Family Life


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Tips for picking the right pet for your family

two children cuddle a small kitten in front of a window

Kidswithdog - tips for picking the right pet for your familyAdding an animal to your family can be a wonderful way to teach children about responsibility, patience, unconditional love and the circle of life. But picking the right pet for your family requires some thought. Start by considering the following factors:

  1. Family schedule: Is someone home during the day? Or are you constantly rushing
    from work and school to lessons and sports in the evenings and on weekends?
  2. Do you live in an apartment or a house? Do you have a backyard, and if so, is it fenced in? If you rent, does your landlord allow pets? Note that in some provinces you can legally have a pet despite what your landlord says, provided you don’t live with the landlord. See your local laws for more detailed information. 
  3. How much can you afford to spend each month taking care of your pet?
  4. Who will take care of your pet if you’re away?
  5. How active is your family? Do you like to be outdoors walking, hiking and playing sports, or do you enjoy reading and indoor games?
  6. Does anyone in your family have allergies?
  7. How many years are you willing to give to a pet?
  8. Have you ever owned an animal before?
  9. Realistically, can your children be counted on to walk, feed and maintain a pet?

Once you’ve weighed all information, you’ll be in a better position to choose the right pet for your family. And remember, pets shouldn’t be presents. They’re living creatures whose needs should be carefully considered before bringing them into your family. After Easter and Christmas, many rabbits, dogs and cats wind up in shelters because they were deemed too much work. 

Low-maintenance animals

All pets can bring joy and responsibility to your family, but maintenance-wise, not all pets require the same care. Below are low-maintenance animals to consider based on how your family answered the checklist above: 

Fish, snakes and reptiles, such as lizards and turtles

  • Time commitment: around 15 minutes a day for feeding, and a weekly cleaning of their tanks and cages.
  • Space: The size of their container.
  • Annual cost: $ A few hundred dollars a year.
  • Ideal for the family who doesn’t have a lot of time or space but wants to introduce the concept of caring for another creature to the family. The animals aren’t affectionate like their furry counterparts, so they may not provide as much of a bonding experience. Reptiles can also transmit salmonella through their feces, through direct contact or contact with things the reptile has touched, so handwashing after contact is critical.

Medium-maintenance animals

Cats, birds, rabbits and rodents such as guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils and mice fit into this category. Here are some considerations. 

  • Time commitment: These animals require slightly more time each day to prepare their food, and also require weekly cage and litter box cleaning.
  • Space: The size of their container.
  • Annual cost: $$ A few more hundred dollars for more supplies or more frequent vet bills.
  • Unlike fish and reptiles, these animals can be handled and like to be pet and cuddled. They make noises when they are happy and bond with their families.

High-maintenance animals

The highest maintenance domestic pet is the dog. A lot of kids ask for a dog, so go through this list with your kids to see who would take care of what and better realize your family’s ability to care for a dog. 

  • Time commitment: They require at least an hour or two each day to be exercised and fed. They should also be groomed frequently.
  • Space: May require a crate (the size will depend on the breed of the dog). A
    fenced-in yard is also ideal, though many dogs are happy apartment dwellers.
  • Annual cost: $$$ Expenses can run into the thousands each year, including food, toys, veterinary bills (expected and unexpected), obedience training and kennel costs if needed.
  • No other domestic animal bonds with a family the way a dog does; they are
    pack animals, and once they’re a part of your pack, they’re dedicated to you for life.

Should you consider adopting from a shelter?

  • Many people like the idea of giving an animal a second chance by adopting
    from a shelter, but worry that shelter animals may be sick or not properly socialized. “Not true,” says Mike Arms, president of the Helen Woodward Animal Center in San Diego, Calif., and founder of the Iams Home 4 the Holidays adoption drive, an annual North America-wide pet adoption campaign. “If it’s a reputable shelter, the animals have been medically examined, and they know their temperament. They want to match
    your family up with the right pet – that’s their business, and they don’t want to see the pet returned. They want it to have a long, happy life in a forever home.”
  • Pets from shelters are often already spayed or neutered, and their personalities are developed, so you know pretty much what you’re going to get in terms of temperament. They’re past the puppy or kitten stage, so they likely won’t be doing things like chewing slippers. Many have already been house trained and may have some obedience training. You can also see their size and appearance as a full-grown animal.
  • Many people believe that animals from a shelter know that they’ve been given a second chance and are the most loyal pets you could ever hope for.

Originally published in ParentsCanada, May/June 2012. Updated in March 2024. 

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