Looking for a new pet? Here’s how to choose the right one

We’ve all been there.  “How much is that doggy in the window?”  Or “look how cute that tiny little hamster is!”  Or “aw! that kitten is so sweet!”

Whether it’s you, or your kid, those aren’t the best ways to go about picking a pet for your family.  Many people get that puppy from the window home and realize that there’s no button to turn off the poop and pee options, that he or she barks incessantly for attention, and chews on (or pees on) almost everything.

Not being prepared for the responsibilities and the “icky” duties that come with being a pet guardian is the main reason pets are passed from pet shelter to home, back to the shelter, and possibly death row. So put some thought into this decision—it’s not just your life you’re changing if you find a month down the line that you can’t cope.

What type of pet should I get?
Before you even think about adopting or buying a pet, consider your household.  How old are your kids (if you have any)?  How many of them are there?  Do they know anything about animals?  More to the point, just how responsible is it possible for them to be? Either way, a routine and/or pet chore chart are a good idea.

Rodents: Do you only have enough room for or small cage or aquarium?  Rodents may be tiny, but their care is not as simple as you think.  There is a cage or hutch to be changed and cleaned once a week—every few days in the case of rabbit hutches.  There are specific nutritional needs.  They have specific susceptibilities, and they are very delicate.

Children need to be aided in their maintenance, taught how to hold them properly and what appropriate food is.  Hammy Hamster may like chocolate bars, but dollars to donuts, they aren’t good for him. There are numerous books out there about the health, physiology, nutrition, and habitat for rabbits, gerbils, mice, rats, degus, and rabbits.  Many are made for child level understanding.

– Fun fact: Rabbits aren’t rodents! They are a Lagomorph, wholly herbivore (unlike some rodents), and have more in common with deer or cows.

Dogs: We all know that dogs are a lot of responsibility because they’re not as self-sufficient as rodents, or cats.  They require time and attention, good quality food, training, exercise, and routine.  I personally wouldn’t recommend getting a puppy or a dog under 3, and no sporting breeds unless you have a huge yard or time to take them out for hours of exercise.

If you don’t have time to train him or her, adopt from a rescue where they work on those things before adopting the dog out.  Or opt for a different pet.  Because leaving training to the kids, even older ones (unless they are truly interested and dedicated, as some kids tend to be), is a gamble at best.  You could end up with Skippy the Table Ninja, or Fido the Scourge of Shoes, or Tank the Runaway Train who knocks over dear, sweet grannies left and right.

Cats: Cats are one of the simpler pets to keep, especially if you keep them indoors. Keeping them outdoor will effectively shorten their lifespan to a median of 2 years, because of modern-day dangers like cars, buses, trains, dogs, coyotes, raccoons, and little Johnny round the corner who has a new BB Gun and just wishes there was something moving in his yard he could test it out on… you get the message.

If you think Felix looks depressed without his daily dose of vitamin D, keep him on a line in a halter out in the yard.  Just, check on him every once in a while, or you could end up with a cat hanging over the fence looking nonplussed, arms akimbo because he just couldn’t possibly resist climbing it and testing the length of the line. Yes, I speak from experience. This is a good example of why to use a halter (and make it snug), and not a collar if you’re putting your indoor cat on a line.  They’re sneaky little rugrats.

Cats are easy to litter train.  The instinct is there as early as 2 weeks old.  If your cat is outdoor/ indoor and isn’t a greedy gut, then you can free feed, which is desirable for cats as they should not go for long without food – it affects their liver.  To finish, fresh water, a scratching post (always a boon for the cat guardian) and toys, and voila, you’re taking care of kitty.

If there is no one home for long hours, I suggest getting two kitties, litter-mates especially, as they keep one another company, and you still reap the rewards of their affection.

Ferrets: Always check your local animal laws, as these little dudes are illegal, for ridiculous and unfounded reasons, in California.  Otherwise, they are merry, humorous little characters that are always a joy to have around.  They use the litter, eat kibble, treats, and drink water out of a bowl or water bottle fixed to the cage (bowls are safer as the dropper spout in bottles can get clogged if not checked frequently).

Ferret cages can be pricey at the pet store, but you can keep multiple ferrets in one large one, and unless you have ten ferrets, you’ll only ever need the one cage.  Ferrets are also best in twos unless you don’t work long hours.  They’re not as independent as cats, but not as dependent as dogs.  They need to come out of the cage for a few hours every day to explore and play, with you or without you and get exercise.  Yes, they do smell, but you can get them de-scented.  There are many books out there on Ferret Care, including directions on ferret-proofing your home.

Birds: I’ve never had birds. But I have heard from my bird-keeping friends that they make lots of noise and mess.  However, they are also lovely, some of them are melodic instead of noisy, and you can get cages that help cut down on mess as well as make cleaning the cage easier.  Also, some species of pet birds are extremely intelligent, which can be fascinating and fun as some can dance, or be taught to talk, or sing in English!

I would suggest doing a good amount of research on birds as pets, especially if you have children, and perhaps talk to someone experienced in their care and behavior.

Reptiles and amphibians: Since I have no true experience with either of these pets, I would strongly suggest purchasing a few books on their care, there are lots of them, and speaking to a few people who are experienced in keeping them, as well as a vet experienced in caring for them.

Exotics: I’ll put it this way: If it’s illegal, don’t get one! Some animals were simply never meant to be kept as pets, period.  Be intelligent, and make informed decisions.

All in all, pets enrich our lives if we choose them wisely.  If you’re a laid-back couch potato, don’t get a Border collie or Miniature Pinscher.  If things with scales that you have to feed live or frozen mice to creeps you out, don’t get a snake.  It all comes down to making an educated decision together as a family as to what pet will be right for you.

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