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How to Choose a Pet for Your Family and Lifestyle

Updated on September 2, 2016

Many people in many walks of life come to a point where they decide they want to add a pet to the family. Though there are many things to take into consideration when choosing the right pet for your family.

All to often a family will make a hasty decision, buying or adopting a new or first pet, ultimately finding the animal was not a proper fit for their family and lifestyle.

This eventually means, rehoming the pet with someone else, or in many cases the animal ends up at a local shelter. The goal in choosing the right pet for your family, is to give it a loving forever home without the chance of needing to rehome.

A Few Of My Favorite Cats

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Cats can be very independent and very agreeable with a busy lifestyle. My cat Zero is happily enjoying the day looking out the window. Though he is a very affectionate cat since I bottle raised him, he still enjoys independence.Cats come in many breeds and their needs should be evaluated depending on the type of feline family they belong to. Checkers is a domestic short hair, not requiring the same grooming as my long haired cat, making her a less labor intensive choice.Cats all have varying personality types, Zero here likes things "his way", I suppose you could call him spoiled. As you can tell he does not cooperate with photo ops unless he thinks they were his idea, while my third cat was having no part of it!
Cats can be very independent and very agreeable with a busy lifestyle. My cat Zero is happily enjoying the day looking out the window. Though he is a very affectionate cat since I bottle raised him, he still enjoys independence.
Cats can be very independent and very agreeable with a busy lifestyle. My cat Zero is happily enjoying the day looking out the window. Though he is a very affectionate cat since I bottle raised him, he still enjoys independence. | Source
Cats come in many breeds and their needs should be evaluated depending on the type of feline family they belong to. Checkers is a domestic short hair, not requiring the same grooming as my long haired cat, making her a less labor intensive choice.
Cats come in many breeds and their needs should be evaluated depending on the type of feline family they belong to. Checkers is a domestic short hair, not requiring the same grooming as my long haired cat, making her a less labor intensive choice. | Source
Cats all have varying personality types, Zero here likes things "his way", I suppose you could call him spoiled. As you can tell he does not cooperate with photo ops unless he thinks they were his idea, while my third cat was having no part of it!
Cats all have varying personality types, Zero here likes things "his way", I suppose you could call him spoiled. As you can tell he does not cooperate with photo ops unless he thinks they were his idea, while my third cat was having no part of it! | Source
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What To Consider Before Choosing A Family Pet

With the excitement of adding a pet to your family, common sense and logical reasoning, sometimes takes a backseat in decision making. I can't stress the importance of taking the time to make a sound decision in this matter enough. I've compiled a list of the most common things people fail to consider when choosing the right pet for their family.

  1. Cost - Yes, adding a new pet can be a financial burden. The type of pet you choose can seriously impact your monthly budget and you should take the costs into consideration when choosing a pet. Costs go beyond the cost of feed for your pet, you have to weight all the costs and make an informed decision, vet care can get very pricey. The type of animal you choose can heavily effect the amount of vet care needed, some dog breeds are very prone to health issues causing the need for frequent vet visits and medication.
  2. Space- I can't stress the importance of having enough space for the pet you choose enough. For example, a large breed dog would not be an ideal choice if you live in a tiny apartment. On the other hand a breed that is prone to wandering may not be the best choice if you live in a rural area near main roadways. As a rule animals need appropriate space to keep them happy, yes - animals can become depressed too! Limited space should not keep you from seeking out the joy of pet ownership though, just look for an animal that you can easily accommodate. I have a Betta (fish), he takes up little space and is easy to care for, perhaps a great option for those living in a small apartment.
  3. Lifestyle- The type of lifestyle your family leads is a huge factor when considering the right pet for your family. How much time are you away from home is possibly the most important. If you are a busy family constantly on the go then a dog is likely not the best choice. Dogs unlike cats require much more attention. I recently rescued a "herd" of dogs that showed up during a horrible winter storm (6 Labradors), we had 24 inches of snow. I left them indoors in order to run to town to get some much needed food to address their undernourishment and to keep them from the freezing temperatures. Upon returning even though it was a quick trip, I noticed my couch had become a casualty of loneliness. The end of my sectional was in shreds with a cloud of stuffing all over. The point is dogs require more interaction and exercise and if you find that between work hours, and family appointments you are left with little time at home; you may want to look toward getting a different animal than a dog.

Rescuing Animals

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It is important to keep in mind the size of the breed when considering a dog. A Labrador like these will grow into a large dog, and really impact the budget when it comes to feeding them as they grow older.
It is important to keep in mind the size of the breed when considering a dog. A Labrador like these will grow into a large dog, and really impact the budget when it comes to feeding them as they grow older.
It is important to keep in mind the size of the breed when considering a dog. A Labrador like these will grow into a large dog, and really impact the budget when it comes to feeding them as they grow older. | Source

You always need to provide shelter for your pet. Keeping them shielded from the elements can prevent then from needing costly veterinarian visits.

Where Should My Family Pet Come From?

Where, and how you obtain your pet is entirely up to you and your family. I do have strong opinions on the matter though. There is a growing issue with "puppy mills" in my area; the dogs that I rescued were likely a puppy mill ditch. As the females all had milk, and there were several puppies.

My personal choice when choosing the right pet for a family is getting in touch with a local rescue, or animal shelter. Many animal shelters still euthanize animals if they go a long period of time without being adopted. Many people think they "need" a purebred and are willing to spend the money to get one, thus driving up the demand for puppy mills to keep breeding.

Many times shelters and rescues have not just many adoptable purebred dogs, but some very loving cats and kittens as well. Fees very when adopting from shelters and rescues, sometimes the fees are even sponsored and you can adopt an animal for free! It is important to be aware that part of the adoption process is to agree to the spay or neutering of the animal you attend to adopt. If you run into a "rescue" that does not require it, odds are you are not dealing with a reputable rescue operation.

The American Kennel Club has valuable information for finding a reputable rescue, as well as reputable dog breeders if you prefer to purchase from a breeder. When considering a breeder or a rescue from which to obtain an animal, it is really important to do some research into the organization.

There are always pet sales groups on Facebook that you can look into when deciding on a pet for your family. Many people simply charge a re-homing fee to place a stray they have taken in. Re-homing fees vary in price, usually starting around $20.00, the fee is a good faith gesture, and a little peace of mind for the person posting that you will indeed be a good parent and provide a forever home. When placing the dogs I rescued I stressed the importance of spay and neutering, including a basic contract giving 30 days for the operation to be complete. It is a very common practice for those that are truly wanting to find an animal a home, not so much for those running a puppy mill.

The decision is yours of course, though there are so many homeless pets that I find it hard to consider buying from a breeder or puppy mill.

Puppies are much more energetic and require more attention and training than an older dog.
Puppies are much more energetic and require more attention and training than an older dog.

Volunteering At A Shelter Or Rescue

You may find when evaluating the points I have made about choosing the right pet for your family, that your not sure if your lifestyle really allows for a pet at this time. That should never stop you from enjoying the companionship of a furry friend. Volunteering at a local animal shelter or rescue is always an option to fill the yearning for a pet, and also help you to make a final decision about choosing the right pet.

Volunteering before choosing the right pet for your family is a great way to evaluate what type of animal will make an ideal fit for you. Rescues may not only be limited to dogs and cats, many take in livestock and farm animals as well. Volunteering will give you a good idea of what is involved in caring for animals, the cost of care (vetting, feed etc), and the time you need to dedicate to the animal.

You may also find that pet ownership is simply not for you after you volunteer, do not be discouraged not everyone is a an animal person. There are pro's and con's alike when it comes to caring for animals.

Volunteering can also give you an idea of what it takes to train an animal, and thus help you decide if training a puppy for example, is something you can fit into your lifestyle.

You are not limited to just shelters or rescues either, if you think a livestock animal would be a good fit you can see about volunteering with an individual that owns the animal you are leaning towards. This is a great opportunity to learn what it takes to care for other animals outside of just a dog or a cat.

I have goats, another rescue I made some time ago, no one ever claimed the poor critters so my sons first pet was a goat (we had other animals but he claimed the goats). I had to learn on the fly, not something I enjoy doing as I prefer to be knowledgeable and prepared for things. There is a lot to raising a goat that I never imagined, such as hoof care and the worry of urinary calculi! Goats are very wonderful pets ours act much like dogs, wagging tails and playing. They are a bit stubborn too if I am honest, trying to keep them off the porch is a very daunting task! Goats are happiest when they have a companion, so if two is one two many to care for look at choosing a different animal. Volunteering even at a local farm is a great way to see what you are in for, prior to making a commitment on choosing a pet.

How To Choose A Pet That Fits A Busy Lifestyle

If you have a busy lifestyle and still want to choose the best first pet for your family, you do have a few options available.

Fish

Caring for a fish is not at all time consuming depending on the fish you choose, saltwater fish require much more care and maintenance than their fresh water counterparts. There are many low maintenance fish that are very suited for a small home aquarium. As I mentioned before I have a Betta and he is a happy little "Red Fishy" (my son named him). It costs very little to maintain his tank, and purchase his pellets. Opting for a fish maybe a great option if you have limited income but the family has their heart set on a pet! They are very engaging and interesting to watch for young children. A fish is a relatively inexpensive pet, even aquariums can be obtained second hand if you want to save money. Fish can be a very good starting point if you want to engage your children in caring for their own animals.

Cat

Cats are a very independent animal, and do not mind to sit at home while you are at work or appointments. Though they do enjoy cuddling and showing affection, they are less needy of human attention than a dog is, fitting well into the busy modern lifestyles of many families. Though they require more attention than a fish, they are likely a great companion for many families. The cost of a cat is a bit higher than that of a fish as well, as they require a more costly food, vetting and vaccinations. You also need to consider that a long haired cat requires grooming daily, where a domestic short hair can effectively groom themselves. I have a Maine Coon mix cat named "Zero" that I bottle fed when I rescued him. Zero is a large cat (bigger than my Jack Russel) he has very long hair and is prone to matting - so he gets some much needed grooming from his "Mom" on a daily basis. I also have two short hair cats Katerina, and Checkers, one was a feral cat that we managed to domesticate and the other was a stray that no one claimed. Though they both manage to groom themselves without any issues, I still give them a brushing now and then so they do not feel left out. Flea and tick treatments are an added expense to caring for a feline friend.

Birds

This may come as a surprise but there are many bird species that are very suitable pets for anyone with a busy lifestyle. Bird ownership is still a frugal option and a delightful experience. In my younger years I had a pet bird and he was a fantastic joy to be around. The initial cost of bird ownership maybe a bit on the high side depending on the species of bird you choose, and the cage you choose. A birds wings can easily be clipped so that you will not have to fear them flying out an open window, some birds are extremely intelligent and fast learners (mine could open his own cage). Bird feed is relatively inexpensive when compared to the cost of dog feed.


My Pet Does Not Seem To Be A Good Fit For My Family, Now That We Are Home

So you went out and brought home what you though was going to be the perfect first pet for your family. Now you find your shoes have been nibbled on and the charger for your smartphone has been chewed into pieces.

It is important to realize that every animal has to adjust to the new surroundings that it is not used to. You should not expect to take an animal home and fall into a perfectly blissful balanced groove of pet ownership. This is especially true if you obtained the animal from a shelter, the life they are used to living has changed immensely and they will need some training and adjustment to assimilate to the new found freedom they have in your home.

It is a stressful adjustment for not only your pet, but yourself as well. Do not get discouraged, keep reinforcing the behavior changes you need to implement. Just like humans, dogs and many other pets will take around two weeks to establish a good routine and get used to the new rules you want them to learn.

It is always important to remember that many animals will seemingly have bad behaviors when they are trying to let their owner know they are sick, or in pain. Cats will often refuse to use the litter box, opting to do their "business" in the floor, simply because they are trying to alert their owner to a urinary tract infection or other health issues. So it is important to note drastic behavior changes and not just dismiss them as part of the adjustment experience.

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Happy to be in out of the cold. This is where the importance of spaying and neutering pets is undeniable. I have no idea how long they were out in the cold before they made it to our house, I can only imagine what they went through.Taking on a pet is a huge responsibility and it is very important that you educate yourself to the needs of the animal before committing to care for it.
Happy to be in out of the cold. This is where the importance of spaying and neutering pets is undeniable. I have no idea how long they were out in the cold before they made it to our house, I can only imagine what they went through.
Happy to be in out of the cold. This is where the importance of spaying and neutering pets is undeniable. I have no idea how long they were out in the cold before they made it to our house, I can only imagine what they went through. | Source
Source
Taking on a pet is a huge responsibility and it is very important that you educate yourself to the needs of the animal before committing to care for it.
Taking on a pet is a huge responsibility and it is very important that you educate yourself to the needs of the animal before committing to care for it. | Source

What Is Your Favorite Pet

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Let The Right Pet Choose You

When you have exhausted all other avenues of choosing the right first pet for your family, let an animal choose you. Animals seem to have an uncanny ability to judge the character of humans, and will often "choose" a new owner themselves.

If you have decided a dog is a good choice, visiting a local animal shelter is a great way to have a pet choose your family. You will notice many of the dogs (or even cats if that is what you decide) seem to have no interest in coming to the kennel gate to check out you or your family. If a dog exhibits behaviors like running to the kennel gate, barking, jumping and wagging its tail; odds are the dog is very interested in choosing your for their forever home.

Cats will usually lay seemingly lethargic in a kennel, sleeping through your visit or not having any interest in engaging with you. A cat that rubs along the kennel gate and purrs with excitement is likely hoping you will choose it for a pet.

One of the best dogs I ever had was from a shelter, the only one that paid any attention to my mother and I when we were in the kennel room. We asked him "Do you want to come home with us" and he started not barking but "talking" (not English but you know what I mean) and responded verbally with what sounded like a "yes". I named him "red" as he was a mix with a chow and had beautiful cinnamon red fur, he was the best dog companion I ever had or could have expected.

So when all else fails - let your pet choose you, it will likely be the best fit you could ever hope for!

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    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 15 months ago from Queensland Australia

      A wonderful hub, Cynthia, packed with useful information for the prospective first pet owner. I currently have cats, dogs and chickens, and have previously had fish, parrots, turtles, rabbits, guinea pigs etc. Almost all our dogs and cats have come from animal shelters or been unwanted strays that chose us. They have all been wonderful pets. This hub article should be chosen for "Pet Helpful."

    • Cynthia Hoover profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Hoover 15 months ago from Newton, West Virginia

      Jodah, thank you so much for the kids words! All the pets I currently have are rescues. I have a little (chubby) Jack Russell that was wondering at a store, he jumped in the car with me! I did find the owners, though they agreed to let me keep him, since he refused to stay home (and they lived on the main road). My goat was found in the woods on our property, despite my best efforts to find his owners - no one claimed him! I am mourning the loss of one of our farm cats, he passed a few weeks ago. It was touch and go if he was going to make it when I first found him, he had been attacked by a dog with a dislocated keg, that did not heal properly. He managed to recover with a limp (one hind leg remained fairly unusable. He once took on a 8 foot black snake, I can only imagine he did it because it was getting close to my son and I. He got one small bite on top of his head - I have not seen the snake since. I have several other rescue cats and they always seem to be more loving than a non-rescue animal!

    • GailLedford profile image

      Gail Ledford 15 months ago

      Thank you for sharing this! My dog passed at age 13 a year ago and I miss her every day. I think it it's also important to know that some animals have long life spans, and if you are researching a certain animal you should probably be saying to yourself, "this animal lives (blank) amount of years on average. Am I willing to make that kind of commitment?" I think it is important that if someone is leaning towards a certain animal they should research every single aspect about that animal before deciding.

      Thank you for sharing!

      (Also, I have two male Bettas and they make awesome little pets!)

    • Cynthia Hoover profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Hoover 15 months ago from Newton, West Virginia

      GailLedFord thank you for your comment, you are absolutely right, the lifespan of an animal should be considered as well! So often people fail to take the time to think when it comes to pet ownership, and all to often we see the results of those hasty actions when we visit animal shelters and rescues. I know sometimes things happen and finances change, so sometimes people simply can no longer afford to keep an animal, or suffer from an illness that makes it impossible to continue to care for their pets. More often though it is a because someone decided they wanted a pet, and just went and picked one up, having no clue of what a responsibility they just took on!

      (My son loves to feed his "Fishy" and watch it swim, Bettas are awesome!)

    • Sam Shepards profile image

      Sam Shepards 15 months ago from Europe

      Great article. Every person considering to have a pet should definitely read this. I know to many people who made the lifestyle mistake. Some were lucky enough to have friends or family that could help out with care, especially when on vacations. Others had to find new owners.

    • Cynthia Hoover profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Hoover 15 months ago from Newton, West Virginia

      Sam Shepards I think everyone starts with "good" intentions, somehow logic and reasoning just get tossed aside. I imagine with a bit of forethought and planning from new pet owners, we would not have the growing homeless pet epidemic.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 15 months ago

      Cynthia, re: lifespan of pets, We wish dogs and cats came with longer lifespans. Losing a beloved pet after we've accepted them into the family hurts too much. Ten to 20 years just isn't long enough for us once we love an animal. We can get another animal, but one really doesn't replace another like a new sofa replaces a worn out one.

      We have had bad luck with the health of cats we've rescued off the street, and plan to stick with vetted shelter cats in the future. Our current street cat is diabetic and not in good health. His mother died of diabetes 5 years after we adopted them. The last cat I adopted off the street died at age 5 or 6 because of ill health. We also have a Bengal we adopted from a veterinary hospital, and she is very healthy.

      Our mutts have lived longer than the full breeds we've bought, too. We had a pet goat once, but some neighborhood kids chased her to death when we weren't at home. Neighbors have to be taken into consideration, too.

      This is very good information and good writing.

    • Cynthia Hoover profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Hoover 15 months ago from Newton, West Virginia

      MizBeJabbers, you make a really good point, my cat Checkers is a sickly cat, respiratory issues and she was taken in off the street. Shelter animals are usually checked out thoroughly with any medical issues taken care of before they become adoptable. Animals we take in off the street can cause even more financial burden due to health issues.

      I'm so sorry to hear your cat is suffering with diabetes, it is so hard to watch our animals as they are sick.

      Your poor goat, what is wrong with people these days :(? I can't imagine going through loosing a pet in that way. Neighbors are a huge consideration when choosing a pet, not everyone stays on their side of the fence, and not everyone will love animals! I still remember every animal I've ever lost, much the same as loosing a family member, it always sticks with you.

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