When it comes to care and feeding, obviously not all creatures are created equal. How much animal can you handle? Here, the experts help you decide—before the kids corner you with specific requests! And for more advice, take a look at the six things to consider before getting a pet.
Stats: Average size: 70 pounds
Average Life Span: 10 years
Traits: Breeds such as retrievers can be gentle and even-keeled with young kids and are highly intelligent and trainable within a year. Some breeds, like Labradors, tend
to chew things when left unsupervised. Their constantly wagging tails are not great around delicate objects.
Good to Know: Sporting breeds, like retrievers, are athletic. They love to swim, fetch, and run around, so access to a yard is ideal. At a minimum, most big dogs require two walks a day.
Large Breeds to Consider:
Belgian Malinois: Known for their role as police dogs, many in this intelligent breed have protective instincts that can translate well into a family guardian. Training will likely be a breeze because these dogs thrive on pleasing their owners.
Labrador and Golden Retriever: Both are among the top three of America’s favorite breeds according to the American Kennel Club. They would be loving, loyal, and active additions to any family.
Stats: Average size: 30 to 50 pounds
Average Life Span: 13 years
Traits: They are active and playful but may not require as much exercise as bigger breeds. Their size means they’re comfortable living in most spaces. Some medium-size dogs, such as border collies, were bred for herding, so they can chase and nip when playing with children.
Good to Know: French bulldogs, a popular midsize breed, are cuddly and easy to groom, thanks to a short coat. But they (and some other breeds) are also prone to health issues: The smooshed face can lead to eye infections and breathing difficulty. The wrinkly folds need regular wipe-downs to avoid irritation.
Medium Breeds to Consider:
Bulldogs: (Some Bulldogs fit into the large breed size parameters as well.) This non-sporting breed is laid back and are often ideal pets for busy owners because they require fewer, shorter walks (so an on-the-go lifestyle won’t interfere with their needs). If you’re looking for similar attributes, but a smaller size, consider a Pug (they’re about ¼ the size of a Bulldog).
Stats: Average size: 5 to 15 pounds
Average Life Span: 15 years
Traits: Most of these easy-to-tote toy breeds—like the Shih Tzu, Chihuahua, and Yorkie—are spunky (read: noisy) and affectionate. Their small size means there’s less fur to shed around the house. Toy breeds’ small frames are fragile and prone to injury—a risk that’s heightened in a house with small kids.
Good to Know: Grooming needs vary by breed. The Chihuahua’s coat requires only the occasional brushing. A longer-haired Yorkie needs a daily brushing and a grooming every month or two.
Small Breeds to Consider:
Terriers: (Jack Russell, Westie, Irish Terrier, etc. can fit within the medium breed size parameters as well.) Great for small spaces, these compact canines are easy to train and highly motivated by a job. They tend to be pretty vocal, so if you live in an apartment complex or have a new baby, consider that they might not stop barking when commanded to do so. Many Terriers are known for their rodent-hunting instincts, so may bolt after a scent during walks.
Common House Cats
Stats: Average size: 10 to 15 pounds
Average Life Span: 16 years
Traits: Domestic shorthairs (another name for regular old house cats) are hardy and generally require only an annual checkup. They’re also typically affectionate with young kids and compatible with other animals. This type of cat loves to eat, so you need to monitor its diet to avoid obesity.
Good to Know: The domestic shorthair is a combination of a variety of breeds. It’s essentially the mutt of the cat world, so it doesn’t come with a one-size-fits-all descriptor. Some are skittish; others are ultra outgoing.
Stats: Average size: 10 to 15 pounds
Average Life Span: 12 to 15 years
Traits: Each breed has distinctive traits, so if you do some research, you’ll know what you’re getting when you sign on. Siamese, for example, are vocal; their meowing can sound like a crying baby. Bengals are friendly and playful. Both these breeds are on the low end of the shedding scale. Long-haired Ragdoll cats need daily brushing to prevent matted fur.
Good to Know: Some purebreds are prone to certain genetic diseases. (For example, Ragdoll cats frequently have a congenital heart condition.) So they may rack up medical fees.
Purebreds to Consider:
Persian: While they might prefer a quiet household, over time they can adapt to feel comfortable in a space with kids running around. The Persian’s long coat requires daily brushing to keep tangles and hairballs at bay and help reduce shedding. Similar to Bulldogs, their flattened snout can lead to eye goop and some breathing problems.
Bengal: On the larger size for felines, this affectionate and active cat would make a great family pet for interested kids—they require at least 10 minutes of active play a few times a day. Bengals also love water—so don’t be alarmed if they try to follow you into the bathroom!
Ragdoll: They make great cuddlers as they are “soft-pawed” (meaning they rarely use their claws when playing). Their long coats will require a weekly grooming. This breed also has a tendency for a potentially serious congenital heart condition, so consider investing in pet insurance from the get-go in advance of any unforeseen expenses.
Siamese: This breed’s short, silky coat makes grooming simple (and practically unnecessary). While it’s mew sounds like a crying baby, Siamese are a generally friendly and companionable breed.
Stats: Average life span: Depending on the species, 6 to 60 years
Traits: They don’t shed, but they can molt several times a year. Many birds are social. Parrots, in particular, can learn tricks and language skills. (It’s true!) They need your attention here and there throughout the day. If birds, especially parrots, are left unattended for too long, they may scream or pluck feathers due to anxiety.
Good to Know: Since they’re prey to some animals, birds instinctively hide illnesses, so it’s important to keep up routine medical checkups. Finding an avian vet can be difficult in some regions.
Stats: Average life span: Depending on species, 18 months to 10 years or more.
Traits: Fish are a great first pet, if you’re looking to test the waters (heh, heh). They usually require feeding only once a day, so kids as young as five can handle them. Also, they present no allergy issues.
Good to Know: Tanks generally require a deep-cleaning (a grown-up job) at least every two weeks. Many species can live in the same tank. Betta fish, however,need separate homes or they will fight (and may even kill) one another.
Stats: Average size: about 5 inches long
Average Life Span: 2 to 3 years
Traits: Hamsters are low-cost and relatively self-sufficient. They are also notoriously crabby and even bite on occasion, so you may need a look-but-don’t-touch policy with little ones.
Good to Know: They are nocturnal. If the cage is in your kid’s room, late-night wheel runs could disturb his sleep.
Stats: Average size: 2 pounds
Average Life Span: 5 to 8 years
Traits: Energetic and cuddly (they make a catlike purring sound when petted), guinea pigs are also hardier than their hamster cousins. They rarely bite but will chew on power cords and other objects if left out of the cage unsupervised.
Good to Know: Guinea pigs jump up in the air when they’re excited.
TURTLES, LIZARDS, AND SNAKES
Stats: Average life span: Varies widely, from 12 years (for a bearded dragon) to 80 years (for a Russian tortoise)
Traits: They’re hypoallergenic and generally need little maintenance, aside from a weekly cage cleaning. Some, like snakes, need to be fed only once a week. Reptiles, however, are known carriers of salmonella, so you need to be a stickler about hand washing after handling, especially with kids under five, who are most susceptible.
Good to Know: Pros recommend the bearded dragon lizard for its calm temperament and willingness to be held. Their go-to pet snake is the corn snake, which has beautiful coloring and is usually captive-bred (meaning it’s not taken from the wild, disrupting an ecosystem). But be prepared: A corn snake starts off worm-sized but can grow to six feet. Top turtle pick: the Russian tortoise, which is OK with being handled by curious kids. It starts off the size of a silver dollar and can grow to nearly a foot in length.
Stats: Average size: 5 pounds
Average Life Span: 8 years
Traits: Bunnies are fairly social and intelligent. They can be trained to use a litter box and taught tricks. They will also gnaw anything in their paths—wires, baseboards. And they’re messy: To be frank, rabbits are poop machines. Daily cleaning and bedding changes are a must.
Good to Know: Rabbits are herbivores (they eat fresh vegetables and hay pellets) and need to be handled with care. They can be injured trying to escape a little one’s hug or squeeze.
THE ANIMAL EXPERTS
- Mikkel Becker, Seattle-based certified animal trainer for vetstreet.com.
- 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 Adopt-a-Pet.com 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.>