In the United States, 70 percent of households have pets – more households have pets than have children. In our culture pets seem to speak more to a need than a want, and all the debate over whether or not they are a good idea doesn’t really seem to matter when we come home to that wagging tail and happy bark. Or meow. Or squeak.
The most common pet, currently in 39 percent of US households is—surprise!—the dog. There are almost 80 million pet dogs in the United States.
Dogs have been part of our lives since we depended on them to help us survive as early hunter-gatherers. One of the things that made us such a unique species, along with our big brains and opposable thumbs, was our ability to domesticate other species. (I personally have an addiction to golden retrievers. I currently have five. Yes, they shed a lot.)
Following closely behind canines at 33 percent of US households and 86 million total are cats. Fewer households have one, but those that do tend to have more than one. After cats come rodents (hamsters and guinea pigs), lagomorphs (rabbits), birds (canaries, parakeets), reptiles (snakes and lizards), fish, and frogs.
How do you choose what type of pet to get?
Your children will be happy to choose for you. They probably already have one in mind.
Some general issues when choosing a pet:
- Consider the age and maturity of your children. In general, a two- or three-year-old will be too aggressive for a pet. They tend to grab and hit rather than snuggle. We
in pediatrics generally say that the best age for children to get a sibling is at about four. The same probably applies to a pet. It is possible to teach four-year-olds to be gentle, and they are able to help with feeding and grooming (of the pet, not the sibling).
- If young children desperately want a personal pet consider a pocket pet, such as a hamster or a frog. Small, short-lived pets have less of a personal connection and are a better idea if your children are less responsible than you would like. A dead frog is very sad, but not as heartbreaking as a dead dog.
- Consider your living environment. A small condo is not a great place for an energetic border collie, but a hamster is (mostly) self-contained.
- If a family member is allergic, a cat is not a good idea. Fish might be good.
- If you move frequently or travel often, it will impact on your decision.
- Cost is a huge issue. The average lifetime cost of having a dog is between seven and thirteen thousand dollars; cats cost between eight and eleven thousand dollars over their lifetimes.
Still thinking about getting a pet after that appalling total lifetime cost? Money magazine wrote that the lifetime cost of a human child is around $241 thousand. See? A dog is a bargain!
Come back next week for info on allergies and the illnesses that pets can carry!