STEP 2: DECIDING WHAT TYPE OF PET TO ADOPT
From the questions above, you may have an idea of what pet will work best for you and your current situation. Use the information below to help you narrow down your options for the best fit for you by considering the following categories: Lifestyle, Physical Demand, Temperament, Size, Lifespan
Lifestyle: Consider how an animal would fit into your daily routine and current schedule. Below are general descriptions of what to expect with different types of pets.
Dogs- Most dogs eat 2-3 times a day, however some dogs have to eat smaller more frequent meals throughout the day to avoid serious stomach and digestive issues (this is common for great danes and greyhounds). Adults days are often okay being in a kennel or indoors for an 8-9 hour period while you are at work without having to be let out for the bathroom. However, most dogs benefit from being let out every 4-6 hours; puppies often need to be let out every 2 hours while potty training. Dogs need daily exercise as well. Most people get this exercise through walking their dog every day. However, trips to the dog park or doggy day cares, playing fetch, and playing actively with your dog (i.e tug-of-war) can also be great ways to get exercise. Long haired dogs may require daily grooming.
Cats- Cats can be fed on a variety of schedules depending on the cat and their eating habits. Some cats can have a large amount of food put out and graze over a few days. However, some cats cannot portion control on their own (I’m sure we can all relate) and will need to be fed 1-3 times per day. Litterboxes will need to be cleaned daily or every other day depending on how often your cat(s) go and how many boxes you have. Most people need to completely change out cat litter every 2 weeks- a month. Cats need daily bonding and exercise. Cheap wand toys are a great way to bond with your cat and get exercise in. There are also many cat “enrichment” toys available at pet stores and online. Some cats will need prompting to exercise (again I’m sure we can all relate) and others may be more active on their own requiring less effort on your part. Longer hair cats may require daily grooming.
Small mammals- Many small mammals can be fed every 2-3 days by putting a larger amount of food in their cage. If they become overweight, their feeding schedule would have to become more strict and daily. Small mammals often enjoy quality time with their owners and chances to play outside their cage. Most cages will need to be cleaned every 3-7 days depending on their size and amount of animals.
Birds- Different types of birds require different daily demands. However, many birds can be fed every couple days if enough food is put out. Cages can be cleaned every 3-7 days depending on the cage size and number of birds as well. Having toys and entertainment for them in their cages will decrease the need for daily interaction, although daily bonding exercises are recommended.
Reptiles/amphibians- Each type of reptile and amphibian has a different feeding schedule so it is important to find one that fits your lifestyle. Some need daily feedings while others may only eat a couple times a month. It is also important to know what types of food you are comfortable handling. Some can survive on pellets and veggies, while others need live food (i.e. crickets, mice), and others will eat frozen food (mice, rats, etc.). Reptiles and some amphibians enjoy getting to explore outside of their cages, however they would not need daily exercise and handling if their cages were properly set up for their needs.
Fish- Daily schedules rely heavily on the type of fish you get. If you get fish that can live on fish flakes, a daily or twice daily feeding would be required. However, this could be made even easier with an automatic feeder. Automatic feeders can hold up to a month of food (depending on the amount of fish) and be pre-programmed to feed your fish 1-3 times a day at set times. Some fish require live or frozen food and may need to be fed daily or every other day. With a proper tank set-up outside of direct sunlight with a filter, tank cleanings and water changes should only have to occur every 2-6 weeks (this will greatly depend on the amount of waste your fish produce and the amount of algae in your tank). Adding algae eaters (plecos, shrimp, snails) will also help decrease the amount of cleaning in your tank. Fish also need changing in lighting as people do. Bright, white LED lights cannot be on 24 hours a day, they either need to be turned off for at least 12 hours or switched to blue light. Some fish have specific lighting they prefer too to decrease stress. Lighting can often be put on a timer, or aquarium lights can be kept off if operating the lights daily is difficult. Lights are often for our own viewing so most fish will do well if aquarium lights are not used.
Physical demand- Physical demand is the amount of effort you will need to put in to pet care for your pet. This includes exercise, handling your pet, the amount of bending involved, and daily commitment.
Dogs- Dogs have a high physical demand. They require exercise, daily feedings, and grooming. Dogs can also be heavy and there may be moments you have to assist them or they may pull as you are walking them. Dogs also may jump or want to be on your lap. Some of this physical demand can be limited through strategies, equipment, and obedience training, but physical demand will still be higher than many other animals. Pet food bags for dogs can also be quite heavy and difficult to transport and even potty-trained dogs will have messes and accidents on the floor at times. See See our strategies and equipment section for recommendations on how to lighten the physical demand of dog care.
Cats- Cats themselves are often lightweight but may weigh as much as 20ibs. Cat litter is often quite heavy even if it is “lightweight”. Lightweight litters are often 10-15 pounds, natural litters can be found at 5-8 ibs a bag as well and regular litters can be 25-50ibs a package. Cat food bags can also be heavy when purchased in large quantities. Litterbox cleaning and feeding of cats requires bending if litterboxes and food dishes are on the floor which can be physically demanding. There are ways to alleviate physical demand, but things like cat litter and feeding will need to be planned for. See our strategies and equipment section for recommendations.
Small mammals- Small mammals require physical demands with their cages. Cages will need to be cleaned well and have weekly bedding changes which may require bending and lifting depending on your set-up. Having the cage set up at a comfortable height will make pet care tasks easier and less demanding. If you want your animal to have time outside of the cage, consider your ability to catch and pick up a small animal from your floor or designated play area.
Reptiles/ amphibians- Reptiles and amphibians require physical demands with their cages. Cages will need to be cleaned well and have weekly bedding changes which may require bending and lifting depending on your set-up. Amphibians will also require regular water changes and cleaning. Having the cage set up at a comfortable height will make pet care tasks easier and less demanding. If you want your reptile to have time outside of the cage, consider your ability to catch and pick it up from your floor or designated play area. Some reptiles and amphibians can be quite heavy as they mature and grow or hard to grasp.
Birds- Cleaning and using bird cages will be the most physically demanding aspect of bird ownership for most people. Bird cages may have intricate doors with sliding latches and doors to help prevent the bird from escaping as you put food and bedding supplies in and clean the cage. This requires coordination and fine finger movements. Cleaning the cage without the bird getting out may be difficult as well. Many bird owners let their birds out of their cages, this is an option if you are able to carry, handle, and catch the bird.
Fish- Fish tank cleaning may require some bending and maneuvering depending on your set up. Large tanks may require you to stand on a stool in order to clean the aquarium properly. Make sure the aquarium you choose is at a height and location that is feasible for you to clean. Aquariums also require regular water changes. This means 10-20% of the water will need to be siphoned out and new water will need to be added in. If you have a large aquarium, this water changing can become quite heavy or require many trips to dump and refill water using buckets depending on your home set-up. Think about how much water transport would be required for each water change before settling on the right tank for you (i.e. a 100 gallon tank would mean at least 10 gallons would need to be disposed of and 10 gallons would then need to be replaced every 2-4 weeks).
Temperament- Temperament is a term that means an animal's personality and general behaviors. While temperament will vary across individual animals, certain breeds and types of animals have general temperament descriptions that will help you narrow your search
Dogs- While every dog is different, looking at different breeds can be a helpful way to start your dog search. Some breeds in general tend to be more active, playful, or require more stimulus. Also, some breeds have different physical needs, for example, a pug cannot go for long walks but a lab would require them. We recommend looking at breeds to narrow down the qualities in a dog that work best for you and then looking for dogs with those qualities (not just the specific breed).
Cats- While there is a stereotype that cats are independent and lazy, that is not true for many cats. Some cats are very needy and cuddly, others run and play all day, and others may stay in the same spot sleeping all day. We recommend really considering cat personality and what will work best for you before selecting your cat.
Small mammals- Some small mammals are known to bond differently to people than others. Many claim that larger small mammals like rabbits, rats, and ginea pigs have more distinct personalities and temperaments and build more of a relationship with their owners than smaller ones like mice and hamsters. Looking up types of small mammals you are interested in and their temperaments may help you decide which is the best fit for you.
Reptiles and amphibians- Researching types of amphibians and reptiles will greatly help you find one with a temperament that is right for you. Some types are known for being more gentle, aggressive, shy, or outgoing. For example, bearded dragons and axolotls are generally very gentle and many people train them to do tricks or eat out of their hands. However, snapping turtles are very aggressive and can cause injuries if not handed appropriately. Some temperaments change with age which is important to know as reptiles and amphibians can be purchased at many ages and often live a long time.
Birds- Temperament varies between types of birds. Some birds are known to be friendly while others may be more aggressive. Birds have distinct personalities so it is helpful to meet and interact with birds before making a selection, especially birds that are known for their intelligence (i.e. parrots). It is also useful to know which birds need daily bonding, need intelligence promoting activities, and are happiest living with other birds. Some birds can also be trained to come on command, perform tricks, and learn to speak. This website is a great first resource when planning for which bird to select: https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/Selecting-a-Pet-Bird.aspx
Fish- Fish do have different temperaments and personalities across types. For example, there are community and there are aggressive fish. Knowing the types is very important for having a safe and healthy tank. You wouldn’t want to mix many aggressive fish or put a large aggressive fish in a community tank. Also, some fish need to be the only fish in a tank, while others require a minimum amount of tank mates. Some fish can also be trained to eat out of your hand, perform tricks, and learn schedules. Researching types of fish and the qualities you are looking for will help you find the best aquatic friend for you.
Size- Size is an important consideration with any type of animal you choose to adopt. Their size will greatly effect their pet care needs and your ability to perform them safely.
Dogs- Size of dogs is a big decision to make. Larger dogs can pull more during walks and be difficult to lift when needed. However, large dogs can also use elevated food and water dishes and are at a higher height for petting, grooming, and putting on collars and leashes. Many people we interviewed who use wheelchairs said that they prefer larger dogs because it is easier for them to preform their cares, interact with their dogs, and there is less worry about hurting them with the chair. Smaller dogs also have their benefits, they are lighter, require less food and water, and will not be able to pull as strongly as large and medium sized dogs. However, they can be a tripping hazard, and be difficult to pick up from the floor if needed.
Cats- Cats size generally is based on weight and their own genes. However, there are breeds of cats that tend to be quite large (Maine Coons, Savannahs) and there are munchkin cats that are bread to be short. Munchkin cats may have difficulty jumping and reaching higher heights if you wish to place food, water, and litterboxes at higher heights to decrease your physical needs. Adopting a cat that is over a two years old will give you the best indicator of what their adult size will be if size is a factor for you.
Small mammals- Small mammals come in a variety of sizes, from small mice to large rabbits. Knowing which size is easiest for you to handle will be helpful in selecting the right pet for you. If you want the animal to run outside of its cage at times, consider what you could pick up from the floor when needed. Could you pick up a small hamster? A skinny ferret? A fluffy bunny or chinchilla? Spending time at a pet store or animal rescue with small mammals and asking to interact with them may be helpful in making your decision. Keep in mind that the larger the animal, the larger the cage.
Reptiles and amphibians- Size is critical to consider for this animal group because they can become very large. Some species of snakes can be as long as 20 feet long and over 350 pounds. Some species of tortoise can weigh over 100 pounds. As reptiles and amphibians grow, they may need to go up in cage/aquarium sizes as well and different supplies, meaning more cleaning for you and larger amounts of food. Planning for the adult size of the reptile/amphibian you plan to adopt initially will save you work in the long run. Having an adult sized cage will also help you develop cleaning strategies before the animal produces more waste.
Birds- Birds vary largely in size across species. Smaller birds are lighter in weight but may be more difficult to catch if they are out of their cage. Larger birds will be heavier, but can also cause larger injuries if they are aggressive. Consider the size of the bird you are most comfortable handling and then really consider the temperament that will fit best for you within that size.
Fish- When planning an aquarium, one must consider the amount of gallons of water each fish needs in their adult size. Some fish become quite large and may need over a 100 gallons for them while some need 2 gallons. Some fish depending on their size may need a long tank while others need a high tank. Researching and planning your aquarium based on the size of aquarium you can handle and type of fish you want will be critical in keeping fish healthy and happy. For example, if you decide a 20 gallon tank is what you handle and that you want guppies, a snail, and rainbow fish: you can have 1 guppy for every 2 gallons of water, one snail needs 1 gallon of water, and each rainbow fish needs 30 gallons of water and they do best with at least one other rainbow fish. You would have to decide if you could live without rainbow fish or if you could handle a larger tank. In your 20 gallon tank you could have 9 guppies and a snail. If you went to a 60 gallon tank, you could have two rainbow fish. If you have a 100 gallon tank, you could have 3 rainbow fish, 4 guppies, and a snail. A great website for determining each fish’s needs is:
Lifespan- Planning for an animals lifespan, your ability to care for it during its entire lifespan, and your ability to handle their passing and aging is an essential part of pet selection and planning.
Dogs- Larger dogs often have shorter lifespans than smaller dogs. Many large dogs have an average lifespan around 10 years old but may live to be close to 20. Smaller dogs average at about 15-20 years of age. Older dogs often require a lot of care as they may start to have vision problems, arthritis, hip dysplasia, and trouble controlling their bladder and stools.
Cats- Healthy cats often live to be around 20 years old. As cats get older, they may have arthritis, trouble using the litterbox, vision problems, and kidney issues. .
Small mammals- Small mammals have various lifespans depending on type. Average lifespans over range from 3-20 years across popular small mammal pet types. They can have various problems as they age so it is important to know if you plan to use a small animal vet for your animal as they may be difficult to find in your area.
Reptiles/amphibians- Reptiles and amphibians have a huge range for lifespans across types. Some live a couple of years while others may live for 50-100+ years. Having a plan for a long-living reptile/amphibian is important for planning for your prospective pet. Having a will that dictates a rescue or family member or friend who will care for your animal and specifies their care routine will help for an easier transition for your animal if it outlives you.
Bird- Bird lifespans also have a large range across types. Generally, the smaller the bird, the shorter the lifespan. Common varieties of pet birds lifespans can range from 6 years to over 100.
Fish- Fish have various lifespans across types. Some species live less than a year, while others can live for over a decade with proper care. If coping with death is especially difficult for you, I would recommend staying away from the cheap goldfish at pet stores that are labeled as “feeding fish.” This fish may only live for a short time. Shopping at a fish store that has obviously clean tanks and workers that have clear fish knowledge will be your best option for healthy fish. Researching types and lifespans of fish that you are interested in will help as well. Making sure you plan your aquarium with compatible fish is also essential. Mixing too many aggressive fish or small fish with large fish will often lead to fish injuries and death.