OVRS_iStock_000017127254_XXXLargeHow many pet owners have succumbed to the trendy cuteness of the labradoodle, the exotic curiosity of an iguana, the beauty of a Afghan hound, or the novelty of the “fit-in-your-purse” teacup chihuahua, only to realize the pet isn’t a good match with their overall life and lifestyle? The sheer number of chihuahuas currently in shelters across the US illustrates why choosing a pet is more than a preference in appearance or cute factor.

Choosing a pet should encompass a plethora of factors: your lifestyle, living situation, personality, and schedule AND the specific physical and behavioral needs of the species and breed of animal.

Choosing a Pet: Cat, Dog, Rabbit, Guinea Pig?

For many potential pet owners, the first decision made is: What type of pet should I get? For most of us, cats and dogs top the list. But, as you may know, the personalities and physical requirements of these animals can vary dramatically, especially among our canine pals.

If you are seeking a dog companion, research the specific qualities of breeds you are interested in. Since dogs have been with us as domesticated companions for thousands of years, each breed has been carefully bred for qualities and traits to complement certain activities, such as hunting, or for exaggerated physical attributes, such as the case with bull dogs. With these traits come additional responsibilities (keeping a sporting dog active, for example) or even physical challenges (breathing challenges seen in pugs, bulldogs, and boxers).

Different breeds can also have significant differences in average lifespan, with most very large breeds living to age 8-10 and some smaller breeds living until they’re well into the late teens. If you’re considering adopting a lovable mutt, it will be especially important to get to know the individual personality of any dog you’re considering.

Cats do not have the same range in breed characteristics as their dog counterparts, but there are some breeds that require additional care, such as the hairless Sphynx or the long-haired Persian. Cats typically are safest indoors, although having lots of windows and a glass door or two certainly encourages mental engagement for an indoor cat. Almost any cat makes a terrific companion for those who desire the company of a devoted, affectionate pet without the exercise demands and space requirements of a canine.

Small animal companions are also great choices for those who have a small space or wish to have an indoor-only pet. Many people enjoy the quirky house rabbit who is capable of being litterbox trained and even walking on a leash, while others may opt for a curious ferret whose nighttime acrobatics and antics are laughter inducing.

Again, it is important to read up on each of these possible pets, to better understand their physical requirements, dispositions, behaviors, and average lifespan. Keep in mind, our small mammal friends need supervision around the house and extra caution with electrical wires (keep them off of the floor) and with potential escape routes through vents, cracked windows, and open doors.

A Note About Exotics  

Exotic pets encompass a myriad of species, from reptiles to wild birds to mammals, from sugar gliders to spider monkeys. While some exotic pet owners are keenly aware of their pets’ needs and practice excellent husbandry, exotic pets require complex care that very few pet owners are equipped to handle.

Many wild species are also being threatened by the exotic and wild pet industries which have taken a toll on wild populations. We strongly recommend working with an exotic pet specialist and thoroughly researching the care requirements of an exotic pet, as well as the laws governing the transport and keeping of exotic animals, before you make a decision.

Finding a Pet – General Considerations

Once you determine the right type of pet for you and your family, other questions to ask yourself are:

  • How much time do I have each day to devote to pet care?
  • Am I committed to the financial requirements of keeping my pet healthy?
  • Is my lifestyle suitable for the pet I am choosing?
  • Do I have the right amount of space to keep my pet safe and free to express his or her normal behaviors?
  • Will this pet be suitable for small children?
  • How will my other pets respond to this new pet?
  • What do I hope to gain out of pet ownership (affection, an exercise buddy, etc.)?
  • Is this the right time to add a new pet to my life?

Finding your next pet companion is a thoughtful process. After all, a pet is a lifelong member of the family. By avoiding impromptu decisions about a new pet and focusing on choosing the right pet for your lifestyle, you will encourage the health and wellbeing of your pet and that purrfect fit for you and your family.