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How to Pick the Right Pet for Your Family

Common cute domestic animal pets against white background
Susan Schmitz/Shutterstock

Who hasn’t had their child ask for a pet? Even if you have no children, you’ve likely pondered getting a dog or cat at some point. Here are five questions to ponder before picking a pet, along with some tips on which pets will fit best into any lifestyle.

How Big is Your House (or Apartment)?

Consider the size of your home when it comes to any pet. Even small pets, like rabbits and guinea pigs, need space. A rabbit needs a hutch and space to run around. Hamsters need fun cages with tunnels and balls to roll around in.

If you live in a studio apartment, your best option for a pet is a Betta (Siamese Fighting Fish), since they do fine in a small octagon tank and don’t need air filters and all the other set-up musts of larger fish tanks.

If you have space, cats and dogs make great pets in both houses and apartments. If your apartment is small, perhaps a small dog would be better than a Newfoundland. Also, for apartment dwellers, it’s important to know the pet policies at your complex (which may include deposits, extra rent, rules about vaccinations, and limits to how many pets you can own).

How Often are You Home?

Some pets need more attention than others. While a dog can sometimes go eight to ten hours without a potty break outdoors, if you’re gone longer than that regularly, a dog may not be the right choice for you. Dogs also get lonelier than other types of pets, so leaving them home by themselves all day can be rough on them

Cats can spend more hours on their own, but they still need your attention and affection from time to time.

Fish are great pets for people that spend a lot of time out of the house. Even when you go on vacation, you can drop an extended feeding tablet in the tank and not worry about them for days. That’s a freshwater tank though—if you prefer the fancy colors of saltwater fish, you’ll need to pay more attention to your swimmers.

How Old Are Your Children?

Child lovingly embraces his pet dog, a blue heeler
Rob Hainer/Shutterstock

If you have children, their ages are important factors in pet ownership. While there is no exact age when it’s appropriate for a child to have their own pet, you need to look at factors like your child’s ability to care for things, kindness toward other animals, and how responsible they are. Even a teenager may be too young for a pet if they don’t show enough responsibility (and then you’re left caring for a pet you may not have actually wanted).

Pets are good for kids. They can help teach children responsibility, and pets are great for lifting moods. Pick a pet that fits your child’s age, size, and abilities. You don’t want to get a dog that’s twice the size of your child; it’ll be years before they could take the dog for a walk on their own.

How Much Money Do You Have for Food and Veterinary Expenses?

Pets aren’t cheap. Even small pets need food, bedding, toys, snacks, and occasional veterinary care. Of course, the bigger the pet, the larger your monthly bill for food will be. A large breed dog could cost you hundreds of dollars a month in food alone! Exotic pets, like birds and chinchillas, can bring a heftier vet bill when they do need to go in.

When it comes to feeding and healthcare, some pets need specialty diets. Special foods, like those for elderly pets or pets with specific health issues, can add up quickly and are often more costly than regular food. Vet bills may become more frequent as your pet ages as well.

Does Anyone in Your Family Have any Pet Allergies?

While you may not know for sure if someone in your family has a pet allergy, it’s important to find out before you bring an animal into your home. A couple of easy ways to discover a pet allergy, without allergy testing at the doctor’s office, is to go to a friends house with the type of pet your considering and hang out for the day.

If a previously before unseen allergy comes up after you’ve introduced a new pet into your home, don’t give up on the animal right away. Visit your doctor to find out what you can do to ease allergy symptoms without uprooting your new furry family member and relegating another pet to shelter life.

How Long Do You Plan on Being a Pet Owner?

Severe Macaw parrot
Tracy Starr/Shutterstock

When it comes to choosing a pet, another thing you need to consider is the lifespan of that animal. Some pets live much longer than others. While a cat or dog can live anywhere from a few years to eighteen (depending on the breed), other pets have even longer lifespans.

If you’re considering a parrot as a pet, it’s important to know that they may live up to fifty or one-hundred years. Not only is there a chance your bird might outlive you, but you also need to make sure you make a plan for where they’ll go after you die.

What Do You Want to Do With your Pet?

Finally, think about what type of energy you want to put into pet ownership. If you get a cat, you might find that you have an aloof pet that doesn’t want all the attention you want to give to it. If you get a dog, you need to take time out of your day for walks and playtime (dogs need a lot of exercises, and if they don’t get it, they’ll get into mischief).

Even small pets that don’t seem to need as much attention still require daily feedings, cleanings, and attention. A pet rabbit or gerbil that you don’t hold often might come to fear or resent it when you do try to cuddle it.

If you’re more into uncommon pets like tarantulas, snakes, and scorpions, consider the possible dangers of mishandling these critters (especially with young children in your home).

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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