’s not too much of a long-term commitment.
There are toys and tunnels you can purchase to enrich their environment. Out of the whole group, chinchillas are the least fun of the group, guinea pigs are the loudest (they emit a loud or irritating squeal) and rats are the smartest (they can be trained to do the most “interesting” tricks).
Of all pets, dogs provide the most enriching family experience — everyone can play a role. However, of all pet options, dogs are require the most care. A lot of work and time must go into establishing pack order and potty training. Potty training requires a lot of consistency and may also require extra gear to cut down on accidents.
There are a lot of breed choices to pick from and to find the perfect breed for you and your family, you need to do your homework. Not all breeds do great with kids and not every breed will do well in an apartment. Some breeds are very easygoing and some are naturally high-strung. If you’re into travel, not every breed travels well, so you may need to find alternate arrangements for your pooch.
Unless you’re pretty active (or at least be able to devote some daily walking time), a dog is probably not the pet for you.
Cats and dogs remain the most popular pet options and many are undecided between which one is a better fit and usually families end up falling back on simple preferences between the two. Of course, a lot of households actually have at least one of each.
Cats are a much lower maintenance pet than dogs. For pure entertainment purposes, cats provide just as much (or more) than dogs. Note: If you have an active baby or a toddler, be very careful regarding your child and the litter box, young children are amazingly curious. Many more children have an allergy to cats (rather the dander than the actual animal) than to dogs.
Meanwhile, cats make amazing pets for older children and can fill a variety of needs for a family. It is possible to travel with a cat (if your cat will tolerate travel), but it will probably take a lot of creativity, so do your homework. Most times, you’ll have to find a sitter or boarding facility. There are a number of breeds that display a wide array of personalities (some that act more like dogs than cats), so, again, you’ll need to do your homework to find the best fit for you.
These are the ultimate in low maintenance pets. All you have to do is clean the bowl and feed them on a daily or weekly schedule. They last anywhere from one day to 3 years! Watching fish is the ultimate in calming experiences. Kids love them!
REPTILES (turtles or lizards)
This group makes a great pet — as long as you know how to properly care for them. Some may require certain food, water or heat sources. They are fairly low maintenance overall and much less fragile than rodents. Turtles make a great starter pet for a child of any age.
Lizard-wise, there are a multitude of options to choose from. They are great fun to watch, but not very interactive.
BUNNIES or FERRETS
After the training stage for dogs, bunnies and ferrets require the most care of any pet. Never decide to take on the care of a bunny or ferret on a whim; you will live to regret it. They are very instinctual and easily frightened — it takes a ton of time to hold them in order to properly domesticate them. They will trust you completely, so the amount of work that you put into them, they will give you back. They can both be potty trained and even learn to walk on a leash. Their cages (especially for male rabbits) will soil quickly, so you will require a lot of time for clean up.
Ferrets are very entertaining, but require the same amount of attention that you would devote to your toddler. They are very mischievous and need a lot of exercise. Make sure to provide lots and lots of toys. They do emit a musky odor.
Birds are akin to reptiles on the pet scale: very entertaining and pretty low maintenance. There are several varieties available with parrots and cockatiels providing the most attention. They can be extremely noisy and do not like to be ignored.