Adding a pet to your family can be a great way to help your children build empathy and responsibility, as well as help their physical, emotional and social development. But how do you choose a pet that suits your family, and what are the most common family pets pros and cons?

Research has shown that children who grow up with pets in the house are healthier than those without. The responsibility of caring for an animal can be great, so make sure you don’t get a pet on an impulse!

How do you choose a pet that suits your family – 8 key questions

Before you choose a pet, there are quite a few things to consider no matter what type of animal you would like. Here’s 8 key questions you and your family need to consider before you even start thinking about what sort of pet will suit.

1. What do you want a pet for?

Do you want an animal to snuggle with on the couch, go for runs with or calm you down? Different animals or breeds suit different purposes.

2. Can you afford a pet?

The initial price of equipment and the pet are usually the smallest cost relating to your pet. Ongoing costs such as food, care and vet bills often mount up quickly.

3. What about your family lifestyle?

Think about your lifestyle and what pets would suit. If you are out most of the day, you need to choose a pet that won’t get lonely or bored by themselves. Pets that need a lot of time for care, grooming or exercise may not be the best choice for a busy family juggling school, sports or other after-school activities.

4. Are you in it for the long term?

How many years are you prepared to look after the pet? Some animals can live a very long time. For instance will you be happy looking after your child’s dog once the kids have left home?

5. Do you want to get a fully grown pet or a baby?

Most animals are cute as little babies, but make sure it will still be suitable as an adult. Young animals are a lot more work to train and can be unreliable and excitable, but children may enjoy that stage.

Adopting a grown pet from the SPCA can be a better idea if you want a calmer animal that is already trained or if you want a type of animal that may live longer than you want to have it for.

6. Where do you want to buy your pet?

Animal rescue centres such as the SPCA, pet shops or private breeders all have different pros and cons. If you choose a private breeder or pet shop, make sure you select a reputable one that does not sell animal from breeding mills.

7. What equipment or area will you need for your pet?

Dogs need safe fenced areas to run around, other pets may need cages or aquariums to live in.

8. Does your family have allergies?

Make sure you choose a pet that is not going to exacerbate any allergies.

8 Common family pets – Pros and cons


  • Pros: Dogs are a lot of fun, they are usually loyal, friendly and can be trained to be obedient.
  • Cons: Dogs need a lot of time and attention to be happy.
  • Consider: Different dogs breeds will suit different people. Use an online dog breed selector like this one to help you choose an appropriate breed. An average dog’s lifespan is between 10 and 15 years. Smaller dogs tend to live longer than large dogs.


  • Pros: Cats need less time and attention to be happy. They can be cuddly and playful. They need less space than dogs.
  • Cons: Cats may have an impact on native bird populations. Long-haired cats need regular grooming. Inside cats need litter boxes.
  • Consider: Like dogs, different cat breeds will suit different people. Use an online cat breed selector like this one to help you choose an appropriate breed if you want a pedigree cat. Most moggies are affectionate and adaptable.

How to choose a pet that suits your family - Fish


  • Pros: Fish aren’t messy, noisy or expensive to feed. Many people find fish calming and relaxing to watch. If you live in a rented house, landlords are usually fine with fish.
  • Cons: It is harder to bond with fish than other animals. They are not cuddly or playful. Looking after the aquarium can take time. Tropical fish can be expesive to buy and maintain.
  • Consider: Fish generally have short lifespans. You will need to decide whether you want fresh or salt water, tropical or cold temperature fish.


  • Pros: Most birds are inexpensive to feed. They do not require much time to care for or train. They need small amount of space and are usually accepted in rental properties.
  • Cons: Some birds can be noisy. While their mess can usually be contained, they can make a lot of mess in and around their cages. They need something to gnaw on for their beaks, which can lead to them being destructive.
  • Consider: Different bird breeds will suit different people. Certain types of birds can live up to 100 years! Make sure you know what your bird’s breed requires before commiting.

Guinea Pigs

  • Pros: Guinea pigs are inexpensive to feed. They do not require much space or time. They don’t generally smell or bite. They do not require a lot of space.
  • Cons: Guinea pigs can be shy at first which may frustrate some children. They need time and patience to become confident with people. They need to be kept in a cage, but will need time out of the cage for exercise.
  • Consider: Guinea pigs live for only 3-8 years which could be a pro or a con depending on your perspective!


  • Pros: Most rabbits are inexpensive to feed. They do not require much time to care for or train. They can be kept inside and toilet trained.
  • Cons: Rabbits outside need large cages and a reasonable amount of space for the cage to be moved around. Inside rabbits will need plenty of things to chew so they don’t ruin your furniture. Rabbits are fast!
  • Consider: Rabbits live on average for 8-10 years. Rabbits do not tend to like being picked up, so children will need to be taught how to do it carefully.

Rats and mice

  • Pros: Rats and mice don’t require a lot of space or food so can be inexpensive pets. Rats can be extremely affectionate and love being handled.
  • Cons: Mice can be pretty smelly and are quite timid. Some people are scared of rats and mice. Rats do have a tendency to develop tumors, so be on the lookout for any lumps.
  • Consider: Mice and rats live for around 2-5 years. They breed a lot so consider whether to get a mating pair or two of the same sex when purchasing. Males tend to be bigger and more docile than females, but they may also spray urine.

How to choose a pet that suits your family - Chickens


  • Pros: Chickens are a pet that will provide you with food as well as love! Eggs from backyard chickens are fresher and more delicious than supermarket eggs by a long shot. They will eat your scraps and dig over and fertilise your garden for you. Some hens will become quite friendly and are happy to be handled. You can also get chickens for meat too – if you are up for the killing and processing of them!
  • Cons: Chickens need a lot of space – for roosting, laying eggs, and foraging for food. They will eat your vegetables if not fenced off. If you want them to lay, you will also need to provide them with commercial food which can up the cost of your eggs.  Some people notice an increase in flies when they get chickens.
  • Consider: Most councils have laws regarding poultry ownership. Roosters are banned in most towns and some areas also limit the number of hens allowed. Check out your local council before buying. You can choose to get your chickens as fertilised eggs, day old chicks, a couple of months old or at point-of-lay when they will be about to start producing eggs – usually around 5 months old.

If you have pets already, what would you say are the best and worst things about your pets? Let us know in the comments below.

Now that you know more about 8 common family pets, if a dog is on your list you might also like How to prepare your dog for a new baby. Or, for more expert advice in and around the home, check out our Family home section.

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Frank McColl is a primary teacher and writes teacher resource materials for primary and secondary schools. She has one quirky toddler who keeps her on her toes.

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