Picking the Right Pet for your Lifestyle
You’ve done it! You’ve finally decided, you’re going to join the ranks of the pet owning public. You’re going to get a…cat? Maybe you should get a cat. Cats are fun, right? Low maintenance? I mean they poop in a box, you don’t even have to take them for a walk. Or maybe a dog? Dogs are loads of fun. All those people at the dog park look like they’re having a good time. But it looks kind of cold there in the winter. OK, maybe something like a rabbit. Soft, adorable…wait, is it actually eating it’s poo?
When picking out a pet, I think the most important thing is to pick the right pet for your lifestyle. Sure you might start running if you get a dog, but are you already a runner? Are you likely to become a runner? Is there any way on Earth that you’ll actually run unless someone is chasing you? Don’t get a pet to force you to keep your New Year’s Resolution!
The Couch Potato
Let’s say you live a more sedentary lifestyle. You work hard, your couch is comfy and you’ve earned the right to sink into it at the end of a long work day. The last thing you want to do when you get home is more work. So what’s the best pet for you?
Cats are great. They are somewhat low maintenance, but I know some pretty high maintenance drama queen cats out there. A few things to consider. Sleeping. Cats are nocturnal by nature (OK, so they sleep 23 hours a day, but that last hour of activity is usually at 3AM). If you have trouble sleeping then don’t get a cat.
Dogs are great too. There are some dog breeds who would love nothing more than to hang out with you for hours on the couch. A border collie or any other working dog is going to hate it. When they get bored they get destructive. But bulldogs are a great choice. They are genetic nightmares (sorry bulldog owners, but it’s true….great personalities, terrible conformation) who can barely breathe at the best of times. If they do run, it’s for a few steps at a time to get some food or some belly rubs. Greyhounds are surprisingly lazy as well. They need to get out and run but at home they’re happy to nap. And nap. And nap. I’d avoid fish, pocket pets (gerbils, hamsters, guinea pig etc) and reptiles. They need a lot more husbandry and cleaning than you can do from the comfort of the couch.
You’re lean, mean exercising machine. You love the outdoors. You love running, hiking, biking, boating. You love it all. Your human friends look at you like you’re nuts when you head out for your early morning run. You know who won’t look at you like you’re nuts? Your dog. A good choice is one of the hunting or sporting breeds. Labs and Golden Retrievers love going for runs. If you love hiking and your dog is big enough you can train them to carry their own supplies in their own knapsack. You can also get a dog who plays sports themselves and find a new hobby. Agility courses, fly ball, frisbee and dock diving are all popular dog sports.
Your kids have been bugging you for a pet and you finally caved. Anything to prevent another viewing of Frozen! You’ve made it very clear that this is THEIR pet and THEIR responsibility. I hate to break it to you, but you’re going to be the one to make sure they’re taking care of the beastie. Make sure it’s one that you won’t mind taking care of…
Many people pick a hamster or a gerbil as a first time pet. They’re small and cheap…and kind of boring. Some of them can be trained so your kids can play with them, but mostly they just hang out in their cage and make the room they’re in smell like pee. They don’t tend to live for more than a few years though, so if you want to make a shorter term commitment they’re a good choice. You will have to have a discussion about death at some point, so keep that in mind (and keep a copy of The Lion King handy)
I recommend guinea pigs and rats for families looking for a small, low maintenance pocket pet. They both have terrific personalities and like to hang out with people. They’re friendly and they’re fun. Yes, you do need to have a high poo tolerance and teach your kids the difference between rat poo and chocolate covered raisins, but that’s a pretty valuable lesson to learn at a young age.
I would avoid rabbits, especially if you’ve got really young kids. Bunnies are definitely a “pet but don’t pick up ” pet. If they are handled wrong and struggle they can break their backs. That’s a pretty harsh lesson to learn at a young age. I’d also avoid turtles due to the concerns with Salmonella. Just try telling a little kid that they can’t pick up their turtle and watch the tears fly.
If you’ve got a kid who is fascinated by nature and creepy crawlies then consider a corn snake or a leopard gecko. There are concerns with Salmonella, so they’re best for kids older than 8, but they’re great pets. Plus there’s all the fun of feeding mice to the snake (usually frozen, but definitely not for the squeamish!) or meal worms and crickets to the gecko.
What about cats and dogs? Well, the cats will decide for themselves if they want to hang out with the kids. There’s no guarantee that the cat will like the kids, even if they’re past the age where they know the difference between “petting” and “grabbing and squeezing”.
Many dog breeds make great family dogs. Labs are the perennial favourite but I’m a big fan of Lhasa Apsos and Shih Tzus. Funny, goofy dogs with a lot of personality. My big caution when getting a dog for the family…you may say it’s the kid’s responsibility to take care of them, but you should be in charge of the training. It’s too important to put the kids in charge of so make sure you have the time and energy to do it (with the help of the kids of course). Or adopt an older dog who won’t need as much training.
The Frequent Traveler
If you spend a lot of time away from your home, you either need someone who will take care of your pet when you aren’t able to, or you need a pet who won’t mind your absence for a few days at a time. A pet who doesn’t thrive on human contact and attention, or a pet who doesn’t eat every day. You’re the perfect person for pets you can’t pet. Fish, snakes, reptiles. Many of them will do fine without someone looking in on them daily.
The Small Space Habitat
Are you a condo dweller? Live in a small space? That doesn’t mean you can’t get a dog, but it does mean you need to be selective in your choices. If you live in close proximity with other people, avoid getting a really vocal dog like a terrier. Small breeds are a good option but you aren’t limited to chihuahuas and dachshunds. Believe it or not, Great Danes do very well in small spaces, even if they do take up most of the space and basically act as a piece of furniture.
Pocket pets may not be the best option. The pee smell is inescapable in a small space, and may be noticeable in other units if you’re in a condo building.
Birds are a nice option but watch out for parrots. Parrots need to scream on a daily basis. Like, really scream. If you don’t want your neighbours to hate you (or think that you murder someone every morning) don’t get a parrot.
Cats may be your best bet. They like vertical space and will make the most of any cat trees, shelves or refrigerator tops that you provide. Just make sure you have enough space that the litter box doesn’t have to be in the middle of your living room.