Choosing to share your life with a pet is one of the most important decisions you can make. In Part 1 of this series, we talked about dogs and cats. In Part 2, we’ll move on to other great pets: rabbits, birds, reptiles, and fish.
Since childhood, I’ve shared my life with half a dozen cats, a rabbit, a variety of birds, and a multitude of fish, from outdoor koi to tropical fish less than an inch to over a foot long. As a veterinary assistant, I gained a lot of experience working with all sorts of dogs, as well. For this article, I asked the Idaho Humane Society for additional tips on keeping your pet healthy and happy. I also spoke with a friend who has kept reptiles at his home for over 50 years.
If you’d love to get a cat but someone in your home is allergic to them, consider a rabbit instead. Rabbits are hypoallergenic and can make wonderful, loving pets. They are quiet, cute, wonderfully soft, and enjoy being petted, if you’ve raised them right. Our black dwarf lop-eared rabbit always sat on the couch with us when we watched TV — she was literally a snugglebunny!
Bunny Tips From the Humane Society
As with cats, pet rabbits should be kept indoors for their safety. Because they are natural chewers, you’ll need to “rabbit-proof” your home so it doesn’t chew on exposed wires, wood, or toxic houseplants. Read a good book about rabbit care before you bring your bunny home, so you’ll have the supplies you need. Did you know you can even litter-box-train a pet rabbit? Still, you’ll want to have a roomy cage for your bunny, supervise it when it’s hopping around the house, and be patient and let your rabbit bond to you on its own terms.
Having ample space for a water bowl and hay feeder are also key things to keep in mind when getting your cage. and As with dogs and cats, rabbits will remain more affectionate and generally live longer if they are sterilized; be sure you find a veterinarian who is properly equipped to treat rabbits. And never forget that rabbits are prey animals and thus startle easily. If you carry yours outside, it’s best to have a harness on it in case the rabbit suddenly jumps out of your arms. You can even “walk” your rabbit out on the lawn with its harness and leash. You’ll be following the rabbit, of course, but they love to eat dandelions from pesticide- and herbicide-free lawns.
Zany and highly intelligent, parrots can make incredible pets, but adopting a parrot is a serious responsibility, even more than a dog. If well taken care of, the bird may outlive you, so consider this a life-long commitment. Parrots, especially cockatoos, are like a two-year-old who never grows up; they crave constant attention and may scream or pick off their feathers if they don’t get it. It’s best not to adopt a large parrot unless you work at home — or, get a pair of them to keep each other company. As a parrot or cockatoo matures, it often latches on to one member of the family as its mate.
If that’s you, the bird may even become jealous of your spouse or children, so you’ll need to reassure your bird daily how much you love him or her. Make sure your pet parrot isn’t exposed to drafts, gets a variety of foods, toys, and a large, clean place to live. Budgerigars (also called parakeets) and cockatiels are much more affordable than large parrots. They can become quite tame and even learn to talk, if you have just one and spend a lot of time with it. Or, if you just love the sound of parakeets singing, yet don’t want to spend hours training them to be tame, get a pair of males or a male and female, and they will sing to each other all day.
You’ll often see small songbirds like canaries, zebra finches, or nightingales in pet shops, but these birds aren’t really “pets.” I find it sad to keep these birds in a cage. If you love looking at and listening to birds, set up some bird feeders near your window and attract a multitude of wild birds to your home. I find that unshelled sunflower kernels are the most popular with the largest variety of birds, and produce almost no waste on the ground. And “your” birds will still be free to fly!
Aquariums can be endlessly fascinating. I recommend spending a significant amount of time at the shop speaking with an experienced aquarist before buying. Generally speaking, fish do better in larger tanks with good filtration systems and a thermometer to ensure a healthy temperature. Freshwater fish are just as interesting as saltwater. Plus, they cost less, can be hardier, and are often bred in captivity, so you’re not depleting saltwater reefs. Most saltwater fish are captured by divers who inject cyanide into the reef to stun the fish. This kills the reef, while many of the fish die before reaching the store.
Lots of kids love having a reptile in their room. I asked my friend Bob for some advice, as he has been a reptile enthusiast for over 50 years. Because reptiles cannot control their body temperature, you must ensure that their environment is temperature-controlled. As a good starter pet, Bob recommends a bearded dragon lizard. They’re inexpensive, not too large, can be handled, are easy to feed (they eat mealworms), and a 40-gallon aquarium is large enough for them to be comfortable.
Ready to get a pet? Between Parts 1 & 2 of this series, you’ve got all the basics to point you in the right direction if you decide to make a dog, cat, rabbit, bird, fish, or reptile part of your family. Have fun!
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Crista Worthy writes about aviation, travel, wildlife, and more from her home in Idaho.