Choosing a Family Pet
Before you pick out that family pet, consider some key points, including its full-grown size, whether a family member has pet allergies, and if you can afford the food and medical costs.
By Krisha McCoy
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Bringing a family pet into your home can be rewarding for the entire family. Pets provide unconditional love for you and your family members — and some studies say they can also boost self-esteem, prevent loneliness, and lower blood pressure. But pets are a big commitment. There are many important things to consider when choosing a family pet, especially if kids or other family members have pet allergies.
Family Pet: Consider Size
The size of your prospective family pet is an important issue for two reasons: the safety of your children and how much space you have, says Stephen Rowell, DVM, associate dean for clinical programs and hospital director, Hospital for Large Animals at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass.
Dr. Rowell says that large, very active dogs might not be ideal family pets in a home with small children. People who have less space in and outside of their home might also want to consider a smaller family pet. "The small dogs, like the toy breeds, tend to make really good house pets" in smaller homes, says Rowell.
Family Pet: Think About Temperament
Certain pets need more exercise, which means you will need to have a large space for them to run or family members who are willing to exercise with them regularly. "The bigger the dog you get, the more they need to be exercised," says Rowell. "That becomes a real family commitment."
When it comes to pets and kids, families with small children need to seriously consider a potential pet's temperament before bringing it into their home. Rowell says that certain dogs tend to be more aggressive toward children, and some cats will scratch curious or rambunctious kids.
Gargi Cooper, 34, a mother of three children (ages 1, 3, and 5), in Swampscott, Mass., says a good temperament was high on her list of priorities when selecting a family pet. She chose a dog that had been living in a foster home. "Getting a dog from a foster was a lot better, since they could observe the dog in a home setting," Cooper adds.
Family Pet: Factor in Pet Allergies
The health conditions of your loved ones should also be top of mind when selecting a family pet. "A lot of people are allergic to cats, and they may be allergic to dogs that shed a lot and put off a lot of dander," says Rowell, adding that there are breeds of dogs and cats that are less irritating to people with allergies. He recommends exposing an allergic family member to a particular breed to see if it provokes an allergic reaction before making the decision to bring it home.
Family Pet: Evaluate the Family Budget
Evaluate your family budget before you adopt or buy a pet; some pets are more expensive than others. Cooper, a nurse practitioner, says that her family was able to save a great deal of money by going with a mixed-breed dog — hers appears to be a mix of American Labrador, Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Coonhound — rather than buying a pure-bred.
"The family needs to recognize that there may be expenses for vet care," says Rowell. Make sure that you can afford good medical attention, starting with a basic yearly check-up and any required shots, before bringing a family pet into your home. If you get a puppy, Rowell also recommends that you invest in some pet training to teach basic commands and how to walk on a leash.
Family Pet: Get Ready for a Family Commitment
Bringing a family pet into your home can be a valuable lesson in responsibility for your kids. "Think about learning experiences, and how to involve your children in the care of these animals," Rowell says. For example, Cooper's kids take turns feeding the dog. Make agreements with your children about care responsibilities before bringing the pet home, and make sure the children follow through.
Having a family pet is a long-term commitment — cats can live for 17 to 19 years and dogs can live for 14 to 16 years or longer. Read books or check out online resources like the and the , talk to a veterinarian, and ask friends and neighbors about their experiences with various pets. A little research will help ensure you make the right decision for your family.
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