Questions to Help You Pick the Perfect Family Pet-MainPhoto

choosing a family pet

UPDATED January 12th, 2018

Your kids have been begging for a cat, dog, goldfish, snake or gerbil. You’ve been dodging the issue for months but finally cave to pressure and are considering a non-human addition to the family. The right family pet can make your life even better; they reduce stress, provide companionship and teach your children responsibility. The wrong pet can make your life miserable, become a source of tension (“It’s your turn to take the dog out in the rain!”) and create a reason for the landlord to cancel your lease.

Read Related: Why Pets Are Great for Kids

Having considered all that, you’ve decided to allow the kids a pet anyway. Use this guide for choosing a family pet to determine which pet is right for you and your family.

  • Who lives in the household? If your house is orderly and scheduled you can probably take on any pet and be happy. If chaos is the rule, a lot of pets will add to the general disorganization. Dogs need exercise and training. If you’re trying to potty train a toddler, do you want to housebreak a puppy at the same time? Older kids are great dog trainers. They can walk the dog, feed the dog and help clean up after the dog. But if you don’t have time to fold laundry let alone mop up puppy pee, you’d better stick to goldfish.

  • Does anyone have allergies? Cats and dogs and cute little bunnies are furry and soft. And they make many people sneeze. If anyone in your household has allergies, best to consider choosing a family pet that’s non-furry  like fish or reptiles or birds. If you won’t be happy without a furry companion, find one that doesn’t shed.

  • How much can you afford to spend for pet care? Consider the initial cost of your pet. Even if you adopt—which we hope you will!—there are food bowls, leashes, crates, cages, and bedding are just the start. Dogs need a license, cats need scratch posts and all animals need food. Pets need inoculations to stay healthy and don’t forget the cost of spaying or neutering your pet. Health care for your pet is expensive; emergency vet care for an injury or illness can be astronomical.

  • How long do you want to commit? Some pets have a short lifespan. Sometimes goldfish don’t make it home from the pet shop. Some parrots can live to be 80. Most animals fall somewhere in between on the longevity scale. Expect a dog or cat to live 10-15 years on average. Snakes and lizards live 3 to 5 years.

  • Do you have room for a pet? Is your family packed into a small apartment or spread out in a big suburban home? Do you have a fenced yard? Can the dog or cat jump on the furniture (they will regardless of how hard you try) or is your house filled with priceless antiques? Dogs and cats need a space where they can curl up and feel safe, whether it’s a crate or a space under the bed. Birds, rabbits, reptiles need cages and sunlamps and places sheltered from small, curious hands.

  • What will you do with the pet at vacation time? You can find fish feeders that auto feed for a week. I’m told cats can care for themselves for a few days at a time with food and water and litter box provided. You can take Fido with you on the family vacation but have to plan for dog friendly hotels or find a kennel for the family pooch. And caged animals generally need food and water on a daily basis. Somebody has to take care of the critters if you’re not there. Maybe you can find a neighbor kid to help out. Maybe you can’t.

  • Are you ready for the work required to keep a pet? You have to train a pet. You have to feed and water and clean up after a pet. You have to keep your pet healthy with vet trips and exercise. If you walk every evening, your dog can be a good companion. If you never leave the apartment on the weekend, maybe a cat would be a better fit. Fish want clean water and food. Lizards like grasshoppers and sunlamps. Snakes enjoy the occasional mouse and birds need clean water and food daily along with a clean, roomy cage and the occasional bit of music and human interaction.

Adding a pet to your family is a rewarding experience for young and old alike. Pets help kids learn responsibility; pets provide companionship and enrich our lives. Spend some time selecting just the right pet for you and your family and you’ll reap the benefits many times over.