How to choose the right pet
Taking on a pet is a big commitment no matter how small or large they are. Making sure you choose the perfect pet for you and your lifestyle is an important consideration and deserves some time spent doing appropriate research before making any firm decisions. This article will offer a lengthy list of pets you might want to consider, and gives an insight as to what is involved in owning each of them, whether it is the level of care or the cost of keeping the relevant pet day to day. A must read for anyone who wants to ensure they pick the right pet for their lifestyle, finances and physical abilities. Please seriously ask yourself the key questions in this article before taking on any pet you may later have to re-home due to not considering what would be required by a responsible owner.
So you have decided you want a pet but are not sure which one would be the most suitable for both you and your lifestyle. I hope to make this decision easier for you by giving you an idea of what is involved with keeping various pets, as well as explaining the absolute minimum requirements each pet will need.
Most of the pets I have listed in this article I have owned myself over the years, and in every case I thoroughly researched each type before taking them on. I will not be able to cover every detail of keeping the pets included in this article, but hope by giving you the basics of what to expect I will be able to help you make a short-list of suitable possibilities before you go on to specifically research your choices and are able to make a final decision.
Things to consider
There are a number of things you need to consider before choosing any pet. You will need to ask yourself some serious questions such as the below examples.
1) What am I looking for from my new pet, e.g. companionship, something to watch, a talking point, a hobby, a good child's pet or perhaps even something that will ensure I get more exercise in the great outdoors?
2) How much time do I have free to devote to a pet?
3) Where do I live, does my home have a garden and how much space do I have?
4) How much can I afford to not only spend on the purchase/adoption costs of my pet, but also on its upkeep and any unforeseen veterinary expenses?
5) What kind of pet could my child easily look after?
6) Am I willing to deal with the less pleasant side of having a pet, like cleaning up after it, or cleaning out its cage, tank etc?
7) How old am I and is my chosen pet likely to outlive me?
8) Will my pet be okay living on it's own, or would I really need to have at least two of them as companions for each other?
9) How have I coped with pets I have owned in the past? Did I find them a chore, did I get bored with them quickly, or did I take excellent care of them?
10) Am I aware of how many years this pet will most likely live for and can I commit to keeping him for all of that time bearing in mind possible life changing events that may happen between now and then?
Whether you want a small pet for yourself or for your child there are a number you can choose from that make great pets.
Hamsters, although these little creatures can occasionally nip they make good pets if handled regularly. What you do need to bear in mind is that they are predominantly nocturnal and may quickly become boring if they are asleep most of the time you or your child are awake and wish to handle them. Hamsters in general should always be kept alone apart from when you intend to mate them (and in the latter case should be removed immediately afterwards). The only exception are the small Russian Hamsters that will live socially together in pairs or groups.
The lifespan of a hamster is fairly short and the most you can probably hope for is two to three years. Bear in mind your children can find the loss of their little friend very distressing and it may be worth considering carefully if your child will be better off with a slightly longer living pet.
Also bear in mind that hamsters can be prone to tumors, and as they do not cope well with surgery it is most likely in the event a tumour develops they will need to be put to sleep.
Guinea-pigs, (proper name Cavius Porcellus or Cavy) make a fabulous pet for adults and children alike. They have a super little personality and "talk" to you with a range of different squeaks, purrs and grunts. They seldom bite and enjoy attention and cuddles. It is wise to give them company of their own kind and I recommend keeping at least two of the same sex if you decide upon them as your chosen pet.
They need a draft-proof hutch if kept outside, plenty of warm bedding such as hay so they can tunnel into it and eat it to aid their digestion, plus a regular supply of vitamin C in the form of fresh vegetables (as they cannot produce this vitamin themselves and will develop scurvy if this is not provided).
A guinea-pig will live approximately five to seven years, although in unusual cases they have been known to live far longer (I personally had a guinea-pig that lived to thirteen).
Rats make one of the best small pets for anyone. They rarely bite, will eat pretty much anything, (although proper rat food mixes are the best diet to give them) and they have great characters. Other plus points include the fact they are frequently awake during the day so you can play with them and they are highly intelligent.
It is best to keep a minimum of two same sex rats together as they do like company and will actually tend to pine when a "friend" dies.
If you allow your rat to wander freely around your living room whilst you are home you will frequently find they will actively seek you out to sit on your shoulder, and have even been known to jump up and catch moths from around lights. These little pets are real entertainers.
Unlike many other small pets rats barely have any odour and contrary to popular belief are scrupulously clean. They will need a decent sized indoor cage with a floor covering of a suitable small animal bedding such as wood-shavings and a sleeping box with soft pet bedding or hay. Do not keep them on wire mesh floors as this can cause foot problems.
A rat will live around two to three years and there is no doubt you will miss them when they die as they will have provided you with much amusement and friendship in their short time with you.
Gerbils I have to say I found fairly uninspiring as a pet although others may feel differently. They tended to sleep all day and then at night when I wanted to sleep they would charge around in their wheel keeping me awake until I took the wheel off its spindle for the night. They are quite hard to handle (especially for a child) as they move very fast and tend to be rather jumpy.
Gerbils are again very gregarious creatures and a minimum of two should be kept together (although groups work very well too). There are several ways to provide accommodation for them, either in a conventional small pet cage with ramps, bars, tubes etc, or in a large aquarium full of compost (in which case they can build natural tunnels and sleeping quarters).
Special diets are available for small rodents such as gerbils, hamsters etc from your local pet shop.
You can expect your gerbils to live between two to five years, but less if one is kept alone.
Rabbits are good little pets although they lack the character of guinea-pigs in most cases (with some exceptions). They cope best if you keep a minimum of two together (definitely the same sex unless you want to end up with hundreds).
A rabbit will need an outdoor draft-proof hutch with both a sleeping and a day compartment, and ideally a mesh floored pen over grass so that they can graze. If you do have a pen you will need to remember to move it regularly so they get fresh grass. Alternatively they can be kept successfully indoors so long as you "rabbit-proof" your house (which means covering all wires over with tubing or non-chewable coverings and removing any wooden furniture you would prefer not to be gnawed). It is possible to train rabbits to use a litter tray much like cats do but it can take a little perseverance.
A rabbit kept indoors can end up being very much like a pet cat and they will sit on your lap, explore etc. It is always a good idea whether you keep your rabbit indoors or outdoors to allow them to exercise in the garden every day or two. If you are afraid your rabbit may run away there are special harnesses and leads available designed for rabbits.
It is also worth vaccinating your rabbit against Myxomatosis and VHD as a matter of course, especially if kept outdoors.
You can expect your indoor rabbit to live between seven to twelve years on average, but less than half of that if kept outdoors.
Chipmunks are fun to have but not really a pet suitable for cuddling or handling as they are very lively and will bite if you try to restrain them. Perhaps the closest you will come to holding them is to get them to sit on your hand or your shoulder to feed, but they will soon be on the move again.
Because chipmunks can jump and climb great distances the best accommodation for them is often an aviary type set up in a contained shed with plenty of branches and platforms for them to play on. Height of cage is more important than floor space as they will spend most of their time running up and down.
Chipmunks will eat a wide variety of foods but their basic diet should be a proper rodent mix, as well as plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. It is important they have a mineral block also as they need the extra minerals this provides for their health.
Chipmunks are social creatures and should not be kept alone. A minimum of two is required for them to be contented.
You can expect your chipmunks to live for approximately four to five years if male or around nine years if female. This life expectancy is based on captive chipmunks kept in groups of two or more.
Ferrets make great pets so long as you handle them regularly. If you fail to handle them enough they become prone to biting which can be very painful. They are very entertaining as pets though and play much like kittens, chasing toys and pouncing on them etc. Certainly I found them very amusing pets as they would frequently vanish when allowed to roam the house, only to be found fast asleep on their backs, all four legs in the air, under a chest of drawers or a sofa. You would be amazed at the gaps they can squeeze through and the tiniest space under a door is sufficient for them to squeeze underneath. Usually you only realise they have got into another room when you hear them chasing each other across the floor above.
Whilst it is possible to keep ferrets indoors it soon becomes very impractical due to the strong odour they give off, and whilst having them spayed or castrated reduces the problem slightly it is by no means a complete cure. Unless you want to be bathing them every week and smothering your home in air fresheners before you have visitors I recommend keeping them in a large outdoor pen with various ramps and ledges for them to play on. They will need an enclosed sleeping box with a large amount of hay or straw to bury themselves into. My pen was built onto the side of a large shed so the dimensions were approximately 9ft wide x 3ft deep x 8ft tall with a hole cut into the side of the shed and the nest box built on the inside of the shed, against the hole for double warmth (this also allowed us to continue to use the shed for other purposes such as tool storage etc).
Ferrets also like small tube shaped enclosed hammocks to sleep in and these can usually be purchased online very easily or you can make your own. If you suspend these using cable ties or similar (so they can swing freely) you will frequently find your ferrets asleep in them.
Specific diets for ferrets are available such the "James Wellbeloved" range. Please bear in mind ferrets must have a meat diet and never be allowed to run out of food as they need to continue eating to avoid their digestive system breaking down. I used to treat mine to occasional dead rabbits shot by local farmers and also the frozen rabbit cubes that can be bought in supermarkets (all left uncooked). Keep an eye on their sleeping area as they will store a lot of their food and if it is not eaten within a couple of days this should be thrown away to avoid it rotting.
Ferrets have an unusual reproductive system that means if a female comes into season she must be mated or she is extremely likely to develop an infection and die. The female's body is somewhat like an open tube when she is in season so unless she mates the "tube" stays open, allowing bacteria and infection to enter her body. If you don't want babies you can borrow a vasectomised male from a breeder which will then go through the motions of mating with your female but without impregnating her. This will ensure she comes out of season without risk. Most owners of vasectomised males will charge you around £5 to use their male for this purpose. The other solution is to get your females spayed which will cost around the same price as a cat spay.
Ferrets cope best in either pairs or groups of three or more. Males will be larger and in my experience more friendly. You can keep mixed sex groups together so long as you do get them spayed or castrated to avoid masses of babies.
Ferrets like to have a litter tray filled with conventional cat litter and corner shaped, placed in the bottom of their pen or cage. You will quickly notice that they will back into the corner to do their business and this makes it far easier to clean up after them.
You can expect your pet ferrets to live for between eight and eleven years.
Obviously there are a number of different birds you can choose to keep either indoors or outdoors. I have listed the most popular choices below.
Budgies make good little companions although they do tend to make quite a mess scattering seed around their cages and rather a lot of noise (often at inconvenient times such as when you have guests visiting or are watching your favourite TV show).
If you persevere you can teach a budgie to talk but they are by no means the best talking birds you could take on.
It is possible to train your budgie to come to your hand, sit on your shoulder etc, but this will take a little time and patience.
It is very important if you do keep your budgie indoors to allow him or her time to fly around outside of the cage. Usually when they have had enough flying time they will return to their cage on their own. The best cages you can provide have horizontal rather than vertical bars as this makes it easier for them to climb around the sides. A sanded sheet is usually used in the bottom of the cage and can be bought from any pet shop or online. Cover the cage at night to encourage them to go to sleep and to protect them from drafts.
Budgies do like company so unless you are home all day you should really get two of them, either a pair or two females (although two males are usually okay together if no females are kept nearby).
It is very important to provide cuttlefish for both beak sharpening and as a vitamin source and prepared cuttlefish can be bought from all good pet shops.
Budgies love to bathe so I used to place a shallow dish of slightly warm water in the cage every week or so. You will quickly see them thrashing about in the bath to clean themselves. On hot days use a standard plant sprayer to spritz them with fresh water which will not only keep them cool but will also encourage them to preen themselves.
Ideally budgies are happier in an outdoor aviary where they have far more space to fly on a regular basis, can pair up and enjoy basking in the sunshine. If kept outdoors you should provide plenty of perches as well as an indoor roosting area and nest-boxes in case they do mate and need somewhere to lay their eggs.
Feeding a prepared budgie mix is the ideal diet but you can supplement this with small pieces of fruit and vegetables as a treat. There are also many different flavoured seed sticks on the market that you can offer as a change. The natural millet on the original stalk is also popular as they can spend time picking the millet off themselves (so mimicking natural behaviours).
You can expect your budgie to live anything between seven and twelve years if cared for properly.
Parrots are highly intelligent birds that demand a lot of attention. It is crucial that they have a very spacious cage, or better still an aviary. Provide plenty of toys and keep changing them around or your parrot will get bored very quickly.
It is said that to form the perfect relationship with your parrot you should choose one of the opposite sex to yourself so they will bond with you as their mate. The breeder you purchase from should have already had the birds sexed to facilitate this.
Parrots too will need daily exercise outside of their cage, and if you handle them regularly from when they are young they will usually be very happy to sit on your shoulder as you move around the house.
Be aware that parrots are said to have the intelligence of a two to three year old child so bear this in mind before you go out and leave them for any length of time. If you do have to go out leave a television or a radio on for them as stimulation. A bored parrot will soon begin to pluck out their own feathers and will show it's displeasure at being neglected, possibly even becoming quite aggressive.
Parrots do get jealous and many owners who have met a new partner in their life have experienced problems with the parrot being aggressive towards the new addition to the family. The parrot will often see you as its mate and the newcomer as a rival coming into their territory. As a Parrot's beak can inflict quite a bit of damage it is worth being very aware of this potential problem.
As with Budgies it is important to provide your parrot with a regular bath. Some parrots will happily come into the the shower with you and sit on your shoulder enjoying the spray, or you can offer them a shallow bath in their cage or on your floor.
Naturally parrots can learn to talk and often very quickly. This can be embarrassing as they will often learn swear words and other unsavoury phrases, only to repeat them in front of the last people you would want to hear them e.g. your in-laws. Being far better speakers than budgies it is hard to pretend they were saying something innocent that simply sounded like a swear word.
Probably the most intelligent of the parrot species are the African Greys which as their name suggests are predominantly grey but with a bright red tail. If you want a fast learner who has a sense of humour and will be a great companion buy one of these.
The life expectancy of a parrot is between fifty and sixty years so plan ahead if your parrot is likely to outlive you.
Mynah Birds are without doubt the best talkers of all the pet birds and their mimicking of people or sounds is almost a perfect copy of the original sound they heard. It is possible for them to learn around 100 words, all of which will sound like an audio recording of the original.
Mynahs also have very good memories and will know who feeds them, who is kind to them, or who teases them. They are not birds that like to be handled and are best viewed from outside of their cage or aviary. If you do keep them in an indoor cage please ensure it is no smaller than four feet x two feet x two feet and has plenty of perches (ideally also with a sleeping compartment). An aviary really needs to be at least eight feet wide x five feet deep x eight feet tall and will need to allow plenty of room for flight whilst having lots of perches and an indoor roosting area.
Do not keep Mynahs with other species of birds as they will be attacked by them.
Only feed Mynahs specific foods designed for them (available in pet shops) as they have soft bills and usually have a watered down mushy type of diet such as "Sluis". They will also enjoy treat of fresh fruits and love grapes, mangoes, apples etc.
Your Mynah Bird will usually live for anything up to fifteen years so he will be a long term commitment.
Cockatiels are again very intelligent and require lots of stimulation in the form of company, toys, free flying time etc. If keeping them indoors it is important you have a cage wide enough for them to be able to spread their wings, but they must also be allowed time outside of the cage. Horizontal bars again are ideal so that these beautiful birds can happily and easily navigate their way around their environment. Try putting various sized natural branches into the cage rather than pet shop style perches, this is better for their feet and provides a more natural environment for them. If kept outdoors the rules are basically the same as for parrots etc.
Feeding is much the same as parrots. There are specific diets on the market for cockatiels but spice this up by also using various fruit and vegetables as treats (never Avocado or Rhubarb though). Many birds will only tend to eat all the best bits, such as the sunflower seeds, but don't be tempted to give in to this although it is important to change the seed daily (as much of what is left will simply be husks and not necessarily edible). Do avoid spoiling them by only giving them their favourite foods, it is important they learn they must eat the basic food too before they will be supplied with further "exciting tidbits".
The life expectancy of a cockatiel is around fifteen to twenty years although far older ones have been recorded.
Cockatoos follow the same rules as Cockatiels above.
If you prefer a "pet" you can watch, rather than cuddle then fish may be the answer whether it is a tropical tank of sea or freshwater fish in your living room, or a pond full of Koi Carp in your garden.
Keeping tropical fish in your house can prove a very relaxing hobby. They are fascinating to watch, come in a wide range of colours and varieties and act as a "living" picture in your home.
Although your initial setting up costs can be quite expensive it is always worth keeping an eye on the second hand columns in the newspapers where tropical fish tanks and kit frequently become available at a fraction of the usual shop price. If you do go straight to an aquatic shop you can easily spend three or four hundred pounds by the time you buy a decent sized tank, gravel, plants, lights, ornaments, heaters, filters, water purifier, fish food etc. The fish will be an added cost to this, and bear in mind you will lose fish periodically, plus if you have chosen species unlikely to breed in an aquarium environment you will need to replace these.
The work involved in keeping a tank is not too strenuous although you will need to drain the tank down to a very low level every three or four weeks before treating tepid fresh water with a purifier and topping up the tank again. You will also need to clean your filter out and scrub any algae from the ornaments. This will probably take an hour or more for a largish 3 foot x 18" x 2 foot tank.
Some of the most interesting coloured and easy to breed tropical fish are Guppies, and it is very exciting to see what colours each breeding produces. There are many other species to choose from and you can put various different species together if carefully selected. Neon Tetras for instance will be quite happy with Guppies.
The Red Tailed Shark, (not truly a shark) is a great fish to include in your freshwater aquarium, but you should not place it in with other aggressive fish as they will fight. Only ever include one of these in your tank as they are very territorial.
Algae Eaters or Sucking Loach also make an interesting addition to your tank, and will clean much of the algae build up from your ornaments and the glass sides of your tank, as well as eating conventional fish foods.
The Red Eyed Tetra is a distinctive looking fish with a red eye, silver body and a broad black stripe running vertically from the top to the bottom of it's body at the base of the tail. They are fairly hardy and live in shoals. They seem fairly sociable with other species, although in smaller shoals they are known to nip at the fins of other tropical fish they share a tank with.
If you choose a salt water aquarium you can choose a wide range of fish or even sea-horses. It is possible to include 'live' rocks full of natural sea life, limpets, crabs etc and ultimately have your very own "Ocean Floor" display tank. It is important to decide which category of salt water aquarium you wish to have, either an "FO" (Fish Only) a "FOWLR" (Fish Only With Live Rock) or a "Reef" (focusing on invertebrates with the fish purely as an addition).
Some of the more popular salt water aquarium fish include Angelfish, Clownfish, Butterfly fish and Pufferfish.
Care of a salt water tank will be similar to freshwater but obviously a dechlorinating salt mix will be used in this kind of set up (not household salt). Setting up the tank involves laying out your gravel and aquarium approved sea rocks, gently adding water to avoid disturbing the gravel, then adding your salt mix. Test the water PH over the coming days and once the water has stabilised you can add your plants. Give your tank at least four weeks to settle before adding fish.
Koi Carp are a fascinating fish to keep and incredibly relaxing to watch, coming in a myriad of colours and varieties. My Husband once described them perfectly by saying "they look like a child's paint palette has been thrown into the water". Although it is possible to keep Koi in tanks it is best advised that they are kept in a large pond at least five feet deep
As Koi are brightly coloured they can be an easy target for predators such as Herons and Cormorants. With this in mind it is worth netting over your pond, growing some overhanging trees such as weeping willows or setting up some trip wires to deter such predators from stealing your fish.
If you have chosen to build a pond for your Koi it is important that you have a good quality pump and filtration set up and this can usually be easily purchased from your local aquarium store or online. Koi will tend to grow to the size of the environment available to them (20-30lb is not an uncommon weight for them to reach if the space is available) so the larger the pond, the larger your fish will grow.
As Koi are a species of Carp derived from inbreeding of the Common Carp back in the 17th century they will tend to feed on the bottom of lakes and ponds but quickly adapt to surface feeding once they get used to the Koi Pellets that are usually fed to them by keepers. These pellets come in a range of sizes to suit the size of your Koi. Many keepers have reached a stage where they can hand feed their Koi and these highly intelligent fish will soon learn to trust the human hand.
The best Koi in the world come from Japan (hence the Japanese names for most colours of Koi e.g. Asagi, Shusui, Koromo etc) where the species were originally extensively bred for their appearance and range of colours. It is not unusual to pay thousands of pounds for one particularly good specimen, although an average Koi will probably cost around £16 at three to four inches in length (if purchased from an aquarium outlet). It is also possible to buy Koi online and choose the individual fish you wish to purchase.
Showing your Koi is another interesting way of pursuing your new hobby and here is where the positioning of the various markings and colour combinations become more important.
Breeding Koi can be very rewarding, not only because of the excitement of seeing what markings you can produce in the resulting fry, but also because selling young Koi can be financially very lucrative. It is not as easy as you might think to breed them however as the Koi will need to be around 14" in length before they will breed. Once you have your Koi at the right sizes there then becomes the issue of water temperature as this will need to be at least 18 degrees Celsius. If you wish to concentrate on specific markings you will need to choose same species parents and segregate them from the other varieties. Your next problem will be that unless the eggs are removed to a separate tank the adult fish will eat most of them and the fry before they reach a large enough size to be safe. To ensure that your eggs survive you should place a purpose made spawning rope into the pond. As soon as the fish has laid her eggs within the "rope" you can remove this to your tank to allow the babies to hatch in safety. Four to five days after hatching the babies can be transferred to your "green pond" for growing on (do not feed for the first four to five days whilst in the tank). Keep this pond netted also as the babies will be a prime target for predators. Once the Koi reach between four and eight weeks old you will need to start culling any with deformities or lacking in colour e.g. all black babies. Breeding of Koi is an extensive subject which should be researched carefully and naturally I cannot cover all the details here but there is an abundance of information available on the subject.
Without doubt keeping Koi is an addictive hobby and whilst we are fortunate enough to have ours in a small lake fed by a stream we still believe that the effort of setting up a Koi pond is well worth it for the pleasure they have to offer.
Possibly most people's favourite choice, although often with little comprehension as to what owning these wonderful creatures costs in both time and money.
Firstly you need to be aware that an average dog will usually live for around fifteen to seventeen years. This is truly a long term commitment and if you have any doubts as to the stability of your current situation or if you could afford and care for a dog if that situation were to change suddenly then you should not take on a dog.
Dogs (depending on which breed you choose) will require a great deal of attention. You will need to consider not only the cost of buying or adopting your puppy or adult dog, but also the costs of the course of two vaccinations (approx £40) plus annual boosters (approx £35), the monthly worming for the first six months (in the case of a puppy) followed by three monthly worming thereafter for life (approx £6+ per time), a monthly flea treatment (approx £15 per three month supply), spaying or castrating at six months old (well over £100 for males, and can be well over £200 depending on breed for females), microchipping to help ensure you get your pet back if it either goes missing or is knocked down by a car etc (approx £15-£20 depending on the type of chip you choose), pet insurance to cover your vet's bills if your pet develops a serious illness or simply has an expensive accident (approx £9 per month), basic equipment for keeping your pet (bowls, leads, toys etc), puppy training classes, and of course decent quality food recommended and supplied by your vets (not the stuff you buy in supermarkets or see generally advertised on the television which is mostly water or low in the nutritional value required by your dog).
Whatever breed of dog you decide upon you will need to make a choice between getting a puppy or adopting an adult dog. Although puppies are very cute they are high maintenance and you will find that they have "accidents" in the house, chew your favourite shoes and furniture, chase your cat etc. A puppy will need house training, and the best way to do this is to take the puppy outside as frequently as possible and immediately after meals. When he does his "business" make a huge fuss of him and he will soon learn that this behaviour invokes rewards. If he does have an accident indoors do not reprimand him, but simply clean up the mess and do not react so that he soon realises it is not just the action that prompts the attention/praise, but where the action takes place! Overnight puppy crates can be helpful in house training also as most dogs do not want to go to the toilet in their own bedding so will wait as long as they can to be taken out. The other advantage to crates is that you do not need to worry what your puppy is chewing whilst you are asleep. Do consider that much like a young child your puppy cannot be expected to hold his bladder all night, so at first you should expect to have to get up every few hours throughout the night to let him out. Gradually over the next few weeks you can let him out less and less overnight until he reaches a stage where he can manage a full night without accidents.
If none of this has phased you and you are still keen to get a dog then you need to consider how much time you are willing to devote to exercising your pet, how many hours a day someone will be at home and how much garden space you have. If you don't fancy walking for two or three hours a day do not take on an energetic breed such as a Border Collie who are used to running twenty miles per day rounding up sheep, and who may for this reason nip at your children's ankles (much as they would do to a sheep when rounding it up). Other unsuitable breeds if you have little time for walking them are many of the breeds of "working dogs" e.g. Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, German Shepherds, Dobermans etc. For someone who has little time to exercise a dog but wants to have one anyway a small breed is best (but preferably not a working breed terrier as they are also very active). I suggest you consider breeds such as Yorkshire Terriers, Pugs, Daschunds etc. If you want a larger dog then consider a Greyhound, as although larger these dogs are notoriously lazy and twenty to thirty minutes exercise a day seems to be perfect for them. Greyhounds are also very loyal, gentle and soft natured, but probably a bit nervous to have around younger children.
If you do have the time to spend exercising a dog and want a running companion for instance then many breeds will suit you. All working breeds tend to have loads of surplus energy and the stamina to keep up with you. As people obviously have far longer legs than dogs for running companions I suggest avoiding terriers and sticking to larger breeds. If long walks are your hobby then any breed of working dog (large or small) or an energetic mongrel will usually cope very well and make a great companion.
If you have children it is crucial you pick a safe breed that is unlikely to turn on them or snap at them. In my experience the breeds which are perfect for this tend to vary in size. Border Terriers are great little characters and very gentle with children whilst being happy to play rough and tumble games such as tug of war with your youngsters. In general the most likely breeds to bite your children do tend to be the smaller breeds (contrary to popular belief) and one of the best breeds with children ironically is the Doberman who will quickly adopt the children as part of his pack and will instinctively protect them. Mongrels (depending on their cross) are also generally more relaxed than many pedigree breeds and make great family pets (especially rescue dogs who always seem eternally grateful for their new home and family). If you do have young children (under six) it is probably best to wait until they are old enough to understand how to gently handle a dog before you take one on as you will only have yourself to blame if a young child teases the dog and ends up getting bitten. Sadly the dog is the one who is punished the most and usually ends up being unjustly destroyed.
Long haired breeds are hard work unless you keep them clipped, so don't take on an Afghan Hound or a Yorkshire Terrier if you aren't willing to groom them daily.
Consider whether you live in a house with a garden or a flat in a high rise block before you take on a dog. It can quickly become a real chore walking a dog every time it needs to go to the toilet if you don't have a garden of your own to let it out in (especially late at night). If you do have a garden look at what size it is, and if it is very small take on a small breed. If you have a huge garden take on a larger dog if you wish, but bear in mind they will still need walks away from the garden for mental stimulation.
Finally please bear in mind that it is unfair to take on a dog if you work all day and no-one will be home for eight hours at a time. Not only will it seem like you have been gone for a week from your dog's perspective, but he or she will also need to go in the garden to do their business and should not be expected to keep their legs crossed all day until you get home. If you have young children or babies please consider that taking on a dog is as much of a commitment as having a further child, and unless you are willing to devote as much time to your dog as you do to each of your children it will be a mistake to adopt one into your home (and certainly not fair on the dog in question).
A dog will offer you unconditional love, loyalty, commitment and devotion. If you are going to adopt a dog the least you can do for your new pet is the same!
Cats are marginally easier to keep than dogs, mainly because they do not need walking and are pretty independent. Even though you will not need to take your cat for a walk in the same way as you would a dog, it is still important to be aware of exactly what caring for your new cat or kitten will involve.
A cat or kitten will still need all the same flea and worming treatments that a dog will (costing around a total of £20 per quarter at 2014 prices). Please don't use supermarket products as they simply have little or no effect and flea collars only work if the fleas go to the collar, therefore the fleas in other areas will live on and breed happily. Your cat will need inoculations against flu and leukaemia (approx £30-£40 for a two injection course) followed by annual boosters (approx £30). It is well worth getting insurance for your cat (approx £7 per month) as they are probably more likely to need a vet than a pet dog would (especially when you bear in mind that much of the time they will be out on their own, day and night and are therefore far more likely to get hit by vehicles, chased by dogs etc). Personally I claimed a total of £1500 from my insurers (split between my two cats) in the first nine months of their lives, and the most expensive claim was due to the cat falling off the top of a wardrobe in the house and tearing his cruciate ligaments(so please don't assume an indoor cat does not require insuring).
Microchipping is essential before you let your cat start to roam unless you want to spend potentially weeks (or forever) not knowing what happened to your cat if it goes missing. If your cat is found injured any vet or rescue centre it is taken to will scan it for a chip and you will immediately be notified as to where your cat is so that you can be reunited. This will only cost around £15-£20 depending on which type of chip you choose.
At six months old your cat will need to be spayed or castrated if you don't want either loads of kittens or a tomcat that comes home battered and bleeding, smells to high heaven and sprays all over your furniture. A cat spay will cost around £70 and a cat castrate around £50, (depending on which vets you go to). These are simple operations and your cat will be back to normal within a day or two.
Most people will be happy with a normal "moggie" cat, but of course there are many other breeds that are also popular.
Your cat is likely to live to around seventeen years of age (although at the vets where I worked we had one client with a cat aged twenty-three, so they may surprise you).
When feeding your cat please do not use supermarket brands of cat food as they are mainly water and low in actual nutrient. Buy a brand through your vets such as the "Hills" range, which are nutritionally balanced and come in the form of a semi-moist kibble. If fed the correct quantities this will work out no more expensive than using the supermarket/TV advertised brands yet you will have a far healthier cat to show for it.
Prepare yourself for the fact cats are hunters and it is fairly likely they will bring you "gifts" of dead, semi-alive or very alive wildlife. If you have a cat flap this can be a nuisance as when your pet brings its latest catch indoors in the middle of the night, then gets bored playing with it and the mouse, rat, vole etc escapes under your fridge you will quite probably have this extra addition to your household for some weeks to come. I spend much of my time taking injured baby rabbits to the local rescue centre, re-releasing the healthy ones and disposing of the dead ones. This can be quite upsetting if you are as sentimental as I am. You may also be surprised at the range of creatures they will bring home and whilst in the UK one of my previous cats brought home a fully grown grey squirrel through our lounge window (dead unfortunately) and on another occasion an eight inch pond type goldfish (still alive) in spite of the fact we lived in central Bromley surrounded by town and no gardens where any ponds would be likely to be situated. A cat I had in Tenerife would bring home Barbie dolls (at least three in the end) plus a My Little Pony. He would play with them for hours and goodness knows where he stole them from.
Much like dogs it is probably best to wait until your children are old enough and mature enough to understand how to handle a cat gently before taking one on. Too many cats and kittens have had tails damaged beyond repair by children grabbing hold of them as a means of keeping the cat where they want it. There is also the risk that children will find it amusing to cut off their cat's whiskers not realising that this is likely to result in the cat getting stuck in a pipe or similar small space because it uses its whiskers as a means of determining the width of a space it is entering. Basically if the whiskers fit so will the cat, but with no whiskers they will assume there is more width available than there actually is (hence why they get trapped). The other obvious risk with young children is that if they play rough with the cat they are likely to get badly bitten, scratched, or even lose an eye so the older the children the better.
All in all cats make great pets because they are loving whilst being capable of being left on their own for hours. Depending on the temperament they can be kept solely indoors or can be allowed to roam the neighbourhood at will. They are naturally clean even as young kittens and prefer to use a litter tray or go outdoors to do their business. It is rare to have a cat that will soil your carpets etc (so long as the cat litter is cleaned out regularly.) The long haired breeds will need grooming daily but the shorter haired breeds usually manage fine on their own with just an occasional brushing when they are moulting.
In fairness these are not pets I have had any real experience in keeping myself although over the years I have learned a few key points about their basic requirements.
Exotic pets vary wildly, but to keep it simple I shall assume by exotics we are referring to Reptiles, Amphibians and Spiders.
Whether you choose to have a lizard, snake, frog or a tarantula it is important to research their needs very carefully. Most of these types of exotics will need to be kept in a substantially sized tank or terrarium, will need artificial heating and appropriate lighting. Some will happily eat dead foods, others will only eat live foods (and if necessary you may need a separate tank to keep crickets, meal worms, wax worms etc in for this purpose). You will also be amazed at how many people assume their Iguana needs meat when actually they are vegetarian. If a lizard is fed the wrong diet it will quickly lose calcium from its bones and develop deformities.
It is very important for most of these species to ensure their tank has a secure lid. All too frequently snakes and spiders will escape if they have the smallest opportunity. The same applies to your "live food" tank, and I have had at least one friend who ended up with a bedroom full of escaped crickets that took him months to round up due to a loose lid.
Be aware that both snakes and spiders can inflict nasty bites, and even if not life threatening, they can be very painful. Careful handling is very important.
Horses and Ponies are a huge commitment both personally and financially. No matter how much your child is pestering you for a pony or you feel you want a horse for yourself you should look first at exactly how expensive and time consuming this is going to be.
All costs listed are estimated and will vary depending on your location.
Firstly consider that your new horse or pony is going to require stabling, and unless you are lucky enough to have land and your own stables you can expect to pay anything up to around £100+ per week to place your horse in a livery yard. The prices will vary according to how much of the day to day care you are willing to do yourself and if you require the stables to provide your horse's food or not.
Your horse or pony will need annual vaccinations against Tetanus and Influenza as well as possibly Herpes and strangles. This will cost you around £60 per year (prices approximate as of 2014).
A farrier will be required every four to six weeks to trim down your horses hooves and change his shoes for new ones where necessary. You can expect this to cost approximately £60 per time.
Worming will be needed every six to eight weeks and will cost around a further £15.
Insurance against illness or accidents, third party liability etc will cost you a further £35-£40 per month.
Depending on whether your horse or pony has access to good quality grazing or not you can expect to pay anything up to £80 per week on hard food such as oats, pony nuts etc.
In addition to this your horse or pony will need a good supply of hay as part of its diet. You can expect to get through around £15-£20 worth of hay per week.
Bedding such as shavings or straw will set you back a further £10-£15 per week.
In addition to all of the above you will have to add on costs for rugs, tools, tack, grooming equipment, your own riding kit etc. This can add up to hundreds of pounds in itself.
Time-wise you or your child will need to be up at least an hour earlier than you used to surface. It will be very important that your horse is fed, mucked out, hooves picked out and he is then turned out to graze where relevant (all of this needs to be done before work or school).
After work or school you will need to come home, groom your horse, exercise him for at least an hour, re-clean out any mess he has made in his stable since the morning, rug him up for the night, feed him, and then once or twice a month you will have to clean all your tack.
At weekends you will no doubt be entering shows, competitions or gymkhanas, and preparation will be important for days in advance.
A horse or pony will take over much of your free time but the rewards are great and nothing beats the feeling of the wind rushing through your hair whilst on the back of a galloping horse.
Your horse or pony can easily live over thirty years so consider what you intend to do with your pet once he is too old to ride any more or your child has outgrown it. Many people put their horse or pony out on loan once they are too big for him which allows them to continue to own the horse but he lives with another person who pays all of its costs and treats him to all intents and purposes as their own. If your horse is too old to ride any more you may be able to find a rescue centre that take in retired horses, but ideally keep your pet in his retirement and give him a few years of relaxation in return for all the happy years he gave you. If your horse is still young you may opt to sell him at some point in time and it is always worth checking out carefully who you are selling him to. Make sure they are experienced and if possible arrange to see where he will be going and ask if you can make occasional visits to see your former pet.
If you have decided that a horse or pony is still the choice of pet for you then think carefully before you buy. Any horse or pony should be given a "Vet's Certificate of Soundness" before you purchase him. Your vet cannot only save you losing thousands of pounds on a sick animal, but can also verify age, condition, potential problems etc.
Your child (all of four feet tall) will no doubt tell you they are ready for a far bigger horse than they actually are, so take advice from a good riding school before you perch your child on a 16hh giant that they won't be able to handle.
If this is your first horse or pony and you are not very experienced yet, try to buy one that is over ten years old and described as "bombproof". Ex-riding school ponies can make great first ponies for children as they are usually very safe and used to dealing with novice riders.
Make sure you have one good riding lesson from a professional instructor at least weekly so that you don't fall into bad habits. This is worth continuing even once you are an experienced rider.
I hope this article has helped you to make an informed decision as to which type of pet will suit you best and that it has helped you to avoid taking on a pet which you later have to re-home due to its extensive requirements or general unsuitability.
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