Ten Rules For Finding The Right Pet For You And Your Family

Ron Hines DVM PhD

Life at home is quite different from what it was for your parents. In those earlier days, most families had larger dogs like collies and boxers and sometimes a short-haired 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. I have been treating my clients pets for many years.

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 lifestyle. Don’t be impulsive.

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 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.

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.

Match Your Pet To Your Lifestyle

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?

Match Your Pet To Your Home Environment

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

Decide Why You Want A Pet

Will this pet 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’s 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.

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?

A Pet With A Lifespan to Match Your Desires

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.

Decide If You Can 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.


Besides the initial cost of your pet, you will incur a sizable expense when purchasing a suitable cage for small pocket pets. Over time, the cost of a good diet for all pets will far exceed whatever you paid for it. Your pet is likely to need veterinary care and perhaps grooming and pet sitters as well.

What Types Of Pets Should I Consider?

Dogs are still the favorite personal pet in America. I have always loved 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

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. You can read more about guinea pigs here.


Ferrets are very desirable pets if their odor does not bother you. 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. Read about ferrets as pets here.


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. Some owners just love their pet rabbits, and they do well in households with cats. You can read my article on rabbits as pets before choosing one. 

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 odoriferous of this group are hamsters; the least are gerbils. Read about mice as pets here.

Turtles, Tortoises, Lizards And Snakes

All 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. There are several articles on reptiles as pets on this site. Begin here.

Parrots and Cockatoos, Parakeets and Cockatiels

These birds tend to be the most affectionate of all birds that are commonly kept as pets. Amazon parrots in particular 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). Read about the dietary needs of parrots and some of the health issues they might encounter here

Other Exotic Pets

Exotic pets such as monkeys, sugar gliders, American opossums and hedgehogs really do not make good pets for average people. With time, many folks lose interest in them and the poor creatures end up being pass from home to home. There are occasional people and families who swear by these exotics as pets, and I treat these animals frequently. But I don’t recommend them to people who would be content with a dog or a cat. Some of us enjoy creating our own private zoos and keep these animals in superb conditions. Although most of us would find them messy and demanding with needs that are rarely met in captivity. Although some become very tame, most are only tentatively 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

Farm Animals can make very good pets. Zoning codes often 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 than the average tract home supplies. I suggest you not choose a pig. That is not because pigs are messy. It is because pigs have a tendency to assert their dominance as they mature. 

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