Having been around animals all my life, I think pets are about as normal and common as Starbucks drive-thrus, so I’m a little surprised when people ask me about the kinds of pets they should get. The frequently asked questions are about dogs and cats, in that order, so they get the lion’s share of this post. (Animal pun intended!)
In general, consider your personality and lifestyle. Are you athletic or active? Are you more of a homebody? What’s your work/life situation? Are you willing and able to invest a good amount of time and money to properly care for a pet for the long haul?
This post is not meant to be an exhaustive to-do list, but rather a quick general outline on some species and breed suggestions.
Are you feeling so exotic?
Obviously, I’m talking about the animal varieties, not the Priyanka Chopra/Pitbull collaboration. 🙂
Some exotics such as guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, birds, and fish are easy intros to pet ownership as they’re generally the best first pets for kids.
Please note that on this post I have mostly adults in mind for my audience. Most of the adults who have consulted me are retirees living alone and young or middle adults without kids desiring companionship. There are many more adults and parents who buy pets for kids. Children are generally affectionate and like to interact with their world, so dogs and cats are much better choices as they’re more domesticated. They’re considerably less fragile and more tolerant of physical contact than exotics. However, make your own pet choice for yourself. It’s up to you.
I honestly haven’t had frequent contact with exotics except for birds, fish, and hermit crabs. Fish, reptiles, and amphibians come highly recommended for those with limited living space and/or fur and dander allergies. Of course, if you’re not spooked by scaly and slithery things, go for them! Just be sure to provide clean and secure housing for them.
Bunnies look super cute, so it’s tempting to get them around this time of the year. (Not to mention that Easter is coming up next!) After all, they’re the symbol of love and fertility—everything having to do with the birds and the bees! Unfortunately, they’re not recommended for brand-new pet owners. Candace Frazee, the main leporine/feline lady of The Bunny Museum, explains why they’re not the best first-time choice, as well as some of the best breeds as pets, on a clip of my interview with her (from 3:28-5:18).
The Internet is a great treasure trove of information. Simply Google “best resources for exotic pets” or something similar. Vet sites are obviously good places to start.
If you’d like me to fetch more information from my more experienced friends and colleagues in this department, I’d be happy to do that!
The cat’s meow
If you want a relaxing purr machine and an occasional fur ball of a bunkmate with only the occasional cover- or space-stealing tendencies, then by all means, get a kitty. Unlike dogs, they want attention on their own terms, so don’t expect them to be snuggle bunnies around the clock.
Cats are probably some of the easiest animals, especially for first-timers, as they’re more independent and lower maintenance than dogs for the most part. They need less food (and probably toys too) than dogs. They’re total clean freaks. As long as you change and freshen their litter box daily, probably the most “intensive” thing to do when it comes to cat care, you’re good to go. Only occasional grooming is needed, but brushing once a week for short-haired cats and daily for long-haired ones keeps the coat smooth and prevents hairballs.
A few things, though: Cats can be little Houdinis. Being small, inquisitive, and quick, they can easily dart outside, investigate every nook and cranny, and then slip into tight spaces or cracks and get trapped. My Miki used to venture more often into closets and inadvertently pull an R. Kelly. 🙂 His curiosity nearly killed him. Fresh out of kittenhood, he climbed up a tree and he was stuck there overnight. Not even the animal control lady could get him down. Poor thing was up there for 24 hours or more. He could’ve been there indefinitely if it weren’t for a friend of my dad’s then-co-worker who climbed coconut trees on his island homeland.
Must love dogs!
Ah, yes. A man’s (and woman’s) BFF. The ultimate companion. A guard, lover, entertainer, assistant, and more, all in one!
However, with those handsome social qualities come lots of responsibilities. They require frequent stimulation. They need play or walk time and lots of contact with humans and other dogs. Many have quipped that having dogs is a lot like having flesh-and-blood children of your own, and that’s pretty much true.
Next up, this one’s for all the single ladies: cats are overrated. 😉
Besides, the ultimate crazy cat lady title had been claimed by Florence Nightingale. She had about 60 cats and even up to 17 cats at one time all at once in her 90 years of life. (Whew. Glad she didn’t live in the postmodern-day USA lest animal control pester her!) She was known to turn down suitors, preferring to be married to her career—and her clowder, perhaps? It’s worth knowing that good ol’ Auntie Flo got her start in nursing by caring for the neighborhood critters as a kid. (Hey, she could’ve been a professional pet sitter!)
When your family, relatives, and friends are constantly pestering you about your status as your age advances (perimenopause, anyone?) with dimming prospects for marriage and raising children, why not get a doting, faithful husband and a kid who never grows up, all in one neat canine package? Pointer breeds like the viszla and Weimaraner as well as lap dogs like the Havanese may just be your cup of tea! They’re known to be very loyal and affectionate, but be careful for what you wish for. You may think all that attention they give you is sweet and flattering, but they’ve been known to be, ahem, very clingy, particularly males. They want to be with you 24/7. They wear you out. They want to run and play fetch all day, especially the sporting kinds. They play hard and sleep hard, too! They’re known to be total cuddle monsters. They follow you around anywhere you go. A good number of them are known to follow you to the bathroom and jump into the tub first to join you for a shower. (Seriously.) They’re definitely not called Velcro dogs for nothing! That said, they’re not recommended for brand-new pet owners. (Sorry if that breaks your heart!) Intelligent, independent, stubborn, high-energy working breeds like huskies, Dalmatians, and border collies are also in that number. But if you’ve had some experience with pets and if you’re up to the task, then more power to you!
If you’re completely new, a couch potato, or you just don’t have enough living space, small, short-haired breeds with a friendly disposition like pugs, Boston terriers, and Frenchies may be for you. They’re easy to train and they require minimal grooming and exercise.
If you don’t mind more work, golden retrievers, Labs, poodles, and poodle mixes (goldendoodles, Labradoodles, cockapoos) are great choices. They’re perennial favorites for a reason!
If a dog is more to your liking as a first-time pet or if you’ve previously owned or cared for other species and you’d like to get a dog this time around, check out Canine Colors for a breed that suits you. It’s a delightful little manual on both human and dog personality types. Here’s a more detailed explanation of the book.
Last but not least, mutts also make excellent company. Not only you help more strays and rescues out there, but you also get to save a bit on vet bills and spare yourself from breaking your heart and the bank. In general, mixed breeds tend to be hardy, and I’d even say more even-tempered, speaking from my experience being surrounded by them in my childhood. Some rescues may be challenging due to past trauma, but I’ve found others to be easy-going.
And of course, if you feel a bit overwhelmed and need an extra set of hands to care for your critter friends, you know where to find me!
P. S. Can’t get enough of that furry, crazy little thing called love? Check out these posts by my colleagues/friends: