choosing a pet

No pet should be an impulse buy. 

Don't give in to whining and pleading as you're passing by a pet store. A pet will cost you a lot of time and money, and it will be with your family for its entire life.

To make pet ownership a positive experience, do some research before you bring a pet home.

You want to know exactly what you're getting into with the type of animal you're considering, after all.

Consider having the kids do the research if they're old enough, and present it to you for consideration.

After all, if the kids have to research the pet and wait for the pet, they are more likely to appreciate the pet, and help care for it once you bring it home. Before choosing a pet there a few things to consider as you make your decision.

Things to Consider Before Choosing a Pet Type

Pets come in all sizes, shapes and forms; there's bound to be one that suits your family's needs and your tolerance level. Before choosing a pet type, consider:

  • Expense: Do you want a $1,000 purebred dog, or a $40 parakeet? Look beyond purchase price. Consider how much the animal will cost each year in food, grooming, vet care, and other essentials. Where is this money coming from?
  • Allergies and/or phobias: If Bobby is allergic to cats, why let Cassidy get one? If Christina is terrified of dogs, would a lab really be a good choice for Billy? 
  • Housing: Do you have an appropriate place for the pet? Room for it to roam? A dog requires either a fenced-in yard or a commitment to walking it a couple of times a day.
  • Lifespan: How long does the pet live? Rats only live a couple of years. While this might be ideal for a child with a short attention span, it could prove traumatic for a child who has bonded with the creature. Cockatoos, on the other hand, live up to 70 years. Do you really want a pet that you have to provide for in your will? A friend of mine has carefully calibrated her daughter's pet choices so that they will all die off by the time the child enters college. She wants an entirely empty nest.
  • Age of pet: Most kids want baby animals: puppies or kittens. Think this one through, however. A lot of people buy puppies when their kid is a toddler, thinking how cute it is for them to grow up together. But what you've really done is give yourself two babies at once. Worse, young children are often too rough for baby animals - and vice versa. Puppies and kittens may scratch or bite. Save puppies and kittens for older kids.
  • Compatibility with other pets:  If you have other animals already in your home, consider how a new pet will affect them.
  • Maintenance: There are low-maintenance pets (fish, lizards, snakes, rats, mice) and high maintenance pets (parrots, cockatoos, an any kind of exotic animal). What level are you interested in? What level do you think you will be interested in a year from now?

Determining Your Pet Maintenance Tolerance Levels

One of the best methods for selecting a pet is finding one whose maintenance requirements best fits your temperament and lifestyle. Here's a quick list of common household pets listed from lowest to highest maintenance.

Predictably, younger children are better suited for lower maintenance pets, while adults and older teens are usually better equipped to deal with the high maintenance variety.

Lowest Maintenance Pets

These are pets that don't require a lot of nurturing or special care.

They don't require grooming, walking or even petting. Just the basics: food, water, and shelter.

Rodents, such as rats, mice, gerbils, and hamsters make nice starter pets. They are small, furry, and cuddly.

They happily stay in their cages when the kids aren't playing with them.

Other advantages? They are quiet, not very messy, and fairly easy to care for. They are usually inexpensive to buy and maintain.  Get more information on easy pets here. 

Medium Maintenance Pets

Dogs are medium maintenance pets. I have a bias here: I don't approve of entirely outdoor pets. They get neglected, especially during the winter months.

I feel if you have a pet, it needs to come inside and be part of the family - at least occasionally.

Plus, outdoor pets have shorter, unhealthier lives (thanks to cars and other hazards). And they are more likely to transmit disease or pests like fleas and bacteria to your family.

Dogs go through a golden age at about the middle of their lifespan when they are housebroken and calm. They no longer chew on your shoes, and they usually come when called.

This golden age only last a few years. At the beginning and the end of their lives, dogs can be a lot of work.

Puppies need house-training, and they need to learn the rules of the house.

Otherwise, they just might chew up everything. They are rowdy and rambunctious. With a puppy, you pretty much need someone at home full-time for the first few months. Fortunately, they are adorable, too, so there's a payoff. 

Old dogs revert to puppyhood in many ways.

They can't hold their bladder as well. Accidents occur. Multiple trips to the vet may be required for health problems.

Consider pet insurance for them to keep costs down. 

Fortunately, by this time, they're one of the family so you just bite the bullet and clean up after them just like you would for Uncle Harry.

For the biggest payoff, get a long-lived dog so those golden years will be worth the effort on both ends.

Small breeds tend to live longer than large breeds. On the negative side, small breeds are often noisier and more frenetic than larger dogs.

High Maintenance Pets

In the high maintenance pets category, you can put large birds, such as parrots and cockatoos, and any kind of exotic animal. These pets usually require more attention; more expensive cages or habitats; and specialized vet care. And just try to find a pet sitter for them when you go on vacation. 

These are not usually pets for children. Often, they see children as something below them in the pecking order. And that is not good.

Now, if you would like an exotic pet for yourself, that's one thing. But don't get one just for the kid.

Parrots and cockatoos make cool conversation pieces. They are fun and comical and easy to train to do tricks. They are very social birds that bond readily with people.

But they are also loud: they screech. They are messy and destructive. If you ignore or neglect them, they become self-destructive and pick their feathers out. And they live 70 to 80 years. Just think of signing on for a 2-year-old who will never grow up. Ever.

Pets impact the whole family, not just the "owner" (or, if you live in enlightened areas, the "guardian"). By considering these and other factors before you bring a pet home, you'll set up everyone in your home for a successful, rewarding experience.

Get more information and tips on pets here.

› Tips on Choosing a Pet