Know the lifestyle differences between dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, and even exotic animals.
Credit: Dan Burn-Forti

Animals are one of the greatest joys to have in our lives. These animals-our pets-become members of our families as they should. Whether we choose to adopt a cat, dog, rabbit, fish, bird, hamster, or guinea pig, knowing that we provide that animal with the best care that it needs is an important aspect of being a pet caretaker. But it's also about the individual animal. "No matter where they live, where they come from, or where you find them, every animal-even animals within a specific breed-have individual personalities and dispositions," says Kelly DiCicco, manager of adoptions promotions with the ASPCA Adoption Center. Different species of animals, of course, have different care requirements. Learn what level of care your pet needs to live a healthy and happy life. This lack of understanding is often one of the reasons why people will also return them back to the shelters.

"When adopting from a shelter, you often have the opportunity to learn more about the animal you are considering bringing home, including their background, energy level, and how they might get along with other pets," says DiCicco. "Your personality and lifestyle, along with the amount of time spent at home, should be considered to determine the pet that is right for your household."

Questions to Ask Yourself

The first step in deciding if a dog, cat, rabbit, fish, bird, hamster, or guinea pig is the right pet for you involves asking yourself a series of questions, and this should be done long before you visit the shelter. "What is my lifestyle?"If you are rarely home, then choosing a dog that needs lots of attention and daily walks would not be a good idea. Your cat can handle herself for eight to 10 hours a day as long as you provided enough food and water to tide her over until you get home. "What is a good match for my personality?"Maybe you are an extrovert. Dogs make great pets for extroverts because they tend to be rather outgoing themselves, and also you can meet lots of people on your daily walks. Those of us who like quiet time may choose to live with a cat or a rabbit, who show affection in a much quieter way in comparison. Fish also make great quieter pets.

"Do I have any allergies?"Does fur make you sneeze? Do you break out in hives from animal dander? Then furry animals like dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs might not work for you. Of course, it also depends on your allergy and how severe it is. "What is the level of care that I can handle?"Each type of pet has different needs and ways to accomplish their care. Dogs, for example, have different requirements than cats and rabbits, and they need to go on regular walks. But cats, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs need litter box and cage changes on a regular basis. (No one enjoys cleaning the litter box, but we do it because we love our feline friends.)

Choosing a pet is not always as simple as checking off a few mental boxes. Maybe you think that a dog would make a perfect pet for you, but it turns out that a rabbit or a bird is your animal soulmate. "We encourage potential adopters to keep an open mind and heart when adopting because you may fall in love with a pet you'd never considered before," says DiCicco. "Many shelters, including the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City, note the personality traits of dogs, cats, or other animals in their care and inform potential adopters of these characteristics. Don't forget to ask plenty of questions about the animal's energy levels and habits before making a commitment to find a match that best fits your personality and lifestyle."

What to Know About Dogs

Choosing a dog starts with considering a breed that will suit your home and lifestyle. Research the breed's general temperament, as they can differ wildly. Some dogs are calm and content to sit at your feet all day while others can be bold and boisterous. Size should factor in as well: A large dog will need plenty of space and more food than a small one. Daily exercise is essential for dogs and without it, you often run the risk of your dog displaying boredom behaviors such as digging, howling, and escaping from the yard. Other care requirements to consider: registering with a license, training them to obey your commands, taking them out on walks, and providing the proper food, grooming, and veterinarian care.

What to Know About Cats

Cats make wonderful family pets-they each have a distinct personality and are often affectionate and happy to be handled. The joy a kitten brings to your household is infectious, and they are fairly low-maintenance pets once they're fully grown. When choosing the right cat for you, consider the breed carefully-some breeds are known to be more affectionate than others. Cats can seem more aloof than dogs, but that doesn't mean they never show affection. You'll need enough litter boxes for the number of cats you have, toys to keep them occupied, proper food, and scratching posts for their natural scratching behaviors.

What to Know About Birds

If you're keen on having a pet bird, choose carefully-some are more suited to human companions than others. Budgies are a popular choice because they can be quite affectionate and enjoy handling while cockatiels can be trained to talk and even perform tricks. Keep your bird's cage clean with food and water bowls replenished daily. The cage should suit your birds' adult size-they need to be able to flap their wings without touching the sides of the cage. And if we are talking about pet chickens, there are even more requirements involved like a large enough backyard coop.

What to Know About Fish

While fish won't be able to cuddle with you or greet you at the door, you can enjoy how beautiful they look as they swim in their tank and they require minimal supervision. Care requirements vary depending on the type of fish, but depend on two important tasks: the tank will need regular cleaning and water quality maintenance, and supervision with food because they don't know when to stop eating. As some fish are predatory towards others, it's important to speak to the pet store to ensure that they will cohabitate peacefully.

What to Know About Rabbits

Rabbits can be quite affectionate and intelligent. These sweet, little animals need access to a litter box, plus a hay manger, food bowl, and water bottle. Bedding should be made of non-toxic materials like aspen-wood or recycled newspaper. Always need to supervise your rabbit if you let her loose inside the home-they love to chew through electrical cables and find dark hideaways under beds and in cupboards. Rabbits are sociable creatures and will thrive when they have a companion rabbit rather than living alone. (Just be sure to get both males or both females, or you know what comes next.)

What to Know About Hamsters and Guinea Pigs

Hamsters and guinea pigs are small animals-great for older children, happy to be handled if they've been socialized from a young age and love to be snuggled gently. Both animals need cages and bedding with proper access to food and clean water. And like most pets, they also need toys and accessories-like wheels, chew toys, and tunnels-to stimulate their minds. Guinea pigs need to be kept in a roomy cage that is cleaned daily. Otherwise, they are a fantastic low-maintenance pet that don't make much mess or eat a great deal, so they make a wonderful first pet for children.


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