Posted: Jan 10, 2014 6:00 AM
Maybe your home is currently pet-free or maybe your kids just want to add another friend to your overflowing menagerie. With all the opinions about what to buy, the pet store can be overwhelming. Check out our pet breakdown to discover if you're a dog person or a cat person — or maybe something else entirely.

pet dog

Dogs — a family's best friend?

There's something magical about kids and puppies. Those oversized feet are almost too cute to pass up, but there are many considerations to bringing a dog into the family.


  • Dogs can be trained, both toilet-trained and behavior-trained, either by you or by a professional.
  • Many breeds are social, loyal and interactive pets that quickly become a part of the family.
  • They can help keep families active through walks and playing, even in inclement weather.
  • Dog breeds are well-documented, and families can talk together about finding the right fit for their needs in terms of activity, shedding and size.


  • Their lifespans can seem long before you have a dog, but losing a pet that's such an integral part of the family can be devastating even after 10 to 20 years.
  • Dogs require daily care and interaction, meaning they need to be accounted for with a pet sitter or boarding kennel during family absences.
  • Training a puppy can seem overwhelming with young children or even with older children who participate in several extracurricular activities — though training can be minimal if an older dog is adopted from another family or a shelter.
  • Even "hypo-allergenic" breeds can be an issue for some allergic children.

pet iguana

The closest you can get to a pet dinosaur

Children may dream about a pet dinosaur, but house sizes and silly concepts like extinction mean those dreams will always remain unfulfilled. Bringing home a reptile might fill the void in a dinosaur-loving child's heart.


  • Reptiles, especially small ones, are inexpensive.
  • Once a terrarium is established, there is little cost or maintenance involved.
  • Their movements can be visually interesting for children to watch.


  • Even relatively tame reptiles can bite when nervous or agitated, and the bite of a larger reptile can be painful.
  • Certain reptiles require live feedings, which can be either fascinating or scary for children.
  • Reptiles can carry salmonella that has the potential to cause upset stomachs in humans.


Add a fish to your family

Fish are a low-maintenance pet and can be a wonderful way to begin to teach kids about acting as responsible pet owners. Choosing a simple goldfish or beta fish involves much less planning and upkeep than an aquarium filled with colorful fish.


  • Care is minimal, though an aquarium will require monitoring by an adult.
  • Once an aquarium is set up, the cost to maintain it is relatively low.
  • Feeding can be done by children.
  • Watching fish can be relaxing.
  • Allergies and injuries aren't an issue.


  • Fish don't have long lifespans, which can be difficult for some children.
  • Child and pet interaction is very minimal.
  • If something harmful happens in a large aquarium, you can lose all of your fish at once.


Mice, hamsters and guinea pigs, oh my!

Libraries, classrooms and community centers often choose pets like hamsters for their child-friendly spaces. These small pets might be just the thing for a family not yet willing to commit to a pet with a lot of upkeep.


  • Even guinea pigs, the largest animal in this pet group, can comfortably live in a small cage on a bookshelf or small table.
  • Simple toys, like wheels or empty toilet paper rolls, can keep them entertained — which can keep kids entertained.
  • Their only real needs are food, water and simple maintenance of their cage material.


  • Their lifespans are quite short.
  • When anxious or provoked, they can bite.
  • Their small bodies and quick feet mean they can escape from too-large cages and too-small hands with ease.

pet cat

Decide if a cat is right for your family

While there's a tendency to think of cats as standoffish pets, they can be surprisingly affectionate in many households. Families that are unsure about the time commitment of a dog may find exactly what they need in a pet cat.


  • Cats are low maintenance — they can be fed and given water once a day and don't need walking.
  • Cats have a longer lifespan than most dogs, which means they can see children through their entire childhood.
  • Apartments, condos and houses without access to a large yard are all fine for cats.
  • Simple toys like feathers on a string can keep a cat interested for long periods of time.


  • Litter boxes must be cleaned and emptied, which definitely shouldn't be done by pregnant women.
  • The majority of cats shed, so vacuuming and dusting are important in a house with cats.
  • You'll need to decide if your cat will be an indoor or partially outdoor cat, and you may need to decide about declawing.
  • Children can be allergic to a cat's dander.

pet rabbits

Tips for bringing home a pet rabbit

Bunnies seem cute, cuddly and quiet — which sounds like a dream pet in a house filled with kid noise. Like any animals, keeping a rabbit as a pet has its advantages and disadvantages.


  • Rabbits can be litter trained.
  • Their nutritional needs are easily met.
  • They're small in size, even with their cages.
  • Rabbits can be kept indoors or outdoors, with proper planning.


  • Rabbits are stubborn, so training can take patience.
  • Litter boxes and cages must be cleaned on a regular basis to keep your home — and theirs — odor free.
  • They are natural chewers, which means rabbit-proofing for indoor rabbits unless you want your cords and carpets chewed.


Think outside the box with chickens

Chickens are the type of pet that bring another tangible benefit to a household. Keeping hens at home means fresh eggs! Before deciding to pick up a couple cuddly chicks, check with your city ordinances to be sure raising chickens is permitted in your area.


  • Hens produce fresh eggs that can be eaten, sold or shared with neighbors.
  • They are social birds that can be entertaining to watch.
  • Droppings can be used for composting and fertilizer.
  • You can feed them table scraps — a double pro, since it's good for their nutrition and to reduce food waste.


  • Safety may dictate that you need to bring your hens inside at night.
  • Colder climates can require more expensive, insulated coops.
  • Coop material needs to be replaced on a regular basis.

More about family pets

10 Best dog breeds for families
How to cope when a family pet dies
How a goldfish can make a difference