So, you want a pet; how to choose the right one

When someone tells you they are looking for a new pet, what comes to mind? Dogs and cats are usually the first thing we think of when we think of pets. But there are a lot of other animals people keep as pets: hamsters, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs and more. And the benefits of having a pet are well documented: being around animals or fish increases the production of serotonin (“feel-good” hormone) and decreases the level of cortisol (stress hormone) in your body.

So you want to get a pet. Maybe you know what you want already, but if not, how do you choose what is the best pet for you? Below are a few questions to ask yourself and your family before running out and buying the first cute, furry thing you see.

Why do you want a pet?

  • Companionship? Exercise partner? Is it a pet “for the children”?

Are you ready for the commitment?

  • While some fish and hamsters may only live a few years, rabbits and small birds can live 7-10 years, dogs 10-15 years or more, cats 15-18 years, and some parrots up to 70 years!
  • And while older dogs or cats may have a few behavioral issues to work through, puppies and kittens generally require a lot of work.

Where do you live?

  • If you are renting, does your lease allow pets? Is there an additional cost?
  • If you are in a condo or an apartment, you might want to consider a smaller pet (cat, bird, fish). If you want a dog and you live in an apartment, are you willing to take the dog out for walks in all kinds of weather, four or five times a day?
  • If you live in a house, do you have a fully fenced yard? How tall is the fence?

What type of schedule do you keep?

  • If the pet will be left alone for 9-10 hours a day or more, you might consider fish or small birds like finches that don’t need a lot of interaction with their human.
  • Hamsters are nocturnal, so if you tend to burn the midnight oil a hamster might be a good pet to consider.
  • Older cats can do well with owners who are away from home during the day, but will need time set aside for play and petting every day when you are home.
  • If you want a dog, but know you’ll be gone for long periods during the day, you may want to consider taking your dog to a doggie day care or hiring a dog walker to give your pet a break during the day. You will need to make sure you have time set aside every day to play with your dog if you leave them alone for long periods.

Here are a few of the lesser-known pets and some things to consider before adopting or buying one.


  • Can be trained to use a litter box
  • Are natural diggers and chewers. A rabbit’s teeth grow continuously so they need appropriate chew toys to keep them worn down
  • Do not generally like to be held or carried — it makes them feel threatened
  • Need daily exercise
  • Need the cage cleaned daily, and bedding completely replaced once a week


  • Nocturnal, can be nippy if awakened during the day to be played with
  • Need lots of exercise. Luckily, you can set up their cage to have plenty of exercise equipment: wheel, paper towel tubes, etc.
  • Need to chew to keep teeth in good condition; an appropriate hamster chew toy from the pet store will work well
  • Need the cage cleaned daily, and bedding completely replaced once a week


  • Finches generally don’t like to be handled. They are a good option if you want a pet to look at but do not have much time to work with them. You’ll want to get two or three, as they like to live in small flocks
  • Budgies or cockatiels are a good choice if you want a bird you can handle and interact with. Some of them can learn simple words and tricks. These are great first birds for children.
  • Large birds like parrots need daily exercise, large cages, and daily human interaction. They can also be very noisy. Talk to an expert if you are considering getting a parrot.


  • Probably the lowest maintenance of any pets we have discussed once you get the tank set up. Keep the tank out of direct sunlight and away from heating and cooling vents.
  • The ASPCA recommends that beginners start with a 20-gallon aquarium since it is easier to maintain healthy water conditions in a larger tank.
  • Fish can easily be left over a weekend.

Did you know that the Everett Animal Shelter has small animals available for adoption? Everything from hamsters to birds. Check out the “adopt a pet” section of our website.

There are many resources available on the internet to help you choose and care for your pet. The ASPCA website is one good resource. Your local animal shelter team can also help you select the best pet for your family and lifestyle.

Stay tuned for future blogs on choosing the right dog, and more in-depth information on small-animal care.

Learn more about the Everett Animal Shelter. Plan a visit, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and check out all of our adoptable pets. And be sure to watch our featured Pet of the Week on the Everett Channel.

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