By Leanne Beane
Pets are a wonderful addition to any household, but it is important that both the pet and the owner are happy with their relationship. Fish, rodents, cats, and dogs are among the most popular pets and among the most susceptible to improper care.
When choosing a pet, there are four things to consider: the space available for the pet, the effort required to maintain the pet, the potential damage from the pet to a home and its occupants, and the level of interaction offered by the pet.
Fish typically occupy the least amount of space at around 16x8x10” for a five-gallon tank (suitable for a single fish), though large species or multi-fish colonies can occupy several cubic feet.
Rodents are next with 18x18x12” cages for mice, though the larger the cage, the better. It is important to note that certain rodents, such as guinea pigs and ferrets, require time outside of the cage to free roam and may need extra floor space.
Cats are third with a minimum of 18 square feet of living space, though highly active breeds such as the Egyptian Mau will require more space and certain cats will desire to go outside to hunt.
Dogs require the most space, with a minimum of 100 square feet of backyard space for inactive dogs and 500+ square feet for more active breeds. In terms of indoor space, dogs are typically fine in any size home as long as they are able to move around and are taken on walks of appropriate length and frequency.
Fish require minimal effort to maintain. They are typically satisfied with simply watching the world around them and/or interacting with their tank mate(s), so playing is not necessary, and feeding and cleaning require very little time, only 1-2 minutes per feeding and around half an hour for biweekly cleanings.
The effort for rodents is slightly higher, as their diet is more complex and their cages must be cleaned more frequently than a fish tank. Certain rodents may also require supervised time outside of their cage.
Cats are next in line. Although a cat’s diet and cleaning are around the same as a rodent, they are predators and must be played with for a minimum of 20 minutes per day to keep them healthy. Kittens should be played with more as they possess more energy.
Dogs require the most effort: 15-20 minute walks twice a day for smaller or older dogs and 30-45 minute walks twice a day for larger or younger dogs.
As with space and effort, fish are very low risk in terms of damage to a home. The most likely damage is water damage or damage to furniture due to the weight of the tank, but those are uncommon and can be solved by placing a cork mat or similar underneath the tank and placing the tank on a sturdy piece of furniture.
Rodents are next, as they spend much of their time in a cage and are relatively harmless during free-roam due to their light-hearted nature and small mouth. Electrical wires are a common snack for rodents, but supervision during free roam will prevent any incidents between curious pets and indigestibles.
The risk level of cats and dogs varies according to the breed and age of the animal, but dogs are generally more accident prone due to their excitability. The specific risks of cats and dogs are different as well; cats are more likely to knock small items over and damage flooring with liquids or shattered glass, while dogs are more likely to bite and tear items or knock larger furniture over.
All four pets require some level of interaction with their owners, ranging from simply being in the same room to actively playing.
Contrary to popular belief, fish do require attention from their owners, though this attention can also be supplied by having a school of fish rather than just one. Goldfish in particular are very curious and will eagerly gaze at their owner, wondering what they are doing.
A rodent’s temperament depends on the species, age, and personality of the animal. One rat may love to climb on their owner, while another may prefer to explore outside of their owner’s reach.
The same is true for cats. Certain cats, including a large portion of kittens, demand the constant attention of their owner and will drop items on their owner’s laps to play with. On the other hand, older or less-socialized cats may prefer to watch their owner from afar or only have attention during certain periods of the day.
Dogs tend to prefer more interaction, but there are certainly dogs who will be content with simply lying next to their owner.
Drawbacks include veterinarian availability and smelliness.
There are fish veterinarians, but they are less common than standard vets and there may not be one in your area. Fish do not typically require vets, so this may not be too large of an issue, but it is best for owners to be aware of a veterinarian they can take their fish to in the event of an emergency.
Rodents and dogs are notoriously odiferous, though this depends on the species and the specific animal’s habits. Neither animal is overly messy and regular cleaning should take care of any potent scents.
In general, fish seem to be low maintenance and low interaction while dogs seem to be high maintenance and high interaction with rodents and cats falling in between.
Overall, there is no one species that fits every household, and the temperament of two animals within the same species can be vastly different. It is best to research what animals can be safe within a home and then visit an animal shelter or licensed breeder to choose a specific animal whose temperament matches the owner’s.