Which pet is right for me

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Taking on a pet is a big responsibility and shouldn't be done lightly. You need to consider costs, space needed, time available to look after the pet, and suitability to your family situation. See our separate page on "how much does a pet cost" to get an idea on how much you could be spending on a pet.

Should I get a dog?

Dogs, like small children, need time and attention. They like to be loved, and leaving them alone for long periods of time can be very upsetting. If you work long hours full-time, then a dog is probably not the pet for you at this stage in your career. If you have just had a new baby, or have very small children, again consider carefully about whether this is a good time to have another new family member. Have you a large house and garden that would suit a boisterous, energetic type of dog? Are you the sedentary type who lives in a small flat, where maybe a small lapdog would be ideal? Dogs can vary in size from the chipper Chihuahua to the stately St Bernard, and in energy levels from the sprightly Springer Spaniel to a placid Pekingese. Remember the needs of a crossbred may be more difficult to predict, but that they often have less medical problems. Your local library usually has plenty of books about different dog breeds, so it is worthwhile getting a selection to read about various dogs before you make up your mind.

PDSA estimates that a dog will need about 5 hours a day of your time and undivided attention. That would include routine 'maintenance' such as grooming, dental care and feeding, as well as play. A dog will need a minimum of a 30-60 minute walk twice each day.

Should I get a cat?

Cats are the most popular pets in this country; they are independent and curious, companionable and graceful. They each have their own personality and for many people they are the ideal pets.

Cats are very independent animals, and if you require unconditional devotion a dog would be more suitable. Different cat breeds can have different personalities as well. For example, Birmans are generally placid, yet Siamese can be very vocal indeed! It is worthwhile getting as much advice as you can about which breed will be best for you.

Cats also exercise themselves when they go out on their own, so they will suit an owner who maybe couldn't exercise a pet. Having a small baby around is also perhaps not the time to think about getting a new cat. If you have small children, make sure you get a calm cat that doesn't mind being pulled about. That's where it may be a good idea to get an older cat instead of a kitten.

Their small size and clean habits make them ideal pets for flat-dwellers. They can easily be trained to use a litter tray. However, due to their inquisitive nature they can knock over valuable ornaments. They also need to condition their claws, often using the most precious piece of furniture as a scratching post. Cats also have a tendency to jump from heights. Make sure that any balcony is enclosed, and upper level windows are always closed when the cat is indoors. Cars are also the commonest cause of cat deaths, so think about this if you live on a busy main road.

A cat will need less of your time and undivided attention than a dog will. Being independent animals they quite like to be left alone for most of the time, but enjoy fuss at feeding and in the evening. This stroking and attention also reduces stress in the owner! Cats also need routine 'maintenance' such as grooming, dental care and feeding, as well as play. Remember, a long-haired cat will need a lot more grooming than their short-haired cousins, so think carefully about the breed you finally decide to get. Think about getting two cats; they are good company for each other.

Should I get a rabbit?

Rabbits make excellent and friendly pets, but they can bite and scratch if nervous. They are now the third most popular pets in the country, after cats and dogs. They are very sociable animals, and need company. Rabbits can be aggressive, which can be reduced through neutering. Two un-neutered rabbits will fight if kept together, and a male and a female will produce lots of babies! There is never enough space for a rabbit, so make sure you have a large area it can use, or consider having a 'house rabbit'. Rabbits can be litter trained, but are very good at chewing through cables in the house! Rabbits need lots of food and exercise, as well as regular cleaning. They live for 8-12 years, and can reach sexual maturity between 16-24 weeks.

An adult rabbit weighs between 1-8kg, the weight varying according to the breed and sex.

Minimum acceptable hutch size for 2 small rabbits is 5ft(w) x 2ft(d) x 2ft(h) or equivalent with daytime access to a large secure run area (usable all year round) preferably no less than 6ft x 3ft x 2ft. Remember - bigger is always better!

PDSA estimates that a rabbit will need attention for about three hours a day. Look after your rabbit well, and it will reward you with hours of fun and companionship.

Should I get a guinea pig?

Guinea Pigs are cheap to buy and generally easy to keep. They are quiet, clean and very sociable animals. It is better to keep one guinea pig with another, rather than a rabbit, as their diets are quite different. Two males kept together will fight, and if you are thinking of keeping a male and female guinea pig together, it is best to get the male guinea pig neutered to avoid lots of babies! They live for 4-8 years, and can reach sexual maturity from 9 weeks old with males, and from as young as a month with females. An adult guinea pig weighs between 750-1,000g.

Minimum acceptable hutch sizes for 2 guinea pigs is 4ft(w) x 18in(D) X 18in(H), with daily access to a large secure run area no less than 4ft x 4ft x 18in. Bigger is much better! Guineas need to be able to lie down together in their bedding area.

PDSA estimates that a guinea pig will need at least half-an-hour's attention each day. Look after your guinea pig well, and it will reward you with hours of entertainment just by watching it and listening to it 'talking' to its guinea pig friends.

Should I get a Small Furry?

There are lots of "small furries" as we affectionately call this group of pets, and they have quite different characteristics and needs. They are often bought as first pets for children but unfortunately often become neglected as the child quickly bores of the new pet. Pick your pet carefully and make sure it is well handled - any pet that is not used to regular handling may be liable to bite! Below is a brief guide to the more common small furries - please read up on your chosen pet type before purchase in more detail. Cage sizes given are as a bare minimum. Pet Lifespan Weight Group size Cage size (minimum) Special requirements Additional notes

Hamster

Lifespan 2-3yrs, Weight 85-140g, Group Size 1, Cage Size (minimum) 75cm x 40cm x 40cm, Additional Notes Nocturnal, can bite.

Rat

Lifespan 2½-3½ yrs, Weight 225-500g, Group Size 2 or more, Cage Size (minimum) 70cmx 70cmx 44cm, Special Requirements Lots of play/handling, Additional Notes Affectionate, like to play. Rarely bite. Can be trained.

Chinchilla

Lifespan 8-10yrs - max max 18yrs, Weight 400-600g, Group Size 2 or family group, Cage Size (minimum) 70cmx 44cmx 70cm(h), Special Requirements Dust bath 3-4 times a week, Additional Notes Usually nocturnal, like quiet. Rarely bite. Shy,nervous.

Ferret

Lifespan 8-10yrs - max 15 years, Weight Av 600g (f), 1200g(m), Group Size 2 or more, Cage Size Large, Special Requirements Vaccination, spay females, lots of play time with owner, Additional Notes Smelly, like to play. Females can die if not spayed. Carnivorous.

Mouse

Lifespan 1½-2½ yrs, Weight 20-63g, Group Size 2, Cage Size (minimum) 75cm x 40cm x 40cm, Additional Notes Need careful handling.

Chipmunk

Lifespan 4-6yrs (up to 12yrs), Weight 70-120g, Group Size 1,2 or single sex group, Cage Size Very large, ideally aviary type, Special Requirements Stress easily - need very large cage, Additinal Notes Difficult to handle but great fun to watch. Diurnal.

Degu

Lifespan 6-7yrs, Group Size Pair or family group, Cage Size 100cm(l) x60cm(w) x60cm(h), Special Requirements Dust bath, multi level cage Additional Notes Large range of sounds!

Gerbil

Lifespan 3-4yrs Weight 70-120g, Group Size Single sex group, Cage Size (minimum) 75cm x 40cm x 40cm, Additional Notes Don't smell, diurnal, rarely bite.