Pet Perfection

What To Consider When Picking A Family Friend

By Mimi Greenwood Knight

Whenever my husband and I reminisce with our grown kids, it’s just a matter of time before the subject turns to family pets. There was McFly, the border collie who perfected an internal clock and knew precisely when “his kids” were due home each school day. Evangeline, the cat, left love offerings on the back stoop of headless moles and field mice. There was Mr. P the hedgehog, Princess Leia the duck-who-thought-she-was-a-dog, and Tyrone the Turkey, who chased no one in the family but me.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, U.S. households are home to nearly 90 million dogs, 94 million cats, and plenty of less-traditional pets such as fish, birds, rodents, and reptiles. But how do you know which pet will be the perfect match for your family?

Time and Space

Consider how much time you can devote to a pet. Dogs require a minimum of 30 minutes of care each day (an hour is better) for feeding, walking, and exercising. Cats only need about five minutes of feeding and cleaning their litter box, but plan to spend around 20 minutes a day playing with a kitty. And while a cat or small dog will usually be content in a small space, a large, athletic dog will be happier with a big yard and lots of space to run. You’ll also want to consider time for grooming requirements.


Look for a pet that enjoys human interaction. If your family is active, you’ll want an active pet to join in the fun. If your house tends to be chaotic, you’ll want one that isn’t stressed by noise and commotion. If you have small children, opt for a patient, gentle pet. If a family member is allergic, look for a hypoallergenic pet. Do your research to find a pet whose personality complements your family’s personality.

Feline or Fido?

If you’re a cat lover, you know how soothing and comforting a soft, warm, purring cat can be. Plus, they’re much easier, cleaner, and quieter than dogs. They require less space, are content to live indoors, are generally less expensive, keep critters at bay and keep themselves clean. Of course, if you’re a dog lover, none of this really matters.

Best Age

Children can learn invaluable lessons by caring for and loving a pet and receiving unconditional love in return. But if you don’t already have a pet, experts recommend waiting until your child is five or six before bringing a pet into the home. At that age, they can understand the boundaries of pet ownership. Explain that we don’t touch a dog or cat above their collar (eyes, nose, mouth), don’t tease them, and that they probably won’t want to be carried by a young child.  

The Cost

Any pet comes with a price tag. A good estimate for a healthy cat is about $150 per year in veterinary care, and for a healthy dog, between $300 and $400. Expect the cost to increase as they age, so consider pet health insurance to help defray medical expenses. Depending on their size, a dog will eat between $250 to $700 a year in high-quality dog food, while it will run around $326 annually per cat. Add to that boarding and grooming fees, if applicable.

According to the American Kennel Club, here are the best ten breeds to consider
for a family dog

  1. Labrador Retriever
  2. Bulldog
  3. Golden Retriever
  4. Beagle
  5. Pug
  6. Irish Setter
  7. Brussels Griffon
  8. Newfoundland
  9. French Bulldog
  10. Collie

Adopt, Don’t Shop

“Adopt, Don’t Shop” is a national campaign to raise awareness about the benefits of adopting rescue pets. When you adopt a pet from a rescue shelter:

  1. You’re Saving a Life
  2. You Can Find a Fully Trained Pet
  3. You’ll Know the Pet’s Personality
  4. You’ll Probably Spend a Lot Less
  5. You’ll Find a Variety of Choices

An estimated 30% of dogs in rescues are purebred. If you’re looking for a specific breed, find a breed-specific rescue near you or inquire whether local rescue centers have cooperative relationships with breed-specific centers elsewhere.

Pets teach children valuable life lessons about responsibility, trust, compassion, respect, loyalty, empathy, patience, and eventually bereavement. They create opportunities for exercise and socialization and can bring a family closer together. Now, get out there and find your family’s new best friend. 


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