Ten Rules For Choosing The Right Pet

 

You can read other suggestions on deciding which pet might be best for you through this link

and a bit more about the choice of a dog here

 

Ron Hines DVM PhD

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Personal life in 2011 is quite different from what it was when Ozzie & Harriet kept house. In those days, most families had larger dogs like collies and boxers and sometimes a shorthaired cat or two that went in and out of doors as it pleased. The nuclear family consisted of a husband and a stay-at-home wife and two and one half children. I do not know if today’s life is better or worse but it is certainly different.

We have a lot more choices now in pets and our pet often becomes our best friend and companion. Here are a few things to do and not to do when choosing a pet:

1) No Impulse Shopping

Try not to adopt or purchase a pet on a whim or inspiration. Make it a deliberate, thought-out action. Buying a pet at a pet shop because it looks so, so adorable is not a good way to add another long-term member to your family. Sometimes we are not the best judges of our needs and sometimes our desires don’t really fit our needs. You might ask a close relative what kind of pet might fit your life style. Don’t be impulsive.

2) Shop Around

Take the time to learn all about the kind of pet you are considering buying. Pet stores have a built-in bias to sell the animals so they are often not the best places to learn about pets. Books are somewhat better but no one has written an animal book who wasn't’t head over heals in love with that type of animal. Often the negative aspects of a species are glossed over. Remember that a new pet can change the structure of a family and needs to be acceptable to all family members. If you are considering purchasing a dog, learn about the special attributes of many breeds. Dog breeds are as different in their personalities, abilities and needs as people are.

3) Visit The Humane Society And Animal Rescue Organizations

Pay a few walk-through trips to your local humane society or ferret, guinea pig and rabbit rescue organizations and interact with some of the animals there in a quiet one-on-one basis. Don’t pay too much attention to the chatter regarding specific pets. Just observe the pet when it is alone with you and try to make a mental list of its positive and negative points.

4) Match Your Pet To Your Life Style

Are you a night owl or a day person? Some pets, like sugar gliders and ferrets spend much of the day asleep and are most active at night. Do you work long hours? Some pets get very lonely by themselves while others are not bothered by solitude. Do you have children? Are they mature enough not to be a threat to the pet you choose? If you travel a lot who will care for the pet while you are away?

5) Match Your Pet To Your Home Environment

How much free space is there? Is there a back yard? Is it fenced? How will your neighbors feel about this new pet? If you rent, what will your landlord think about this pet?

6) Decide Why You Want A Pet

Is this pet going to be a child substitute? There is nothing wrong with that. But then you may want a dog or possibly an unusually affectionate cat. One of the toy breeds may be ideal for you. Your personality traits are very important. Do you want a pet that is independent and requires little contact or are you looking for an energetic companion with whom you can jog or play Frisbee? Cat people tend to have different traits than dog people. If you give either of them the wrong species, they often have trouble bonding with the pet. Have you ever noticed that with time, pets and their owners tend to resemble each other? Consider the reasons you want a new pet. Do you want to play with it and caress it? If so a newt or turtle may not be the right pet for you. Do you want to teach it tricks and interact with it? Then an intelligent pet like a dog, cat or ferret might be the right choice. Many families purchase a pet to be their children' companion. This is an excellent idea. However, do not purchase a pet to instill responsibility in an immature child. Owning a pet and being forced to care for it does not instill responsibility in a child. If you are uncertain, be prepared to do most of the care yourself.

7) Decide If This Is The Right Time In Your Life To Get A Pet

Frankly consider if this is really the right time in your life to own a (another) pet. If you already have other pets how will they get along with the new one? How stable are your human relationships? How good is your health?

8) Decide How Long You Want Your Pet To Live

How long do you expect your pet to live? Average dogs and cats live 12-16 years – some longer. Tortoises and goldfish have indeterminate life spans that approximate our own. Small parrots live 8-14 years; larger ones 35-60 years. Mice, however, are old at two years.

9) Decide If You Are Able To Meet This Pet’s Specific Needs

It is a good idea to do some research online or at the library as to how much care your pet will need. Try to find some locate owners you can visit with. Do you have enough time to properly feed and clean for it? Many pets get bored if they do not have enough one-on-one contact. This boredom can lead to a host of undesirable behaviors.

10) Cost

Besides the initial cost of the pet, you will incur considerable expense in purchasing the pet a suitable home or cage. Over time, the cost of a good diet will far exceed whatever you paid for the animal. It may need expensive veterinary care, grooming and pet sitters as well.

What types of pets should I consider?

Dogs are still my favorite pets. I love them. Most are intelligent, loyal, happy and obedient. They bond closely with their owner (s). But they do require a lot of your time if they are to remain healthy and happy.

Cats have been desirable pets since the days of the Egyptians. They are more independent than dogs and may thrive better if they must endure long periods of the day alone.

Guinea pigs are gentle affectionate pets. They can live in small quarters. They are economical to feed and, when well maintained, have little odor and produce very little dander. Unfortunately they only live for 5-8 years. They almost never bite. They do not make good pets for children. If you live in a cool environment and want a longer living rodent, purchase a chinchilla.

Ferrets are very desirable pets. They are about as intelligent as a cat. They are nearly noiseless and do well on a commercial diet of ferret or kitten chow. Ferrets are curious and affectionate. They have short attention spans. They generally live 8-10 years. Some people find their odor undesirable. Most of the day they will be found asleep but they don't appear to mind being woken up and cuddled. .

Rabbits are often sold as pets. They are adorable when they are babies. But as they mature their needs increase and they may become aggressive. Read my article on rabbits as pets before choosing one. Some owners just love their pet rabbits and they do well in households with cats.

Rats, Mice, Gerbils and Hamsters all make good pets if they are handled from the time they open their eyes. Rats live 4-6 years; mice 2-3 years. They are economical to buy and maintain and can be quite affectionate. They do have a rather strong odor –especially if their cages are not cleaned frequently enough. The most odiferous of this group are hamsters; the least are gerbils.

Turtles, Tortoises , Lizards And Snakes are all basically “observational” pets. That is, you can watch them, handle them and pet them but they do not generally return affection. The most affectionate of the group are tortoises. All have very long lives, which can pose a problem as our life situations change. If you choose to have one, pick a common, native variety. The ones sold at pet shops are usually exotic species from far-off places and the pet trade has driven many of them to near extinction.

Parrots and Cockatoos, Parakeets and Cockatiels are the most affectionate of all birds that are commonly kept as pets. They usually bond to only one member of the family – which can be a problem. Generally, the larger the bird species, the longer they live. They can be quite noisy and cockatoos in particular produce large amounts of dust (powder down).


Exotic pets such as Monkeys, Sugar gliders, Opossums and Hedgehogs really do not make good pets for average people. There are occasional people and families who swear by them as pets and I treat these animals frequently. But I do not recommend them. Some of us enjoy creating our own private zoos and keep these animals in superb conditions. But most of us would find them messy and demanding with needs that are rarely met in captivity. Although some become very tame most are rarely affectionate.


Fish have qualities in common with plants. They are both beautiful to look at and add an air of comfort to any home. As with plants, some of us have a “green thumb” with fish as with plants. They need regular, methodical continuous care in order to thrive. It is hard to develop a one-on-one relationship with a fish but they will come and become “happily” agitated when you feed them.

Farm Animals can make very good pets. Often zoning codes do not allow them in residential neighborhoods. Unlike exotic animals, farm animals are domesticated and affectionate and food sources are readily available at the feed store. Some require more space that the average tract home supplies.