Perhaps you’re already acquainted with your pet proclivities. If not, these vet-inspired starter questions (discuss!) will put you on the path toward your new nonhuman housemate. For more pet advice, take a look at our guide to finding the right type of pet.

By Stephanie Sisco
Updated December 06, 2016
gurinaleksandr/Getty Images
gurinaleksandr/Getty Images


Independent animals, like cats and reptiles, may be fine on their own for long periods. But a dog needs to be let out at least every eight hours; otherwise you’ll need to outsource the job. (A walker generally costs $15 to $30 per walk.)


Poop scooping, tank or cage cleaning—no matter the animal, you’ll need to be comfortable with some level of mess. But only certain folks can handle feeding a reptile whose preferred cuisine is live cockroaches, meal worms, or small rodents (ick).


If anyone at home is sensitive to irritants, a non-furry friend is usually a better bet. But some pets that are considered hypoallergenic (turtles, lizards) pose a problem because their habitats can contain materials that trigger reactions. Test out the family member’s tolerance at the shelter or the pet store beforehand.


Man’s best friend—and many others—come with big expenses beyond food, grooming, and gear. There’s routine medical care (regular exams and vacci­n­a­tions, plus specific needs, like flea medicine); dental visits; pet insurance (recommended by most vets); training; and board­ing or care when you travel.


How long? Well, parrots can live up to 60 years! Cats can stay with you for up to 20 years, and dogs for about 16 years. (The smaller the breed, the longer the average life span.) A hamster has a life span of only three years or so.


Yes, the kids are usually the ones begging for an animal. But once you’ve committed, the responsibility comes down on the parents, and no amount of nagging or guilt-tripping can fully change that. Prepare to be the sole feeder, bather, bed or cage cleaner, exerciser, and vet-goer. So the real question here is, are you 200 percent onboard?


  • Mikkel Becker, Seattle-based certified animal trainer for
  • Mary Gardner, D.V.M., Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, Los Angeles.
  • Ann Hohenhaus, D.V.M., Animal Medical Center, New York City.
  • Jim Lowe, D.V.M., technical-services veterinarian, Tomlyn Veterinary Science, in Fort Worth.
  • Amy Luwis,cofounder of and author of For Dog’s Sake!, Los Angeles.
  • Alicia McLaughlin, D.V.M.,the Center for Bird & Exotic Animal Medicine, Bothell, Washington.
  • Gayle O’Konski, D.V.M., Morris Animal Hospital, Granger, Indiana.
  • Doug Palma, D.V.M., Animal Medical Center, New York City.
  • Lisa Radosta, D.V.M., Florida Veterinary Behavior Service, West Palm Beach, Florida.
  • Andy Roark, D.V.M., Cleveland Park Animal Hospital, Greenville, South Carolina.
  • Michael Shikashio, based in Mystic, Connecticut; board president, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.