PLUSH STUDIOS/GETTY IMAGES Puppies can benefit from a little extra instruction. / Getty Images / Plush Studios
Cats are more independent than dogs but still require attention. / Getty Images / Cindy Loughridge
Parrots have a mind of their own. / GEORGE DOYLE, GETTY IMAGES
Hamsters need a good space to call home. / JEFF GREENOUGH, GETTY IMAGES/BLEND IMAGES
Interesting stat for your coffee machine banter Monday morning: There are actually more pets than children in America. Want to get in on the act?
The possibilties. A betta fish is certainly easy (no need for long walks), but you won’t bond with this Siamese fighting fish as you would with a dog or cat. A pet rat can be a surprisingly intellectual friend, and a nice choice for a first pet (except with very young children), but some people just can’t get over the “rat thing.” Rabbits can be great but are a poor choice for toddlers who like to pick up and carry. Ferrets are fun but require a surprising amount of attention, and parrots are even more demanding. The brilliant birds require owners as smart as they are — and that leaves many of us out.
Cat and dog primer. Cats are interactive and require attention, though they are more independent than dogs. There are an abundance of cats of all personality types in shelters. If you prefer active cats, ask about a sleek go-getter. If you prefer a couch-potato kitty , ask about a cat infected with the feline immunodeficiency virus. They tend to be “lovers” and can’t infect people or dogs. (Note: Other cats are susceptible to FIV via bite wounds, but in most homes, that’s unlikely.) If you’re determined to know exactly what you’re getting, pedigreed cats and purebred dogs are likely to have predictable looks and personality. And it’s important to match the breed with your lifestyle. If you’re a runner, a basset hound is not a good fit. But a Weimaraner is an ideal workout partner.
Consider the source. Adopting through a shelter or rescue may save a life. Breeders are fine if they are reputable. But think twice or three times before making an impulsive purchase of a dog or cat from a pet store (you may be supporting puppy mills).
Gear up. You’ll need an appropriate cage for a small animal like a hamster, corn snake or leopard gecko. Reptiles have their own set of heat/humidity and calcium supplementation requirements. Of course, cats require a litter box. Two cats are better than one, but if you already have a cat and get another, the secret is a very gradual introduction. Crates are a great tool to house train puppies and to keep curious pups out of trouble.
Appointments. If you purchase a puppy or kitten, your first stop (even before going home) is the veterinary clinic, not for an exam but to make an appointment. On this initial drop-in visit, the staff will offer treats and insist that your new pet is the most beautiful they’ve ever seen. Aside from being good for your ego, it sets up a positive association with a vet. Be sure to expose your pup to early socialization through a puppy class (in some places, socialization classes are even offered for kittens). These classes are also about teaching owners and answering questions about basic care.
Most of all: Before deciding to share your life with any pet, make a commitment for the entire life of that pet.
Contributing Editor Steve Dale is a radio host, author and certified dog and cat behavior consultant.