This column recently featured a series of articles on adopting and choosing a pet. This companion article features a quick overview of a few of the more common types of pets.
Tend to enjoy interactive play, can be litter-trained, can be left alone at home, but are also often quite social. Kittens (and adult cats) can be destructive when bored or unsupervised, and need to be taught appropriate house manners. Keeping cats outdoors, or allowing them a combination of indoor and outdoor living, is an option, but there are risks involved, not the least of which is the danger posed by coyotes. Generally live between 15 and 20 years.
Highly social animals that require regular human interaction. Most breeds are not well-suited to living in the yard and should be kept as house pets. Require regular walks, although they can be trained to use artificial turf or “pee pads” indoors or in a yard. Puppies (and adult dogs) can be destructive when bored or unsupervised, and must be taught appropriate house manners. Need obedience training to fit in well with the typical family. Generally live between 6 and 13 years, depending on the breed (smaller breeds tend to live longer, as a general rule).
Generally require a heat lamp. Some species can live in a large aquarium in the house, while others (such as tortoises) do well roaming free. Tend to get sick somewhat easily. May carry salmonella. May not be legal where you live. Lifespans vary considerably by species.
Gerbils, hamsters, mice, rats
Can be kept in an aquarium or similar container. May bite if handled roughly. Since they are so small, must be handled gently. Rats in particular are quite intelligent and like to interact and learn new things. Mice generally live 1 to 2 years, while gerbils, hamsters, and rats generally live 2 to 3 years.
Guinea pigs, rabbits
Can be kept in a large cage or pen, but should also be given time to play and roam outside their living area daily. Require hay as a regular part of their diet. Rabbits in particular tend to chew on many things, including electrical cords, so it’s important to bunny-proof areas they use. Guinea pigs need their nails trimmed on a regular basis. Rabbits are easy to injure if picked up incorrectly or handled roughly, so they are not the ideal pet for young children. Guinea pigs generally live 4 to 7 years, while rabbits live about 10 years when housed indoors.
Generally live outdoors or in stables or barns (though there are house horses, too). Require a great deal of food and water daily. Require regular exercise and training. Can be ridden, worked in harness, and even taught to perform complex behaviors at a distance from handlers. Equipping, training, and housing a horse can be quite expensive. Generally live 20 to 30 years.
Different species have different needs, but some varieties have very long lives and get bored easily, so investigate their mental needs before you adopt. Get sick relatively easily. Some species do well living in a cage, but many enjoy time outside the cage as well. Lifespans vary considerably by species. NOTE: Chickens are legal in Los Angeles as long as they are kept a certain distance from the surrounding houses, but other areas have their own restrictions. Check local statutes.
Not legal in some areas, including the State of California. Active and busy when awake, sleep a good deal of the time. Can be housed in a ferret-proof room or large cage, but should be let out at least twice a day to explore and interact with the family. Intelligent and curious about their environment. Can be destructive, but also highly entertaining. Generally live 7 to 10 years.
Do well in an appropriately-sized aquarium with the right kind of water. Highly prone to disease, compared with most other animals. Depending on the type of fish, can be relatively inexpensive pets, but a salt-water aquarium is expensive to maintain. Do not require much human interaction, though many species of fish can be trained. Lifespans vary considerably by species.
Again, the above is just a quick overview of some of the more common pets. Make sure to do extensive research before you decide on a pet for your household. The more information you get, the more likely you are to find the right pet for your needs.
A final note: Most animals enjoy clicker training (check out articles on training different species at Karen Pryor Clicker Training). While certain animals can handle more complex tasks than others, almost all animals are happier when they get regular interaction and mental exercise, both of which are provided by clicker training.