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Pets General

Having A Pet – Pros & Cons

Val Cairney April 1, 2022 303

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Hi everyone, and welcome to this episode of Val Talk’s Pets.  So, many of my listeners are seasoned pet owners or experiencing having a pet for the first time.  But, there are many people out there that are in that place where they are wondering if getting a pet is something they may want to do.  People with children wonder if it is a good time to get a pet or when is it a good time to get a pet?  Senior’s often wish for companionship and wonder if pet ownership is for them.  There are many reasons for why someone gets a pet and reasons why some people will never get a pet.  But, there are also reasons for why people get certain types of pets or the timing for getting a pet.  Well, I think this is a topic to weigh in on.  Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of pet ownership and maybe to make things easier I’ll break it down into dogs, cats, small animals, birds and reptiles.  How does that sound?  


Let’s start with small animals.  Small animals like hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs and rabbits are often seen as “starter” pet.  They are seen as being less complicated in care, less expensive and they don’t live as long.  Well in ways that is true but there are things to know about these little guys and unfortunately sometimes people don’t do their research and these guys fall prey to unwitting cruelty and die unnecessarily  in a rather unfortunate way.  But, if you have done your research and know all the requirements for your little friend, a hamster or guinea pig could be a great pet to start out with.  So, the pros for small animals are that yes they are less expensive.  A hamster will require a smaller habitat and eats small amounts supplemented with some treats.  They need chewing toys and exercise wheels.  Maintenance will be their food, shavings or bedding, toys and treats.  But, when it comes to a small hamster, most of these items will last a while and are inexpensive.  Many hamsters learn to be handled gently by their humans so this is a great opportunity to teach children how to handle a pet with care.  Also, their overall maintenance is low, so again, teaching children the responsibility of pet ownership is ideal with a hamster.  Feeding and cleaning their habitat and giving their little pet attention is pretty much it.  Lifespan of a hamster is approximately 2 years, so the commitment is low.  Hamsters are fun to watch as they are diggers and climbers.  Cons for a hamster is that they do like to be active at night, so a squeaky running wheel in the habitat could be a real annoyance as Hammy hamster does his workout in the middle of the night.  There are silent types of wheels available for this very reason.  Hamsters also tend to bite and when they do they hurt.  So, handling a hamster gently right from the get go is a must so they become used to it and enjoy being petted and won’t bite.  And on this topic, hamsters are delicate, so they are suited for calmer children.  I’m not sure if this is a con, but a hamster’s habitat does need to be cleaned regularly.  So, if this isn’t going to be a commitment, I would suggest not getting a hamster because leaving one in an unclean environment is stressful for the hamster as they like to dig and crawl around so I would put that in the cruel section.  But, if you are diligent daily, it’s a very small chore.  

Guinea Pigs

Let’s take a look at guinea pigs.  Guinea pigs are a popular small animal pet and are seen as taking a step up from a hamster.  So, Guinea pigs require more care.  Their lifespan is about 6 years, so the commitment level has gone up.  They are quite affectionate and communicative.  They squeak when their humans come in and like to be a part of the family.  This is another type of pet that is great to have to teach children the responsibility of pet ownership.  Caring, feeding, cleaning is part of the process.  Pros with Guinea Pigs are that they are intelligent and can be trained.   It may take a bit of time but you can get them responding to easy commands.  They too need a clean habitat and in this case a bigger habitat.  They should be fed at the same time as they like routine and they are also easy to feed with regards to their pellets, hay and leafy greens.  Vitamin C is a big issue with GPs because they cannot produce it, so their pellets must contain Vitamin C or you would need to supplement.  GP’s can eat fruit but not all so you would have to research the safe fruits.  So Guinea pigs are cost effective and don’t really require a lot of attention but they are fun and interactive so why not give them the attention they want.  Cons with Guinea Pigs are that they can be quite stinky, not them themselves but their habitat and that will become an issue if you are not cleaning their habitat daily. They too are delicate, so gentle handling is a must. Their nutrition is fairly straight forward but knowing what fruits they cannot eat, adding their Vitamin C and not feeding them alfalfa hay is important.  GP’s can be a bit timid so give them time.  And I think this is probably the most significant con and that is that Guinea Pigs can suffer depression if they are the only GP.  So, it is recommended that you have more than one GP and of the same sex to keep them safe and mentally happy.  This means that the cost will increase.  


Okay, rabbits are really taking it up a notch.  The lifespan of a pet rabbit is about 5 to 10 years.  So, the commitment level has definitely gone up because this means that the rabbit you get as a young bunny could easily live as long as the dog you got as a pup.  Now who doesn’t love a rabbit?  They are soft, cute, twitch their little noses and bounce around and look so cute nibbling vegetables.  Again, rabbits are the next notch up in pet ownership and as a child gets a bit older this is an ideal pet to continue the learning of pet caring and commitment.  Now, as I have said in my episode on small animals, you need to remember the lifespan of a rabbit.  If you get a young rabbit when your child is ten, this rabbit could still be hopping around requiring care when this child is off to university at the age of 18 and guess who now has to look after it?  So, as I said then, if you are not prepared to become the primary care giver for this animal later on in its life, don’t get it.  I hear this more than I care to, when someone is picking up rabbit supplies and says, “well it’s actually my son’s rabbit but he’s gone to school and now I’m stuck with it”.  I hate hearing this.  This poor little thing has had someone’s attention for years and now it’s just a burden?  And don’t think this little guy doesn’t know there is tension around him.  This is why one of the top surrendered animals at animal shelters is rabbits.  So pros for rabbits are that they are super cute, but they are also docile and can easily learn to be held and petted.  They can be litter trained and enjoy outdoor time in a pen or walked on a leash.  They are usually quite quiet so that’s a plus.  Their nutrition falls between being a pro and con because you do need to know what to feed a rabbit.  So although once you know it is quite simple, you will have to learn the do’s and don’ts for feeding your rabbit.  Most people find having a rabbit very rewarding as they are a real balance between not much maintenance and great interaction with the owner.  Cons with rabbits are with keeping up with their habitat cleanliness.  Rabbits poop a lot so you will need to be diligent every day.  This is why litter training a rabbit can be really beneficial.  Rabbits also chew anything.  So, people who like to let their rabbit have the run of the house have to eyes on them all the time to make sure they are not chewing wires or furniture.  They will need a lot of chewing toys.  On average people can spend about $40.00 a month on supplies for their rabbit.  The other thing to consider here is that rabbits are often prey for other animals, so having a particular type of dog and your rabbit get along just may not happen and a vet trip might ensue or worse.  Rabbits are also really fast, so they shouldn’t be left unattended because you don’t know where they might go.  They do like to groom themselves a lot which is good, but it also means that hairballs can become a problem.  And the con that they live a lot longer up to 10 years and possibly more, may be an issue for some people so remember that!

Small animals can be a great choice to venture into having a pet and each has their pros and cons.  I specifically didn’t mention ferrets, chinchillas or hedgehogs as they guys are not necessarily “starter” pets.  But, if you would like to learn more about all our small friends access my episode of small animals.  


Okay, so let’s move on birds.  Now, I’ll be up front here, I am not a domestic bird person.  I love seeing birds outside and at the bird feeder, but I do not like birds in a house in a cage.  But, some people absolutely love their bird or birds.  Most common to have as a pet is a budgie, some people like canaries because they can sing, finches and cockatiels.  Once you get into small parrots like love birds or bigger birds like African grey parrots, or conures, and a variety of other exotic birds, you are now looking at being a more experienced bird person.  So, in terms of the common pet birds, again they are less expensive.  It is really important to make sure you speak with a knowledgeable bird person to know what size cage to get for the type of bird you have or for how many birds you have.  They too will need seed, treats, toys and some added things like a bath.  Budgies or parakeets are colourful and can learn basic words and sentences like a parrot.  They bond very well with their human and can be quite a nice companion.  Budgies have a lifespan of about 5 to 8 years.  So, this does mean there is a commitment here.  Unfortunately many budgies only make it to about 7 years due to mistreatment and lack of knowledge on the human’s part about appropriate care.  Because Budgies are not very expensive they are often seen as a “throw away” pet, which I find absolutely appalling.  However, as I said, there are a lot of people that adore their budgie.  Pros for having a Budgie do include their less expensive upkeep, their ability to be very interactive and a good companion.  They can be very entertaining and they do not take up much room.  Cons for Budgies are that they do poop a fair bit, so you will need to be scrubbing that cage regularly.  They also can get sick easily and that means medical attention and sometimes finding a vet that is comfortable with birds can be challenging.  


As for finches, people often have more than one finch because they are small.  There are some absolutely beautiful finches that can be acquired that can make having finches a delight to watch. Lifespan of a finch can be 15 to 20 years but most seem to live about 5 to 10 years.  They do like to fly about their cage so an appropriate cage size is necessary.  Pros for having a finch are that they are very low maintenance and again less expensive.  They do like other things to eat like insect larvae so that is something to look into.  Cons for finches are that because they like to forage on the bottom of their cages, they do make a mess throwing seed everywhere so you will need to invest in some kind of catcher.  They will need a large cage because they like to fly about.  And although fairly hearty they too can succumb to health issues so diet and care is very important. 


Canaries are small and lovely birds to look at.  They are low maintenance and actually quite content being loners.  They are delicate so handling them needs caution.  Canaries will live approximately 10 – 12 years.  If you want a singing canary you will need to find a male.  It can be tricky to get a canary to sing, so don’t assume that all canaries automatically sing.  Pros with canaries is that they are very low maintenance, low in cost and can be fun to watch and listen to if you can get it to sing.  Cons with canaries is that they too can be messy and singing aside they can be rather noisy.


Cockatiels are a small type of parrot, so they are larger and have the ability to do more things.  Many people can teach their cockatiels to speak which is a fun part of having them.  Lifespan of a cockatiel in captivity is about 16 to 25 years, so commitment here is significant.  Cockatiels like to be a part of the family, so this is not the bird that just amuses himself in his cage.  A cockatiel will require a significant sized cage, toys and of course food and treats. Cost for a cockatiel will be the initial outlay for the larger cage.  Food and toys are very reasonable so overall you are not looking at an expensive pet.  Pros with cockatiels is that they are quite affectionate and like to be held and petted.  They can be taught to talk and can really be part of the family.  Cons with cockatiels would be that they do require more room for their habitat and they do require a lot of attention for their mental and physical health.  So, if you do not have the time to interact with this bird, choose something smaller.   And they can be noisy!

As for the other types of birds I mentioned, these are more for experienced bird enthusiasts and will require more room, cost, commitment and knowledge.  Some major research needs to be done if you want to venture into the larger more exotic birds.  


Reptiles are a pet that has seen some increase.  Bearded dragons and snakes have risen in popularity.  The average Bearded Dragon lives about 12 years, so they sit right in that commitment area like having a dog or cat.  Generally bearded dragons are friendly and can be quite beautiful in the multiple of colours available.  They are fairly content when fed at regular times and do enjoy a bit of time sitting with their human.  Setting up their habitat will be the most challenging thing so make sure you have the correct temperature and UV lighting etc.  After that they are fairly easy to care for.  Pros for having a bearded dragon is that they are friendly and can be nice to look at.  They are low maintenance in terms of the attention they need.  Cons are that they have the worst fecal smell so you need to know this as it is quite significant.  Feeding them is important too as they are omnivores that need a balanced diet.  They are fine with insects and crickets and some people do the baby mice thing called pinkys, but this could be seriously off putting if there are children or just for yourself.  


There are several different types of snakes that people often get as pets.  Having a snake as a pet requires research to make sure you are providing the proper environment and nutrition.  Many pet snakes have a lifespan of 15 to 30 years so commitment here is significant.  Your success rehoming your cat is much higher than rehoming a snake unless you are active on forums and communities of snake enthusiasts.  Pros for owning a snake include the lower maintenance in terms of the attention it will require.  Snakes are quiet and do not necessarily need to be handled and given affection.  So once you have the proper habitat for them and learn their nutritional needs, they are pretty low maintenance.  Some people report that they can handle their snakes and have them coil around them for interaction. Cons for owning a snake are they do need a specific habitat, different snakes have different nutritional needs, they can be escape artists and I would add that not having an interactive pet could be a drawback for some folks.  Venturing into reptile ownership does require some serious thought and should not be ventured into without serious research.  The reason for getting a snake should not be because it’s cool.  They too are animals that require care and commitment and should not succumb to health issues or death due to neglect.  


Okay so that leads us to cats!  As you know I love cats and I have always had a cat in my life since our first found kitten when I was about 9 or 10.  I have a couple of episodes on cats so please access things for all the details about caring for cats and their different idiosyncrasies.  But, someone who is wondering about getting a cat, here is the scoop.  Cats can live up to 20 years of age.  So commitment here is significant.  In terms of overall care, cats fall into the lower maintenance area.  Cats in the scheme of things need fresh water, food, a clean litter box, maybe some toys and they are good to go.  If you need to go somewhere overnight, cats are generally quite fine with their bowl filled up and will be content until you get back.  If I go away for more than a day or weekend, I do the every 3rd day rule.  I have a person come in and check all food, change water, clean the litter and spend some time after 2 days.  So, I never leave them for more than 2 days without a sitter.  Cats generally know how to use their litter and you just have to show them where it is and where the food and water is and they are fine.  So pros to having a cat.  Despite what some people say that cats are aloof is not I think really accurate.  Cats have a different way of approaching affection and it takes them a bit of time to warm up to a new owner.  But, most cat owners report that their cat is affectionate and loves cuddles and petting and sits with them or on their lap, you name it.  Cats are an interactive companion.  You just have to understand their terms.  Cats don’t require regular walking outside so they are great for apartments.  But, if you do want to walk your cat, many learn to walk on a leash with a harness and can enjoy being outside with you.  Cats can be fun to play with as they often enjoy interactive toys.  They can be so fun to watch as they scamper around and play and because cats only meow at humans it’s even more fun to know that they are communicating with us. Cats can also contribute to the house by keeping mice at bay.  However, that doesn’t always work out when for example, my Rory will catch a mouse in the basement and bring it upstairs and let it go.  But, generally speaking cats are good at hunting.  So overall, cats are lower maintenance, their expense is moderate, they are great companions and can be very loving and cuddly.  Cons for cats are that they do scratch things.  If you are worried about your lovely furniture then having a cat is properly not for you. There are ways to deal with this, declawing not being one of them, but I have lots of suggestions on my cat and kitten care episode.  They do shed as well so yeah having hair on things is part of cat ownership.  Quite a few people report that their cat is extremely fussy so finding a food that they will eat is tricky.  I’m sort of the mind that introducing many different flavours of food may contribute to fussiness but if you find something they like, there is no reason why you can’t stick with that.  Remember, they don’t know that there is a whole store full of different cat foods.  Cleaning the litter box is a chore that comes with cat ownersip and none of us enjoy that.  Cats can get cranky sometimes and don’t want attention.  Either respect this or take a trip to the vet to see if something is going on.  And as for the vet, you will have to make trips to the vet so you will need to invest in a carrier.  I recommend a carrier always be handy in a house with a cat in the case of emergency.  Cats too can have teeth issues, so cleaning them or having the vet do so will help with bad breath and overall health.  And we know that vet bills can be very costly, so that is a down side.  

So overall cats are great pets and do fall as lower maintenance and moderate cost.  What they give back to us is tremendous in terms of companionship, love and company.  


Well that leads me to dogs.  Dogs are a commitment, there is no doubt in that.  Small dogs can live up to 17 or 18 years.  Large breed dogs tend to live depending on the breed, 8 to 12 years.  Space is a consideration when choosing a dog.  When deciding on whether to get a dog, there are so many factors to consider.  Is this dog to be a family dog where everyone takes responsibility for its care?  Is this a dog for a senior person?  Is this a dog for a couple who are pre-children or a couple that are on their own?  Do you have the money to make sure the dog’s nutrition and health care is taken care of?  Do you have the time to walk the dog and play with it?  Are you concerned about hair or fur in your home?  Are you concerned about dirty footprints in the house?  As you can see there are a lot of things to consider when getting a dog?  Recently I have had several people come in who have said they have a dog and it is their first pet.  That’s fine.  However, one of the biggest errors I find people making is asking me about things they can give their puppy to chew on because the pup is teething.  When I ask how old the pup is, they often say it is 9 weeks or 12 weeks and it is biting everything!  Well yes it is.  That’s what puppies do.  This pup is not teething and won’t be until it is 5 or 6 months.  When I say this, their eyes widened like, what is going on then?  Well as I said, that’s what puppies do, they mouth.  And concerning here is that they want to know how to stop this.  Yikes!  This is one of those things you have to accept if you get a pup.  Yes, you can redirect the mouthing, but that’s what puppies do.  Another conversation I had just the other day was with regards to boots for a dog.  They wanted to use the balloon style but it just wasn’t working out.  Well, it turns out, the dog is a 3 month old Golden Retriever.  They wanted to put something on the dog’s paws because he comes in from outside and his paws are dirty.  I laughed and said, well welcome to having a dog.  Every dog owner has a towel by the door.  Spring is the worst because everything is wet and muddy, but you know, that passes and on to summer.  Of course, the big shed is in between that.  So, the issue here is that having a dog means you need to be prepared.  The pros for having a dog are multiple.  Dogs are amazing companions, they are intelligent and fun.  They can help reduce stress and blood pressure.  They listen to our woes and comfort us when we are sad or in tears.  They protect us and can give us a sense of security.  They help us stay active and are great companions on walks and hikes.  They are fun to play with and to love.  Plus, they give back such unconditional love and rarely judge us.  Cons for having a dog means that you don’t have the same freedom.  You can’t leave your dog for extended periods of time.  You have to make arrangements for your dog if you are going away and leaving him or her at home for hours unattended without the opportunity to go out, is not right.  Dogs are not cheap.  Their food can be expensive especially if you are committed to higher nutrition. They also require treats and toys.  Vet bills for dogs can also really add up.  And if you want a pristine show home, don’t get a dog.  But, I would suggest getting a really good vacuum if you do.  

So getting a pet from the smallest to the biggest means making some serious decisions.  So, that leads me to my pet peeves section.

Pet Peeves

Pet ownership whether it is a small hamster or a large Great Dane is a commitment.  Animals are not disposable.  They are living, breathing creatures that do not deserve to be cruelly treated.  Nothing infuriates me more than hearing things like, well this was my son or daughter’s rabbit or cat, and now I’m stuck with it.  Do you know anyone who wants a cat or rabbit?  If a tiny amount of research had been done in the first place to know how long this animal would live, perhaps this whole burden issue could have been avoided.  It also infuriates me when people who have got a pet complain about hair or holes in their backyard or that the cat throws up or pees outside the litter.  Having a pet has so many rewards, but yes, there are downsides and if you are one of those people that cannot deal with these downsides, then pet ownership is not for you.  My seasoned pet owners out there are more than aware of all of these issues, and if you are considering getting a pet, ask these pet owner’s questions.  They will be honest. The point here is that I would whole heartedly recommend having a pet, but be honest with yourself.  Time, money and commitment are the biggest things to consider.  There is nothing wrong with realizing you would rather have a clean house without fur bunnies in the corner.  Some people want a pet so bad they don’t care and are just committed to vacuuming a lot.  If you pop over to my house without warning, well more than likely the carpet has fur on it.  It’s just the way we live.  So, pros for having a pet are off the charts, cons are relative to the individual, so do your homework, go into the whole thing with eyes wide open and I’m sure having a pet will be the most rewarding thing you ever do.  But, remember, research is the key because as I say, knowing is caring!

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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