Three kittens in shelter

What is the right pet for you?

We're thrilled-you're going to be joining the happy ranks of pet parents,(as we call them), worldwide! The hardest decision you face may not be what to name your furry bundle of joy, or what color food bowl to buy, but simply what species your pet will be.

Is a cat where it's at? Or maybe a dog--or a bird--is the word? To help you out, we've put together a list of the pros and cons for a variety of popular animal companions.

DOG
We don't call them our "best friends" for nothing. Loyal and loving, these social animals thrive on being upstanding members of their family "packs." The ultimate expression of the human-animal bond!

What you need to consider
If there are children in the household, your best bet's a medium- to large-sized dog over five months of age. Children under seven are usually not developmentally suited for younger puppies, who have sharp teeth and nails that can easily, albeit accidentally, hurt a child. We do not recommend toy-sized dogs less than 15 pounds if you have young children, as these fine-boned canines don't hold up well to rough, clumsy handling. Obedience Training is key to any dog becoming a positive member of your family. Click to learn about our training program.

WAY TO GO if you've done your research (we recommend going to the akc website and visiting the ACK website, www.akc.org, for a breeder referral if you have decided on a particular breed) and have found a breed mix or breed that works with your lifestyle (i.e. couch potato + retriever mix = not a match; boxer + jogging addict = good match) and have drawn up a schedule of who in the family will do what-walking, playing, feeding, grooming, scooping. This is a major commitment for the entire household.

CAT
It's no accident that cats were worshipped by the ancient Egyptians. Graceful, athletic, playful, sensitive and affectionate, felines are also currently the most popular pet in the United States today. Less work than a dog, but still high on the cuddle scale. Kittens are probably the cutest, and most flexible, creatures on the planet.

What you need to consider
Cats are not like dogs. The majority of wild felines are solitary hunters by nature, so your domestic cat probably won't want to hang out with you all day or be interested in learning to do all the things that a dog would. Also, we'd like to caution against getting a kitten unless you are home during the day. Adult cats are a better choice--not only are they litter-trained, most have graduated from the rowdy ankle-attacking stages of adolescence. Oh, and if you want a long-haired cat, be prepared to brush, brush, brush to avoid matting!

WAY TO GO if you've done your research and decided on a cat of an appropriate age for your household. Be sure to check out your shelter for a great selection (purebreds, too) and have your new pet spayed or neutered, por favor.

BUDGIE
Playful, cheery and chirpy, this little charmer is the most popular avian companion.
He's gentle and funny, and can be readily tamed to sit on your shoulder. Under adult guidance, a budgerigar makes a perfect first bird for the young members of the family.

What you need to consider
Birds can be messy….really messy. You'll need to clean the cage and surrounding area daily. And if you're looking for something high on the cuddle scale, better to stick with a furry species. Also big birds and little birds can be quite noisy.
If you prefer a bird who also sings beautifully but doesn't require as much interaction with you, consider finches or canaries.

WAY TO GO if you've got your heart set on an avian mimic but don't have the time, money or space for a larger member of the parrot family. When it comes to budgies, talk is cheep! However, keep in mind that not all budgies will talk, even though they have the capability. Can you love and cherish a budgie--in silence and in health?!

FISH
Have allergies, limited space and/or lean towards the exotic? Although fish are relatively low maintenance, there's a definite science to keeping them, and their environment, healthy-hence their appeal to scientific-brained types who get a kick out of seeing the nitrogen cycle at work.

Coldwater fish are also great first-time pets for children, under adult supervision. And feng shui experts say that a well-placed aquarium can harmonize the energies in the home. (Don't believe in that? Well, you have to admit that fish are relaxing to watch.)

What you need to consider
If only a pet who'll follow you around, lick your face or play fetch will do, a finned friend is not for you. And NO, you cannot go to the pet store, buy a fish and just dump him in a bowl with tap water when you get home. Not only have you thrown your money away, you've bought a slow death for your pet. There's a lot to learn about fish keeping. For starters, we recommend that you get your tank up and running a week before you even think about adding fish.

WAY TO GO if you do major research, get all your equipment beforehand and know what species are safe to keep together. If you've done your homework, you probably know that common goldfish can live for more than 10 years if properly cared for…it's a longer commitment than most people think!

 
GUINEA PIG
They're not pigs and they're not from New Guinea, but these cuddle bugs are the most docile-and vocal-of all companion rodents. Readily tamed and easy to handle, GPs love to sit on their humans' laps, too. Under adult supervision, guinea pigs are excellent first pets for children.

What you need to consider
These little critters aren't the kind of pets you can passively watch through the bars of the cage. They need time out to exercise every day. Do you have what it takes to be a guinea pig's gym coach? And it's a great idea to keep two or more of these social animals together, just make sure you have adequate housing for them. (Please don't keep males and females together, unless they are spayed or neutered.)

WAY TO GO if you're looking for a gentle pet who's fun for the whole family. Ensure to do your reading-these guys have special dietary needs.

HAMSTER
Off the charts when it comes to cuteness, hamsters are busy little rodents who are very popular with children. Good choice for apartment dwellers.

What you need to consider
It's no accident that "NO" spells out the first two letters of NOCTURNAL. Did you know that hamsters sleep during the day and are active at night? Unfortunately, most first-time hamster owners aren't aware of this, and try to wake up their cuddly ball of fur bright and early every morning only to get nipped on the finger. Repeatedly. These tiny little guys need gentle handling, if you please. Syrian hamsters are solitary and must be kept alone. Dwarf hamsters are more social, so make sure you know what species you are bringing home.

WAY TO GO if you're a night owl and/or won't be bothered by your pet eating, digging and running on his wheel in the wee small hours. Light sleepers may want to keep their hammy's cage out of the bedroom. Because of their nocturnal nature and tendency to bite when mishandled, we do not recommend hamsters for families with young children. As long as you understand that your pet needs his beauty sleep pretty much all day long, things should be fine…and painless.

RABBIT
They can be trained to use the litter box, they'll come when called, and their all-time favorite activities are to dig and to chew. Who knew? The sometimes sweet, sometimes sassy rabbit can be a great pet for the right family.

What you need to consider
1.) Rabbits cannot live outdoors! Although they've traditionally been kept in backyard hutches, these days we know better. Outside, rabbits can die of fright at the approach of a predator, and will be susceptible to diseases spread by ticks and other parasites. Rabbits need to dig and chew bigtime!

2.) In most cases, rabbits and young kids are a terrible match. No doubt, many children love bunnies-but they'll want to show their love by hugging and picking them up. Rabbits naturally feel insecure when picked up off the ground, and will do anything in their power (or in their powerful legs) to get down. An accidental fall can result in a broken bone. Better to wait until the kids are older.

WAY TO GO if you've done the research and understand exactly what rabbits need*--and understand the importance of having your bun spayed or neutered.

Adapted from the ASPCA