What's the Right Pet for You?

Want More Info?

Check out these resoures for more pet information:
"Are You the Pet for Me?" by Mary Jane Checci, St. Martin's Paperbacks, 1999, $5.99.
American Animal Hospital Association
Animal Welfare League of Alexandria or 703-838-4774.
Animal Welfare League of Arlington or 703-931-9241.
Humane Society of the United States
Montgomery County Humane Society or 301-279-1823.
Prince Georges County Shelter or 301-499-8300.
Washington Humane Society or 202-723-5730.

Animal Census

Dogs: 39 million
Cats: 32 million
Fish: 9 million
Birds: 6 million
Small Mammals: 4 million

While more households have dogs, there are more pet cats than dogs in the United States, but it's close: There are 64,250,000 pet cats in the U.S. and 62,300,000 pet dogs.
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturing Association

Average Lifespan of Pets

Dogs: 10 years or more*
Cats: 14 years
Parakeets: 7 to 10 years
Hamsters: 2 to 3 years
Fish: 2 years or longer

(*Small dogs usually live longer)

Mary Jane Solomon
The Washington Post
May 10, 2000

Teddy bears and Beanie Babies may be cute and cuddly, but they won't lick your face, play games with you or entertain you for hours on end. For that, only a real, live animal will do.

If you are responsible and able to provide a safe and loving home, perhaps you're ready to get a pet.

But what kind? To help you choose the right pet for you, we've produced the handy-dandy interactive KidsPost Pet-O-Matic. When you reach the end, you'll find the type of animal that best fits you and information on what it's like, how to care for it and how much it costs.

Of course, you need to ask your parents first. And the main question you'll have to answer is this: Are you ready for the work involved in taking another living being into your house? "So many people take on an animal without giving it any thought," says Debbie Duel, who works at the Washington Humane Society. "There needs to be a whole lot of family thought."

Click Here to Start the KidsPost Pet-O-Matic!

WHY IT'S GOOD A dog will play with you and love you more than any pet we mention here.
WHY IT'S BAD It takes a lot of time and energy to care for one. Dogs bark. Some people are allergic.
NEEDS Dogs, especially large ones, need room to run around. Every day you'll need to: feed your dog twice, walk it at least once, and let it outside four or five times to poop or pee. Long-haired breeds need to be brushed regularly, and most dogs must be bathed every month or so. If you take a trip, you'll have to bring your dog along or board it at a kennel.
COST There's a wide price range, from a free mutt at an animal shelter to more than $500 for a purebred dog. You'll also need to buy a license, collar and leash, and take the dog to a vet for shots and spaying or neutering, so it can't have puppies. Annual cost: $225 to $1,150, depending on how much food it eats.
BOTTOM LINE If you're energetic, this may be the pet for you. But puppies need a lot of attention.

WHY IT'S GOOD A cat can keep you company while you read or watch TV. Many even prove quite playful, plus they purr when they're happy.
WHY IT'S BAD Nearly all cats are more aloof than dogs. That means they don't always come when you call them or play with you when you want. Some people are allergic.
NEEDS Cats must be fed daily. You don't need to let them outside to poop, since they use a litter box. But you do need to scoop the litter box out daily and clean it weekly. Longhaired cats need to be brushed regularly. You'll probably need help clipping your cat's nails. If you must travel, your cat can look after itself for a couple of days, as long as it has plenty of food and water. Don't forget spaying or neutering.
COST From free, for a shelter cat, to $75 to $500 for a purebred; annual cost: $300 to $400, depending on types of food and litter.
BOTTOM LINE Not as much work as a dog but still a furry buddy who can curl up on your lap.

WHY IT'S GOOD Beautiful to look at, and relatively easy to care for. Some can be taught to talk or whistle. Unlike hamsters, birds are diurnal (active during the daytime), so they won't make a racket that keeps you up at night.
WHY IT'S BAD Not as playful as other pets. Many birds like to throw their seed, making an extra mess for you to clean.
NEEDS You'll need to give your parakeet food and water daily, and clean the cage weekly. You'll need to clip your bird's wings to keep it from flying away if you let it out of its cage.
COST Initial cost: $90 ($20 for a parakeet, $70 for a cage and equipment); annual cost: about $40 to $50.
BOTTOM LINE Although not cuddly like cats or dogs, birds are colorful, enjoy being around humans and are fun to watch.

WHY IT'S GOOD Rodents such as hamsters, gerbils and mice are playful, friendly, curious and cute. And you don't need a big house or back yard.
WHY IT'S BAD They're small, and you can't play with them as much as with a dog or cat. Also, most sleep during the day and are awake at night.
NEEDS You need to check their food and water every day. The soft bedding in their cage needs to be changed every week or so.
COST $52 ($7 for a short-haired hamster, $45 for cage and equipment); annual cost: $30 to $50
BOTTOM LINE A good pet if you don't have much room or money but still want something warm to hold.

WHY IT'S GOOD A small aquarium takes up very little space, making fish perfect for apartments or small rooms. Fish also come in lots of sizes, shapes and colors, and they don't take a lot of work.
WHY IT'S BAD Let's face it, it's a fish. There aren't many ways you can play with a fish. Plus, they don't live long.
NEEDS You'll need to spend several hours setting up your aquarium with a good filtration system, the right type of water and suitable decorations. Plan on a few minutes daily feeding the fish, and at least half an hour a week changing some of the water.
COST Initial cost: $136 ($120 for a freshwater, 10-gallon tank set; $16 for a half-dozen community fish, such as neon tetras or mollies); annual cost: $5 to $20.
BOTTOM LINE Fish are beautiful and fun to watch. Once you've bought the tank, this can be the most inexpensive pet on this list.

No money? No time? How about:
A Rock
WHY IT'S GOOD Requires no work. You don't need your parent's permission to get one. Makes nice paperweight.
WHY IT'S BAD Just sits there.
COST Free. Look by the side of the road.
BOTTOM LINE Kinda pathetic, but may-be you'll feel better if you paint eyes on it.

2000 The Washington Post Company