When choosing a pet for your family, you need to do some research first.
Not only do you need to decide what kind of animal you want, but you also need to make sure that it’s compatible with every single member of your family. That can be challenging, especially when you’re new to owning pets.
That’s why we have written this guide. Here you’ll find everything you need to know about choosing a pet that will keep you and your family happy.
We’ve covered everything you need to consider, like how your family operates, what pet type you get, and the maintenance work that goes into keeping them.
We’ve also included information about exotic pets, for those who aren’t interested in getting an ordinary dog.
Choosing a pet is an important decision. You need to have the correct information to make the right choice, which is why we have linked to resources that show our advice to be accurate.
It also gives you more to read, for those who want to dive deeper into pet ownership and how you can create the best environment for your new family member.
With that understood, let’s start with how you should choose the right pet for your family.
- How To Choose The Right Pet For Your Family
- Common Pets Of Choice
- Exotic Pets To Consider
- Pet Care & Habits
How To Choose The Right Pet For Your Family
Before you even start looking at pets, you need to understand your family and how they work. You probably think you understand them already, they are your family after all, but many fail to consider how the new pet will integrate into their home.
Every family is different, composed of different members who all have different attitudes, habits, hobbies, and energies. Your pet needs to be compatible with every member of your household, to the best of your knowledge, so that they are the perfect fit. Doing this saves everybody trouble in the long run, not least the pet!
We go deeper into family habits and other general considerations below.
Starting with your family and their habits, you should look at who is in your family and your finances. Let’s start with finances, that’s the simple part, as it can be boiled down to just one question – can you afford an animal?
Even the smallest pets can come with a hefty price tag. Remember that you will need to put up money to:
- Buy the animal
- Pay for any medical checks or procedures (usually if the animal is young)
- Pay for the habitat, equipment, accessories, and toys for that animal
- Pay for the food that the animal eats, which is a recurring payment
- Pay for any damages that the pet may cause to your home
- Pay for the electricity used by things like fish tank lights or a vivarium, if you’re going for fish or more exotic pets
All of these come with price tags, some of them hefty and some of them recurring until the animal has passed. Are you prepared to sink money into a decade of dog food? While it only covers the topic from a limited perspective, you can find a handy breakdown of dog upkeep prices right here.
Using that as a reference, you should consider that smaller animals will typically cost less. A small to average fish tank will cost less to run than keeping a dog, as will small furry critters like hamsters. Exotic pets, which are typical of the scaly, cold-blooded variety, require specialized equipment and can cost as much or more to keep.
So, it looks like you have some numbers to crunch! Before you pick up the calculator, you should also consider your home environment and how long the pet is going to live. You can easily find the average lifespans of your pet animal – it’s just a google search away.
Dogs generally live for a decade or two while reptiles and birds can live for several. You might even want a tortoise that will and outlive you, you wouldn’t be the first!
But that brings us to the next thing to consider – there’s a big difference between an excitable dog, a mischievous cat, and a lumbering shell fortress moving around your home.
Is your home quieter or louder? How often is it empty? Consider the tone of your household and which pets may best suit it.
Note that all pets benefit from a quiet, friendly environment. Loud doesn’t mean chaotic here, so you shouldn’t introduce animals to a chaotic home where they have no escape from the madness, but you should have some idea of how chilled out or high-strung your home is.
A dog, once raised and trained, can be much more at home in a house full of rowdy kids than a guinea pig, might get startled at every noise.
Next, start thinking medically. Some members of your family may be incompatible with the pet in a totally different way, through allergies. Allergies are common enough that you should be aware of them, especially when many of them can get triggered by dander.
Dander is the hair, skin, feathers, and other surface debris that may come off the animal in microscopic quantities. Family members who have an allergic history or suffer from conditions like asthma, eczema, or hay fever may have trouble with this dander.
If you have kids and you are concerned, a visit to the local vet, doctor, or both can help dissuade any fears you have. If there is an issue, they can suggest a course of action, and they may advise a similar pet that sidesteps allergies but has the same energy.
There are also hypoallergenic pets that can even help kids suffering from allergies.
You should also think about any diseases. Diseases are everywhere, especially in some of our most beloved pets. Lizards and other reptiles are known for carrying salmonella, for example.
If there is a disease concern, everybody should be educated in proper hygiene and hand-washing after being exposed to your pet.
Naturally, certain animals are safer with children than others. If you have children, the pet that you select should have a disposition that is compatible with curious kids.
Very young kids shouldn’t be left alone with any pet and, once they are old enough to handle the pet, they should be taught how to do so without offending or scaring the animal.
Hamsters may seem like a great pet for kids but remember, they are nocturnal and can get feisty if they are woken during the day by an overly affectionate child.
If you are raising a larger animal, they should be properly, firmly trained with a calm and easygoing demeanor instilled into them from a young age.
Train your pet to be child-friendly, no matter if it’s a dog or a dragon.
Lastly, consider how much time you have. How busy are you? What are your work hours? How often is your home empty?
Different animals come with exercise and interaction requirements. The classic example is large dogs, who need to be walked and exercised several times a day, or week at the very least.
Many pets, like fish, hamsters, reptiles, and tarantulas, can often be left in their habitat to live their lives happily. Birds, on the other hand, often benefit from hand-rearing and some interaction time outside of their cage.
Common Pets Of Choice
You should have some idea of how you can choose the best pet for you and your family. If you’re here, you probably had some ideas already about which pets you want. Hopefully, the information we have covered so far hasn’t dashed your dreams of owning a certain pet!
We have more information below on the standard considerations that come with taking care of a pet. Before we get to them, let’s go through the many different animals that you can get, starting with the most common.
Alongside dogs, cats are the quintessential household pet. While some are homebodies and others prefer to roam, cats are largely independent but need to have a comfy bed, a litter box, and plenty of toys in the home to keep them entertained and agile.
While cats are often affectionate with their owners, they will have less patience for children who may want to roughhouse or smother their pet with love. Some breeds of cat are better for families than others, such as:
- Abyssinian, an active and playful cat breed that responds well to affection.
- Birman, distinct-looking, long-haired cats that are known for their gentleness.
- Norwegian Forest cats, gentle but rugged companions that are great for families with lots of outdoor space.
- Persian cats, which are ideal for relaxed family homes.
- Ragdoll cats are often called “puppy cats” for their placid, easy-going demeanor.
- Siamese cats, which are calm and confident but sometimes excitable.
Dogs are by far the most common pet, outpacing cats by nearly 17 million to become America’s favorite furry friends. It’s easy to see why – dogs are renowned for being loving, loyal, playful, and cooperative with humans of all ages as long as they are properly trained.
Dogs also vary in size more than cats. You can get larger dogs that are friendly and protective when trained and then smaller dogs that fit comfortably on your lap.
Get a dog that will settle comfortably in your home without causing a stir. Some dog breeds have reputations for being territorial and defensive of their owners, in which case extra training will need to be applied to make them compatible with children.
Mixed-breed dogs tend to be more relaxed than purebreds, too. Depending on the dog species, purebreds can also suffer from more congenital issues than a dog that is the result of two different dog breeds mating.
Raising a dog from puppyhood is the best way to guarantee that the dog will be chilled out around family members – they grew up alongside them, after all!
Rabbits are deceptive animals to keep. While they are cute and cuddly and are about the size of a very small dog, these pets require some high-grade maintenance to properly take care of them.
It’s best to wait until your children are above seven before attempting to introduce a rabbit, as most breeds are too timid and frightful to handle young, loud children. The same may apply to noisy teens – rabbits need to have their own space where they can chill out.
Energetic rabbits can play well with young teens who have been educated in how to handle and maintain them, so they can be great for tiring out your kid. Most breeds live for about a decade and longer-haired breeds will require a lot more maintenance than shorter-haired breeds.
As for the best rabbit breeds for families:
- Mini Lop rabbits, a small and popular breed that is surprisingly hardy, live for a long time and are laid-back. This makes them ideal for becoming integrated members of the family.
- Chinchilla rabbits come in standard, American, and giant variants and, well, look like chinchillas. Playful and friendly, they can be great companions with older children who treat them properly.
- Himalayan rabbits are distinctive, docile, and very tolerant towards affectionate children. They enjoy all human company, as long as they’re familiar with everybody in the house.
Along with rabbits, hamsters are perhaps the most distinct common pets for those who want something small and fuzzy. The first thing to understand about hamsters is that many are nocturnal, so you won’t get too much hands-on contact with them during the day.
While there are many hamster species out there, there are five main species that are used for pets.
- Syrian Hamsters – A.K.A. Golden/Teddy Bear hamsters, these popular hamsters are easy to handle, though they are best kept separate from other hamster species.
- Chinese Hamsters – A.K.A. Striped hamsters, these small hamsters are known for being timid and rarely biting, and also should be housed individually to keep them calm.
- Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters – Roborovski hamsters are very social, especially in same-sex groups if they have been reared from a young age. They have a good temperament for families but should be handled carefully, as they like to jump!
- Campbell’s Dwarf Hamsters – Campbell’s dwarf hamsters are great pets with some supervision, as they are prone to getting nervous during handling. True to their name, they only grow about four inches long.
- Dwarf Winter White Dwarf Hamsters – A similar breed to the Campbell’s dwarf hamster, winter white dwarfs (A.K.A. Djungarian or Siberian hamsters) are active during the day, unlike many hamster breeds, making them great for families. They can be fast and agile, so handle with care, but otherwise, they have a pleasant temperament.
Fish are a massive and diverse category of pets that can relax, amaze, and delight you and your family members. While they stay in their tank all day, fish require maintenance in other ways by frequently changing the tank water, making sure their environment is sufficiently aerated, and surveying the fish population for problems.
Otherwise, fish tanks make great decorative fixtures that have therapeutic effects on those who look at them. A small fish can be a great way to teach children responsibility and caring for a pet without upending your home by making it puppy-proof.
As we said, you have a limitless choice in the kinds of fish you get. You will need to decide on if your fish tank has a freshwater, tropical, or marine environment, which will determine which fish species you can get. Assuming you’re sticking to just fish, and not other sea life like shrimps, crabs, and sea snails, then you should check out some colorful, easygoing fish like:
- Neon Tetras
Like with fish, birds are an entire category of animal that spans many shapes, colors, and sizes. Many of them stay in their cage for most of their life, which can make maintaining them easier for busy families, but birds should get plenty of interaction to avoid becoming stressed. If a bird gets too stressed, it will become aggressive and will pluck its own feathers out.
If treated well by the family, birds can be a fun addition to the home. Many domestic birds can carry tunes, or even speak, and so they are great for communicating with children. As for which bird species make great pets for your family, consider some of the following:
- Cockatoos, which are known for their distinct crest and their ability to bond with their owners.
- Cockatiels, which are known for having rosy cheeks and a distinct song.
- Parakeets, A.K.A. budgies, which also carry tunes and learn basic commands.
- Lovebirds, which work best when paired with their partners.
- Parrotlet, the smallest parrot type that is affectionate but feisty, and should be kept separate from other birds.
Exotic Pets To Consider
Maybe you don’t want to get some of the pets we have already covered. While they are popular, some families prefer to find a more exotic pet.
By exotic, we mean animals that are in the minority of pets and are often kept in climates where they wouldn’t naturally thrive. In temperate, Western countries, many of them are reptilian.
Exotic animals can be more expensive to keep, especially if they need special equipment to regulate their temperature or hydration. To house many exotic animals responsibly, you’ll need to put more money into them than you would with a cat or a dog.
By far the most popular type of exotic pet, lizards are iconic for their scaly skin, fascinating colors, and narrow or wide eyes, depending on the species.
Many types of lizards are instantly recognizable and come with distinct features, whether it’s a bearded dragon, a chameleon, a gecko, or a Komodo dragon. Komodo dragons are too big and fearsome to be kept safely as a pet, especially in a family home, but many other lizards work well with family environments. Consider some of the following:
- Bearded dragons, who are tame and beginner-friendly, are capable of developing a connection to their human owners.
- Leopard geckos, which are small, large-eyed lizards that are easy to care for. They don’t climb as much as other geckos, making them easier to manage!
- Veiled chameleons, who are the most popular chameleons that change color depending on their mood.
Lizards need to have habitats, called a vivarium, that keep them warm. Remember that reptilians are cold-blooded, so they need ample heat to keep their body temperature up and their body producing oxygen.
Along with lizards, snakes are another instantly recognizable type of reptile. However, this can come at a disadvantage, as many people have a phobia of them!
With so many venomous snakes existing in the world, it’s understandable that some people would be afraid. That said, domestic snakes are harmless and most don’t carry venom that will cause significant damage to their owners.
For families who are new to reptiles, you should consider a corn snake. These are small, slender, and aren’t known for their aggression. They don’t have venom and they are easy to feed. See my complete care guide for corn snakes here.
Other family-friendly snake species include:
- Ball pythons, a smaller python species that have the iconic brown and spotty scale markings.
- California kingsnakes, which may nip but are otherwise great when hand-reared.
- Rosy boas, who have bright and delightful coloring and don’t get aggressive quickly.
If snakes are known for one thing, it’s the way that they eat their meals. Most of them swallow their meals whole by dislocating their jaw, which means you will need to feed your snakes tiny critters like mice. As such, owning snakes is best for families who have strong stomachs and understand that it’s the circle of life.
Known for their slow movement and the massive shells on their backs, turtles are amphibians who enjoy time in both water and on dry land. They are a large group of over 300 species, including the land-based tortoises and the small, cute terrapins that are perfect for families.
Terrestrial and freshwater turtles make the best pets and tropical species will need to have a warm environment, like many reptiles.
Land-based species like tortoises will need some bathing water and a large space to roam, where they can be safe from other animals. Aquatic turtles will need to have a lot of water (typically ten gallons of water for every inch that your turtle measures).
Many turtles are known for living for a long time, so remember that getting one is a big commitment. Here are some of the most common turtle species that are great for families:
- Box turtle.
- Greek tortoise.
- Painted turtle.
- Razor-backed musk turtle.
- Red-eared slider.
Is The Pet Breed Legal In Your Area?
With exotic pets, you need to make sure that they are legal to own and keep in your area. Some areas have laws that forbid the ownership of exotic animals, usually because of safety or ecological concerns. In countries like America, the rules change between individual states.
Illegal pets aren’t just the ones you may expect, like tigers or wild dogs, as in some places hedgehogs and opossums are restricted animals. If you have an exotic pet in mind that is a little more extreme than the average reptile, you should check their legality with your national, state, and local authorities.
You can find exotic pet laws by state here.
Health Risks & Concerns
Earlier in this guide, we mentioned that many lizards can carry salmonella and transfer it to their owners. While domesticated animals like dogs rarely suffer from transmissible diseases, exotic pets can and will bring different health risks into your home.
Along with salmonella, ringworm and tuberculosis can pose a threat to owners of exotic pets. Rabies is more common in exotic pets than common ones, too.
We also just mentioned that there are sometimes ecological concerns with exotic animals. If the animal gets loose, the animal (or a microbe that the animal bears) can get into the local wildlife and cause unexpected changes, usually for the worse. This is why exotic animals need to be kept secure in your home.
What Equipment Is Needed Before Purchase?
For many reptiles, which make up most exotic pets, you should have everything set up before you introduce them to your home. Without preparing properly, you run the risk of harming your exotic animal by introducing them to an environment that isn’t suitable for its survival.
Here’s a checklist of the things you need to cover before bringing home your exotic pet:
- Terrarium, for housing the animal.
- Lighting, to provide ultraviolet light.
- Heating lamps, to provide adequate heating.
- Thermometer, to measure and manage the heat inside the terrarium.
- Hygrometer, to measure and manage the humidity inside the terrarium.
- Substrate, to cover the ground and provide familiar footing for your exotic pet.
- Decoration, which comprises hiding places, climbing frames, branches, and objects that create shade.
Pet Care & Habits
To finish off this guide, here’s a brief rundown of the things that you need to do for every pet. No matter what animal you own, whether it’s a fierce snake or a harmless fish, you will need to have the following needs met to live a long and happy life as part of your family.
Everybody needs to eat, including your new pet. Every pet has a wide range of foods that they can eat to get their nutritional fill and stay happy and healthy. It doesn’t matter if it’s dog kibble or live mice, you need to source the correct foods for your pet.
Just as importantly, they need to have enough water to survive. More or less water is needed depending on how physically active the pet is or how warm your climate is. Fortunately, most of the time you can leave water in their habitat and they will drink whenever they want to.
Heat & Light
Your pet will need to have a combination of heat and light. For common pets, you won’t need to worry too much about these. If you have a nocturnal pet, they should be left alone during the day when they are recouping their energy. Any pets should also be housed in an environment where they don’t get too hot or cold.
With exotic pets, however, this becomes more complex. As we covered in the last section, reptiles need a combination of heat and light sources to function properly.
They need dedicated heating bulbs that make their terrariums warm enough for their cold blood, while the light bulbs are providing light and ultraviolet rays. Reptiles absorb ultraviolet rays to create vitamin D3, which allows them to absorb calcium from food and stay healthy.
Cleaning & Hygiene
Pets aren’t people, so they can’t clean up after themselves. If you have a family, you’re probably used to cleaning up after others, and you’ll need to do that for your pets too!
Pets aren’t just very unpleasant when left to become dirty, it’s also necessary to keep them healthy in a lot of cases. Matted dog fur, for example, can become a rash. Dirtiness also promotes the growth of harmful microbes that can easily become diseases and illnesses. With exotic pets, those illnesses can be very, very severe.
Noise & Disturbance
With all pets, noises and disturbances should be kept to a minimum. Pets can’t easily discern context like us, so loud noises often startle or scare animals. A scared animal will be more likely to act out and become disobedient or even lash out at its owners.
Whether it’s a dog bed or a terrarium, your pet needs to have somewhere they can retreat to. When things get too much in the home, dogs should be able to find their bed and relax, and many other animals also like to enjoy alone time.
So, how does this apply to fish or birds, which spend most of their time in the same place? Birds should be covered and left alone at night, with a minimum of one hour of interaction during the day. For fish, don’t mess with the tank and its contents unless you need to. At night, turn off their lights and leave them alone.
If you are playful and attentive to your pet, you should notice if something is wrong with them. Healthcare checks should be common and are easy to slot in when you’re bathing your pet or cleaning out their habitat.
A dog grooming session is a perfect opportunity to look them over. For fish, you should look carefully for flare-ups near the gills or the presence of small parasites on them.
Commitment & Handling
Most pets need to have some training before they are safe for handling by you and your family.
Birds, reptiles, and small mammals are more likely to bite at people but won’t cause as much damage while larger animals, like dogs, tend to be more docile but can pose a danger if they become aggressive.
In all cases, you should train yourself and your family for handling the pet, and make sure the pet is accustomed to being held.
With that, we come to the end of our guide on choosing a pet for your family. We have covered the things you need to think about when choosing a pet, the many types of pets that you can get, and other considerations related to buying and keeping them.
No matter what kind of pet you’re after, you should find information here that will help you out. Once you understand your own family and the options that are available for you, you can choose the best pet for your household.