What pet makes the most sense for my family?
Six Questions to Ask Yourself and Family Members
Written by Dr. Melissa Magnuson, DVM
Choosing a pet for your family should be a decision discussed by all family members. Many pets do not fit certain lifestyles and pets are a large financial obligation. A cat may “cost” $25 to adopt at the local shelter but after buying food, litter boxes, “cat-proofing” your home and veterinary care, it can cost as much as $700 per year! Be sure to do all your research and make sure the pet you choose fits your life and your pocket book.
There are many pets to choose from starting with the smallest fish to the largest dog. When selecting which is right for your family consider the following:
- How much time to have to spend with our new pet?
Dogs and medium to large-sized birds require the most amount of time. Dogs will require walking everyday as well as ongoing training to make sure they are safe and they have appropriate behavior. Medium to large sized birds like cockatoos, McCaws and Amazon parrots require their cages and environment to be cleaned daily as well as several hours of interaction and daily food preparation. Pets requiring less attention and time are fish, small mammals (like hamsters and gerbils) and reptiles (small lizards and snakes.)
2. How much work do I want to put in cleaning/feeding/training?
Dogs and birds require the most training. Birds require the most cleaning of cages. Other small mammals like guinea pigs, hamsters and rats, require cage cleaning at minimum twice weekly. All pets need to be fed daily except for reptiles, most lizards and snakes can be fed 1-3 times per week. The most difficult and complicated diet to feed is a sugar glider. This diet requires daily food preparation of many fruits, vegetables and even bugs!
The smelliest pets are ferrets and sugar gliders, they have a very musky smell about them and it cannot be covered. Some hunting dogs with heavy or oily coats like Labrador retrievers or chesepeake bay retrievers can have more of a “doggy” smell than lighter coated dogs or dogs that require grooming. Some dogs need to be groomed every 4-6 weeks, this will cost anywhere from $30-70 per groom. Often times small mammal and rabbit cages can be “smelly” of urine if they are not cleaned frequently enough.
4. Who will care for my pet if I go out of town?
Dogs and birds require either boarding or a pet sitter. Other pets would only need a daily check and feed.
5. Can I catch any illness from my pet?
All pets can transmit disease to people, however it is very rare. Individuals who have a compromised immune system or chronic illness should not own reptiles because they carry salmonella on their skin. People with asthma should also steer clear of pets with fur which can exacerbate this condition.
6. What is the easiest to handle pet for my child and I would like one that doesn’t bite?
If it has teeth, it can bite! For young children (less than 5) small mammals, reptiles, and birds are not recommended. Small children move fast and have difficulty understanding “gentle” for these pets. Often times, these pets can be injured by accident. Dogs and cats are best for this group but they MUST always be supervised, even the nicest dog can bite if left unattended with an exuberant 3 year old. Nice pets for ages 6-12 include guinea pigs, rats and small lizards. Though these pets can be highly interactive and cuddly, remember as a parent, you are ultimately responsible for the pets care. Do not expect your 8 year old to properly clean a guinea pig cage or feed it regularly. I am a firm believer that pets are a parent’s responsibility, not a child’s.
Dr. Melissa Magnuson
Dr. Melissa Magnuson is a native of southern Minnesota, where she grew up on a small pig and cattle farm. Ever since she can remember, she’s wanted to be a veterinarian and fulfill her lifelong passion of helping animals. With a degree in biology and philosophy from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN, she went on to work on a master’s degree at Southern Mississippi University. From there, she completed her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota in 1998.
Her internship in small animal medicine, surgery, and emergency medicine brought her to the east coast. She has a special interest in surgery, emergency medicine, and avian and exotic animal care. Because she absolutely LOVES veterinary medicine, she never feels like she’s at work. She feels very lucky to have found her passion.
Dr. Magnuson is married to her best friend, Andy, with whom she has three beautiful daughters. Her pets include four dogs, three cats, a bird, a bearded dragon, and a guinea pig. In her spare time, she enjoys being with her family outdoors, biking, hiking, swimming, and reading.