The Best Pet for You and Your Home

published May 24, 2022
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Couple on white sofa with 2 shaved persian cats and one dog. White decor, large plant and window
Credit: Marisa Vitale

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Pets can add so much joy to a home — but with any living creature comes some amount of responsibility. No matter which animal you pick, you’ll need to devote time and energy to caring for it. 

Once you decide you’re ready — like, really ready — to welcome a pet into your home, you have to choose what kind. Of course, your preference plays a big role in the decision, but you should also consider certain aspects about your space and lifestyle. You and your furry (or feathery or finned) friend will be so much happier if you ponder the following factors before taking the leap. 

How Much Time You Spend at Home 

If you work outside of your home or have a busy schedule, think hard about whether you’ll have enough margin to care for a pet. At minimum, you should be around enough to feed a pet and ensure your home environment is safe. 

Some animals undoubtedly need more than the bare minimum. According to veterinarian and behaviorist Dr. Paola Cuevas of Pet Keen, dogs need more company and attention — after all, they’re pack animals. 

But not all dogs are created equal. “It is a known fact that the bigger the dog you get, the more time and work they will require from you,” says veterinarian Dr. Lindsay Butzer, a PetMeds partner. 

Extra-large dogs, like mastiffs, are rather sedentary and spend most of their days lounging around, so Moreno says they may not need as much exercise or entertainment. On the other hand, active, large breeds, like German shepherds, vizslas, and dalmatians, must have lots of activity (think: a few miles of walking or running a day). 

Stockier dogs, such as bulldogs or pugs, can tolerate less exercise because they tire easily, says Jay Springer, director of live animals and veterinary services at Pet Supplies Plus. Toy breeds, like Yorkies, dachshunds, Boston terriers, and Pomeranians, are generally low-maintenance and can often get by without as much exercise, as well.

Cats still need interaction to thrive, but they’re more independent; Butzer says they can be alone for several hours or up to one to two days. “The time you spend at home is important for owning a dog, but not as much for a cat,” says Butzer. “If you are alone and work long hours and want an animal companion, a cat might be right for you.”

Small animals, such as fish or reptiles, need less attention, too — but they still have to have someone to feed them and clean their habitats. 

All of this said: Any animal will need you to invest time in their care, so if you’re not ready for that, think twice. 

Credit: Andrew Bui

How Much Space You Have 

Next up: Study your actual space. There’s no hard-and-fast rule about what size home an animal needs to be happy and healthy, but your pet should have enough room for a space of its own — plus, if needed, room to run and play indoors and outdoors. 

Toy breeds (like the low-maintenance ones listed above) can thrive in apartments and small homes due to their own size, says Moreno, and lazy, XL dogs can be happy with less square footage, too (as long as they have enough space to sprawl).

Larger breeds with more energy definitely need more room inside the home, and don’t forget to also calculate space for a large crate. Active breeds also benefit from a fenced-in yard to run around in, especially if you don’t want to walk them several times a day. 

Cats do fine in homes of any size, as long as you’re intentional about creating vertical space for the cat to climb and explore. That’s when they feel safest, like they’re in a tree in the wild.

Your Budget

No matter how you spin it, animals cost money, and that goes beyond the potential initial cost of bringing a pet home. Dogs require pricier food, toys, vet visits, and grooming. Cats are generally a step down cost-wise, but they also need food, toys, and medical care. 

Even pets that don’t require lots of food or medical care — like fish or reptiles — can add to your utility bills due to their specialized habitats, says Springer. 

If you’re concerned about money, a low-maintenance pet — like a Betta fish in a bowl or a hamster —  might be best for you. 

Your Long-Term Goals 

As amazing as a pet sounds right now, it’s important to think about how they’ll fit into your future, because pets can live a long time. Cats can live 15 years, and so can some dog breeds. Birds and reptiles can live up to 20 years, according to Springer. If you intend to downsize, move somewhere you might not be able to bring a pet, or have kids in the coming years, take those things into consideration. 

Travel aspirations (or even the desire to see the world) don’t necessarily mean you can’t get a pet, but you should definitely have a plan in place for times you’re away, whether that’s enlisting a trusted loved one or using a boarding facility. If you hope to travel a lot, maybe think about a pet that won’t need pricey boarding, like a fish. 

Looking for a short-term investment? Consider fostering an animal or adopting a senior cat or dog. Many small animals, like hamsters, only live a year or two, so they can be a good companion if you’re not sure about your long-term whereabouts. 

Pet Alternatives 

Feeling like you’re not quite ready — or you’re just not yet positive you’re ready — for a pet for any of the reasons above, but still want to spend time with animals? Springer says there are a few things you can do in the meantime. 

One option is donating time to a local pet shelter. “There are lots of dogs and cats that can benefit from the added attention of a volunteer,” he says. 

You could also offer to help friends and family with their pets by walking or pet-sitting when they’re out of town, or sign up for a dog-sitting or dog-walking app. 

Or, foster through a rescue group and keep a pet in your home until they can be adopted. Spending time with an animal in your home, whether a foster or a friend’s pet you’re babysitting, can give you a better idea of whether you can handle full-time care.

“Pets are lives that depend on you to provide for their needs, and you should keep in mind that it involves a years-to-come compromise that will impact and change your life in many ways,” says Moreno. “It’s definitely worth it, but it does require planning, learning, expenses, time, and dedication.”