Finding Your Best-Bet Pet

When Erica Galligan’s children were young, her family tried adopting a dog. But allergies forced them to return him to the breeder. Later they found alternatives, starting with a saltwater aquarium and gradually adding freshwater fish and a tree frog.

“An aquarium was easy, low-maintenance, and fun to look at,” Galligan explains about their baby steps into pet ownership.


According to the America Veterinary Medical Association, 56% of U.S. households include a pet. But if yours isn’t among them yet, how do you find the right one? Here are five factors to consider:

Amount of care

Different pets require varying levels of commitment. Consider how much time you have daily for animal care. Are you willing to walk a dog? Do you want to be regularly cleaning a hamster cage? Can you give a younger pet the extra attention it will require?

Sarah Collins, Adoption Team Leader for the Wisconsin Humane Society advises, “Be honest about what you can handle. And remember that responsibilities will ultimately fall on the parents.”

Aquarium pets, such as fish and dwarf frogs, require the least care. Next come tank- and cage-kept pets: snails, hermit crabs, birds, reptiles, rodents and rabbits.

Aside from horses, dogs can be the most time-consuming pets, with some breeds needing lots of exercise. Recognizing a dog’s energy level before bringing it home can prevent surprises related to care and exercise.

Puppies particularly require attention, even if they have been housebroken. “The rule of thumb is to allow one hour for their age in months, plus one,” Collins says. Meaning a two-month old puppy would have to be walked every three hours, day and night.

Knowing how much time you can invest in a pet can help narrow your options.

Children’s age and responsibility

Introducing a pet into a home with very young children can be a challenge – for both the pet and the child. Toddlers don’t have the capacity to understand appropriate handling of animals and their quick motions often scare pets. If you’re ready to adopt an animal while your children are young, consult pet store or humane society staff to find a pet whose personality melds well with active youngsters.

If your children are older, responsibility enters the picture. Often kids want a pet without understanding the care involved. Discuss how much work they’re willing to assume and explain what will be necessary for different pets.

Bridget Cahill drafted a contract with her three daughters before allowing them to purchase a tortoise. Then each girl signed the contract, agreeing to the responsibilities and consequences they’d outlined together.

“It did say on the contract, ‘I will not throw a fit when you ask me to feed Nelly. I will do it lovingly and happily,’” she says.


It’s easy to think a dog or cat would be fun to own – until you’re planning a trip and need to find a place for the pet to stay while you’re gone. If you travel often, this can quickly become a hassle.

“It’s pretty easy to put a 10-day feeder in an aquarium,” notes Galligan.

For a busy family, fish, rabbits, guinea pigs or other independent pets work well.


It’s not necessary to have a yard to own a dog. But you should have in mind places to walk and play with one. A small aquarium can go in a bedroom. A litterbox can be kept in a laundry room or basement, as long as the cat has access.

Collins says, “If you have a small house or yard… you just have to be able to accommodate your pet’s needs.”

If you live in an apartment or condo, it’s also important to check any rules applying to pet ownership before bringing home any animal.


People can be allergic to dogs, cats, birds and even guinea pigs. Reactions such as itchy eyes, runny noses, rashes and asthma, come from a protein in pet dander and saliva, and occur in 15 to 30 percent of allergy suffers (according to The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America). The allergens stick to surfaces, such as clothing and walls, making it important for those with pet allergies to avoid having those animals in their home.

This is not to say that families with allergies can’t have a pet. Reptiles and amphibians don’t create the allergy-causing protein. Or choose a pet requiring more regular grooming, such as a poodle-mix dog. Also, the smaller the pet, the less dander in which activates allergies. Ask your allergist or a veterinarian for recommended options.

Whatever animal your family chooses, you’ll find many rewards in pet ownership.

“It’s great to for kids to grow up with the responsibility for someone other than themselves,” says Galligan.

And given the varieties available, you’re sure to find a pet to fit your family.

Lara Krupicka is a parenting journalist and mom to three girls and one dog (and at various times, several beta fish and dwarf frogs).


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