Companionship is something we all value, which is a big reason why so many of us decide to bring a pet into our lives. Pets bring us laughter, happiness, and friendship. Nevertheless, it’s important to find the right pet for you. Whether you like tiny teacups, mighty Mastiffs, subtle chinchillas, chirpy birds, bearded dragons, colorful goldfish, independent cats, or high-maintenance horses…there’s a pet out there for you.
I’ve enjoyed many pets of my own, both as an adult and as a child. I’ve had many dogs, one cat, a parakeet, various frogs and toads, snakes, guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters, fish, and even a few bearded dragons. As you think about which pet is right for you, remember that pet ownership is a big responsibility. You should always do as much research as possible before bringing a new friend into your life. There are plenty of online resources, including this short quiz, that can help you zero in on the perfect pet for you and your lifestyle.
Alright, you took the quiz…now what? Each type of pet brings with it unique challenges in terms of behavior, feeding, cost, care, housing, and the demands they make on your day. You’re more likely to have a happy, healthy relationship with your pet— and an easier time dealing with the challenges of pet ownership—if you know what you’re getting into first.
These animals really do deserve the title of “Man’s Best Friend.” Extremely loyal, smart, and affectionate, dogs are known to improve our physical and mental health. When it comes to deciding what kind of dog you want to bring into your life, take into account your lifestyle and the environment you live in. Research the temperament and personalities of different breeds. If you are planning on rescuing a shelter dog, weigh the factors of adopting a puppy, adolescent, or mature animal. Think about living space, kids in the household, and financial obligations. If you’re up for it, you can try another quiz on choosing a dog breed and learn more about the benefits and challenges of shelter dogs and breeder dogs.
Cats are generally low-maintenance pets. You don’t need to take them for walks, and they clean themselves. Compared to puppies and dogs, cats are easier to train and cost less for upkeep. Unlike other pets, cats are independent and can be left alone for a day or two as long as they have access to their food, water, and litter box. However, although most cats don’t require as much attention as dogs, they are still social animals and can be demanding. Play time and interaction with your feline on a regular basis can be the difference between a happy cat and a bored cat.
Fish can make truly wonderful pets for people who have limited time or space. Fish also make for good starter pets to teach children about the responsibility of pet ownership. Most of us have felt the tranquil, calming effect of watching fish gliding serenely through the water (maybe this is why we see so many aquariums in doctor’s offices). But just like every living creature, fish require attention with daily feeding and maintaining a proper environment.
Birds are amusing and attractive creatures, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to care for. Birds tend to be messy, and they demand attention. Toys, music, television—and possibly other birds—can help entertain these flock animals while you’re at work. Make sure you spend quality time with your bird every day. As a rule of thumb, a healthy diet for most bird breeds consists of 75 percent pellets and 25 percent human table foods. Never give your bird chocolate, wine, liquor, caffeinated beverages, avocados, or very spicy foods. Finally, keep in mind that some birds are a lifetime commitment—many types of parrots can live 50 years or more.
Reptiles and Amphibians
Relatively quiet and odorless (if you keep the cage clean), reptiles and amphibians make great pets for those with fur allergies, and they’re compatible with modern lifestyles. Their housing environment requires appropriate ultraviolet lighting with humidity and temperature regulation, and a proper diet consists of a wide range of foods, including insects and other invertebrates, plant material, small mammals, small fish, smaller reptiles and pelleted fish foods.
Hamsters, mice, gerbils, and guinea pigs all have a shorter lifespan compared to dogs and cats. The average lifespan for hamsters and gerbils is 2–3 years; mice, 1–3 years; rats, 2–4 years; and guinea pigs, about 5–7 years. Cages for your rodent pets should be large enough for them to explore and exercise. Make sure latches are secure because they can be expert escape artists. Hamsters and guinea pigs are more likely to be active during the day, while other rodents tend to be nocturnal. That said, if sleep is important, you probably shouldn’t keep their cage in your bedroom. Rodents also love to chew because their teeth are constantly growing, which forces them to gnaw to file their teeth down. (If they don’t gnaw frequently, their teeth can grow so long that they can no longer feed themselves and starve to death.) Providing safe chewing materials to your rodent pet is important for their physical and mental well-being. Also take into consideration that guinea pigs have much more demanding dietary needs than other rodents, requiring fresh hay and vegetables. They also require supplemental vitamin C (usually added to their drinking water) because they don’t produce their own.
These beautiful, amazing creatures have been domesticated for over 5,000 years. Nevertheless, owning a horse is a big responsibility and requires significant commitment of time, money, and care. The cost of boarding alone can reach $2,000 a month, with additional costs for tack, stable tools and supplies, and veterinary care. Be honest with yourself about how much time and money you’ll be able to spend on caring for a horse. Even if you love horses, rather than take on the expense and hassle of actual ownership, you can spend $30 on the occasional trail ride or lesson…and that’s okay.
Regardless of what pet you ultimately decide to bring into your home, recognize that you are accepting responsibility for the health and welfare of another living creature. The life of your pet is solely in your hands. Therefore, do your research and take your time on making this decision. Once you’ve done that, embrace and honor it.
Images from iStock/Highwaystarz-Photography (main), GlobalP (dogs), anurakpong (kitten with boy).