How to find the perfect pet for your family

Owning a pet can give you a boost physically, mentally and emotionally. Here are some things to consider when choosing your family pet.

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  • We got lucky. We didn't find the best pet for our family, he found us.

  • On Valentine's Day, a woman came into my husband's store with an armful of puppies. One puppy stood out in particular. He was a tiny, dappled little charmer. My husband sent me a picture of the little guy, and I was hooked. Once he was introduced to the whole family, we all agreed - we had to have him. He has been the perfect addition ever since.

  • If your kids are begging for a pet NOW and you don't want to wait for fate to intervene, then here are a few things to consider when searching for the perfect pet.

  • How big is your home?

  • Do you live in a roaming ranch home with acres of land? Or do you live in a loft apartment in the city? Consider how much room your new pet will need and if you will be able to provide it.

  • Several years ago, we bought an Australian Shepherd puppy for my daughter. We had a medium-sized backyard, so we thought we'd be fine. We were mistaken. Our energetic little guy was horribly bored and dug holes all over the place. Eventually, we had to give him back to the breeder. She relocated him to a ranch with several other dogs where he would be much happier.

  • How much time can you spend with your pet?

  • Will someone be home all day every day to watch over your new pet? Or, will you only be home at night (if you decide not to go out dancing)? Dogs are pack animals and need companionship. Puppies in particular need a lot of attention. It is not healthy to lock them up in a crate or leave them alone in the backyard all day.

  • If you're a night owl, consider a nocturnal pet. Martha Stewart says that hamsters are fun animals that become playful at night. Hedgehogs are friendly and require little care. Mice are nocturnal, as well as snakes and geckos. However, I don't recommend both mice and snakes for obvious reasons.

  • How old are your children?

  • Older children can be enlisted to help take care of pets. It's a good way for them to learn responsibility while caring for their friend. Consider safety issues with younger children - for both them and your new pet. You don't want either to get hurt. The Real Owner recommends fish, hermit crabs, hamsters and budgies as great "start-up" pets for young children.

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  • How much do you want to spend?

  • You may have already thought about the cost to purchase your pet, but have you considered the cost to own him? Take into account food, veterinarian bills, cage, bedding and toys. Low maintenance pets like fish and frogs are easy on the pocketbook, while others are an on-going investment.

  • Does anyone have allergies?

  • Make sure that you choose a pet the whole family can enjoy. Allergies are triggered not by the hair of the pet, but by the dander. Dogs, cats and birds can all cause allergies. Hamsters and rodents are less likely, but can be a problem with sensitive people.

  • Livestrong.com says that animals such as reptiles and fish do not have dander and so would be fine for someone with allergies. If your kids really want a puppy, there are some breeds, such as terriers, who produce less dander and may work out for your family. Mother Nature Network has a list of ten animals that make the best pets for allergy sufferers.

  • Are you worried about the mess and the smell?

  • All animals will start to stink if you don't keep their living quarters clean. However, some animals are easier to take care of and naturally clean. Chinchillas are very clean and odorless animals. If you want something small and furry, they will be a good choice. Reptiles and fish are also mostly odor-free if you keep their cage or bowl clean.

  • There are many benefits to having a family pet. Animal Planet says that they can give you a boost physically, mentally and emotionally. Just make sure you find the best one for your family.

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Shelli Howells is a creative fiction writer, and a mother of six.

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