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How To Pick the Best Pet For Your Family

Updated on August 9, 2010

You and your family are finally ready for the ultimate commitment- a pet. If you're at all like the typical family debating a pet- this is how the family pet statistics measure up: You want a cat, your daughter wants a bunny, your son wants a lizard, and your husband wants a big dog and this usually changes on a daily basis. So how do you pick the right pet and make it a family decision?

Here are just some of the factors to consider:

Clean-up- who will be doing most of it (realistically)? How much are you/they willing to participate in?

Travel- does your family travel often and have a reliable pet sitter or means of toting around your newest family member?

Family Personality- Are you an active bunch or a mellowed crew? Some people are active enough for a large dog and others would do much better watching a movie with their lap cat.

Preferences- Is there a family member in particular that absolutely has always hated cats or are allergic to a specific animal?

Children's Age Groups- This is such an important factor for your child's safety and the animal's as well. A dog (family friendly breed) or turtle are great for the youngest members of the family. Do you want to teach your kid how to take care of an animal or is the pet more for their enjoyment only?

Time- Out of consideration for the pet, don't invest in a dog if you don't have time for the proper care and upkeep they require. Pets need love too and serve other purposes besides the family's entertainment.




Some of your choices in this category are hamster, gerbil, mouse, rat, guinea pig, and chinchilla.

The general reccommended age for children participating in the care of these animals is age 8+. I wouldn't even suggest having a child much younger in the same house as rodents due to the fact that they are easily injured (squished, sat on, stepped on, etc). Overall, rodents are a terrific start for your older child to learn how to take care of an animal- I refer to them as starter pets.

They usually reside in a small cage filled with newspaper shreds or wood chips (some people are allergic to wood chips). They do not stink muchunless you don't like the odor of the wood chips or you don't clean their cage thoroughly every week. They don't require bathing or much personal care, fed once a day- just hold and play with them a couple times a day and that would be more than enough. They are squirmy creatures so always supervise your child with them. Most rodents live 2-3 years- not a huge commitment.

There are lots of fun toys that children love to play with them, like tunnels and balls. As a kid I made tunnels for mine with toilet and paper towel rolls and other toys made out of shoe boxes or put them in my doll house- kids can get creative with rodents.

On a side note, chinchillas are not very fun or interactive and guinea pigs have a loud, sometimes irritating, squeal. Rats are the most interactive of the bunch, maybe smarter, and can be trained to do more interesting things than their other rodent buddies.



A dog is the true family pet- OK maybe I'm biased. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes an entire family to raise a dog- everyone should have a role in taking care of a dog. They do require more care by far than other pet choices, but this can really bring a family together and be tons of fun in the process.

As much fun as a dog may be, there is a lot of work involved- regarding potty training and feeding, set aside at least two solid weeks for a consistent schedule to be in place and for the dog to catch on. Potty training is number one followed by a gradual getting-to-know-each other phase with all the family members. Also consider making one family member in charge of training- this is just easier for the dog to establish who is alpha and less confusion for others in the family.

Some breeds of dogs are much more family friendly than others. If you would like a small to medium size, then the Boston Terrier is a good choice. If you opt for a larger breed, Saint Bernards are good family dogs. If you need a dog that won't trigger allergies, then a Golden doodle or other breeds mixed with poodle is a great choice. There are even miniature Golden doodles for those that want allergy friendly and small. So many breeds are available, finding one to suit your family's preferences would be the least of your worries.

Travel is a big issue with dogs. Having a reliable pet sitter is really the best option. Not all dogs travel well and you never really know until you try it so have back up. Activity level is another consideration- match your family's activity level with the breed. Honestly I wouldn't suggest any dog to a family that is not active.


Cats, just like dogs, are a personal choice- many families are undecided between these two options and have strong preferences for one or the other. Cats are much lower maintenance than dogs, not as interactive (or active) as dogs, but just as entertaining. If you have a little one- baby or toddler in the house, I wouldn't suggest a cat unless they go potty outside. I don't know one cat owner with a toddler that doesn't have a gross poop eating story to tell. Kitty litter boxes have a mesmerizing magnetic pull to small tikes. Concerning dogs and cats, keep their food out of reach too- very chokeable!

Overall ,cats are good family pets, especially in a household with older children. They are very versatile and can be fun or a good lazy lap pet too. Many children have allergic reactions though so keep that in mind.


If you want low maintenance, easy, and easy- fish are for you and your family. If you can take on a little more maintenance, it is fun to have several fish in a small aquarium or large fish bowl- each family member can pick a fish, besides beta and other fish that don't play well with others. You can even have fish and another pet (maybe not cats), making it twice the fun. Admittedly, fish bowls are never fun to clean so don't expect everyone to jump out of their seat for the opportunity. Fish need daily or weekly feedings and last anywhere from one day to 3 years once they move in with you. Fish burials are never fun either- as in the toilet flushing ritual. It just seems so impersonal.


Reptiles can make good pets as long as the owners know how to properly care for them. Some take certain food, heat, water, and other possibilities. Most families that choose a reptile are already knowledgeable about the care that particular reptile requires, such as snakes.

They are fairly low maintenance and turtles make great starter pets- a little less fragile than rodents. There are a variety of lizards to choose from, which can make good pets. Reptiles are interesting creatures, neat to watch, and create fun learning experiences with your child, but they are not very interactive or cuddly- obviously.

French Lop

Bunnies & Ferrets

These two are in the same category because they may be on the small side, but are high maintenance. Many families find themselves in a predicament when they purchase one of these pets, because they do so on a whim (like bunnies for Easter) and soon come to find out they require unexpected work.

Bunny rabbits need a lot of care and holding to domesticate them- they are very instinctual and easily frightened creatures. Their relationship with you and your family is based purely on trust so handle them with care. Above all other pets, they are the ones that you get what you put into them, which on the upside can be very rewarding. They can be potty trained and even walked on leashes. I've raised several varieties and I love the larger breed Lops- smarter and less timid. Their accommodations can get stinky fast, especially males who spray a fowl odor. Please think twice about choosing a bunny as a family pet- you'd be surprised how many end up at shelters or out in the woods after Easter.

Ferrets are hilarious, but like having a toddler concerning upkeep. They find mischief in everything and need plenty of exercise and attention. A large wire cage is best for them and toys galore. They also have an odor even when they are deodorized so make sure you like a staunchy musk smell.


Birds are a little like reptiles and fish- not cuddly, but entertaining and fairly low maintenance. Birds come in several varieties- don't take on a large one (parrot or cockatiel) unless you know what you're doing. These flying family members can be noisy too so consider that if you have a toddler who likes her nap time quiet. They are not to be as easily ignored as reptiles and fish though- they need a little more attention and they always have a way of letting you know whenever you pass by their cage.

When picking a pet, it's most important to consider the realities of the care you can provide- to be fair to the animal and for safety purposes as well. You can involve your family and construct a pros and cons list. Not everyone in the family may be happy with the choice initially, but it is hard not to love an animal once they are in your house and most family members will warm up to them. If you think picking a pet is hard, just wait until everyone tries to agree on a name for it. Good Luck!


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