Which pet is right for me?
Pets can change your life, and choosing the right one for you is a big decision.
Pets can change your life for the better. People speak of their pets as family members and for the most part, they are. The best pet for your family depends largely on your family’s lifestyle and interests. Some children may want a small animal they can have in their room with them such as a fish or hamster, while others prefer a dog or cat.
If you do decide on a dog, research the breed for your lifestyle. Some dogs are high-energy and require a lot of exercise, while others are satisfied with a walk around the block or to simply sit in the yard. As needs and temperaments vary greatly, both for pets and their potential owners, so does your research.
The following are the advantages, as well as a few cautions, for owning different types of pets.
Dogs are the No. 1 pet in the United States in that they are the most popular, according to U.S Pet Ownership Statistics. Dogs can be simple to care for and love to go for walks or fetch a ball at the park. They enjoy fast paced action. According to Purina, dog owners have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and stronger immune systems. Dogs can also help us meet our fitness goals and provide us with a sense of emotional well-being thanks to the unconditional love they give.
Dogs can make us smile, laugh and cry. Many find it very therapeutic to walk a dog as well as pet and cuddle with a dog. Dogs play a big role in helping children and adults as they process and overcome personal trauma including post-traumatic stress.
Dogs can also protect their owners. Criminals will typically not harm someone with a dog. Plus, they will bark to alarm you if there is an intruder in your house. Therefore, dogs can provide peace of mind.
There are over 9,000 species of birds including pet and exotic birds. Birds are typically easy to care for, as they don’t require walks and can be caged when owners are at work. Their cages should be cleaned regularly, but for some people that is preferred over daily walks or cleaning a litter box. Birds also keep themselves clean.
Since birds are extremely smart, they can be taught tricks and tasks. Some birds can be very loyal to their owners, almost inseparable. For better or for worse, birds can live a long time, some more than 100 years. This can be desirable for those that have had the heartbreaking experience of losing a pet.
Cats do not demand as much attention as dogs do. Typically, you don’t have to leave work to let your cat out during the day. Cats do not require daily walks and they are very quiet, for the most part. Cats will happily play with you, but are just as content playing by themselves. They are pretty easy to take care of as they really require only food—however, my cat loves cat treats—and water and a clean litter box.
Another wonderful benefit about having a cat is that they can and will keep your house rodent-free. Cats are very affectionate and love to cuddle. They’re intuitive to when their owners need a little extra love or support in difficult times.
Owning a horse can be very rewarding. They provide companionship, but can be very expensive, require a lot of attention and plenty of land to run. (Check with your township to see the rules about acres per horse for where you live.) Horse ownership requires you to be outside all-year long. Cleaning stalls, grooming, feeding, raking hay and pushing a wheelbarrow equals a full body workout that builds muscles and burns calories.
Horses build self-confidence. It gives you a sense of accomplishment when you can communicate to a very large animal which direction you want it to go. Research shows that horseback riding reduces stress—equine activities require exercise and exercise reduces stress. Interacting with horses has shown to lower blood pressure, too.
As a person becomes more comfortable with their horse, they may be interested in joining one of the thousands of horse clubs across the country. Many do not even require owning a horse and are a good way to learn more about horses or find a good trail horse for sale. Take Me Riding’s Horse Finder and American Horse Council Organizational Members are two resources that can assist you in finding a riding facility, trainer or association near you.
When cared for and fed properly, guinea pigs are generally very healthy animals. Guinea pigs require hay, fresh water, vegetables and a small amount of pelleted food. They do require having their cage spot-cleaned daily and completely cleaned once a month.
Guinea pigs are great for children. They are hardy animals that aren’t as skittish as hamsters and gerbils, and make wonderful pets for kids 6 years and older. They can live to be 5 to 7 years or even older, outliving hamsters and gerbils whose lifespan averages two to three years. They are also very good pets for children with special needs.
Interact with the potential guinea pig, as they have a wide range of personalities. Some may be very shy, while others are bold and playful. Your child or family may have a preference to one over the other.
Guinea pigs like people. They are able to recognize and respond to their owners. They can be as interactive and friendly as dogs or cats. For all these reasons and many more, guinea pigs make great first pets. For more information, visit the American Cavy Breeders Association.
Reptiles are excellent pets for families seeking low maintenance pets without allergy-triggering fur. Reptiles are fascinating to watch, fairly easy to take care of and don’t need a lot of attention. Some reptiles can be affectionate. Each reptile has different care needs, so do your research before bringing one home. They tend to live a long time, depending on the reptile, and are fairly inexpensive to own.
Many reptiles, including turtles, require live insects and fish to eat, so that can become smelly and something your family would prefer to not do. If you are considering a turtle, remember that they live a very long time. They are fun to watch, but tend to not be very friendly (they can bite aggressively). They require a lot of care in regards to cleaning their tank and having a place to get out and be dry. In addition, as they get older, they will need a larger tank, which require larger spaces.
Lastly, reptiles, especially turtles, are considered exotic animals and you will need to see a vet that is familiar with turtles, which can be costly. Turtles also stress easily, which makes it not an ideal pet for a child.
When purchasing a reptile, purchase animals that are born in captivity. Catching a wild reptile is off-limits and they have a very low rate of survival. Wild-caught also carry dangerous parasites. Reptile experts recommend captive-born snakes and bearded dragons if they are handled regularly, at least once a week. Bearded dragons have become popular pets over the last few years. For more information, visit Selecting a Pet Reptile from the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Consider the following questions about yourself before committing to a pet:
- Home: Do you live in the city, suburbs or country? Do you have space for your potential pet?
- Activities: Are you active or do you prefer to spend time in a more sedentary nature? Would you like an exercise companion or an animal to just keep you company around the house?
- Abilities: Are you physically able to care for an animal that requires lots of care like a dog or horse? Some animals can be physically demanding.
- Time: Do you travel? Have a full social calendar? Some pets need a lot of time and attention. Others are more independent and don’t require a great deal of one-on-one time.
- Money: What’s your budget? All animals will require veterinary care, but others, like the turtle, will have more expensive vet bills. Unless you have a trailer, a horse will require a home visit, which can be costly.
Pets are a wonderful addition to your life. For the sake of you and your future pet, do your research, look at your lifestyle and make sure it is a good match. Also, make sure to read "The benefits of a family pet" by Michigan State University Extension for information on the advantages of owning a pet, especially for children.
To learn about the positive impact children and families experience due to Michigan State University Extension programs, read our 2016 impact report: “Preparing young children for success” and “Preparing the future generation for success.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.