The same sad story happens all too often: A person brings home an animal assuming that it requires little maintenance only to discover that he or she underestimated how much time, attention, or money it will take to keep the animal happy and healthy. Because of these situations, animal shelters are often overwhelmed with unwanted animals, or, even worse, the animals are sometimes released to whatever fate awaits them in the outside world.
One important step to help prospective pet owners avoid getting in over their heads is to learn whether an animal is high maintenance or low maintenance before bringing it home. Considerations include the animal’s habitat size, the complexity of the animal’s diet, the amount of training and exercise needed, and the time needed to clean the animal’s environment.
So, which pets are high-maintenance and which are low-maintenance? We’ve separated a variety of pets into those two categories below, although maintenance levels vary widely depending on the individual animal. This article is not a definitive guide to which pets require the most or least maintenance, but rather a starting point to get you thinking about the realistic needs of pets that you may be considering.
High-maintenance pets (not ranked in any particular order)
Dogs can require more or less maintenance based on the breed, and their requirements also vary widely from dog to dog. Overall, dogs can be considered to be high-maintenance pets because they need exercise and a proper diet to remain healthy, attention to be happy, and regular cleaning of their living environment. They also need behavioral training to address housetraining, chewing, biting, digging, and jumping. Most dogs also require regular grooming— baths, haircuts or hair brushing, teeth cleanings, etc.
Many people buy rabbits without realizing that the animals can seriously injure themselves or even die of heart attacks if they get scared. Rabbits need a lot of exercise, which they can get when allowed to hop around outside their cages, but owners must be wary of rabbits’ tendency to chew things within their reach while they are roaming the house. Rabbits also require daily litter box cleaning.
Some people are fans of keeping large birds, such as macaws, Amazon parrots, and African grey parrots. These large birds require a lot of human attention, mental stimulation, and time outside of the cage. They can be extremely loud, and they tend to chew and bite. People also sometimes fail to realize that some large birds can live to between 50 and 100 years of age, so owners must want a pet that might be with them for the rest of their lives.
Although chinchillas are especially cute and soft, they can be high maintenance for the typical pet owner. Chinchillas require that the temperature stay at or below 75 degrees. They should not become wet, as moisture can harm their skin, but they must take several dust baths each week. Chinchillas commonly do not enjoy being held, and their diet must be tailored closely to the species’ nutritional requirements.
Ferrets need plenty of playtime and room to roam, so owners need to make sure their homes are ferret-proofed. Ferrets have been known to chew up carpet and tear holes in couches and recliners, and they can squeeze into small openings such as behind refrigerators and underneath cabinets. They also are prone to biting and nipping, so their interactions with children, pets, and other adults need to be carefully supervised. It’s illegal to have ferrets in some states.
Low-maintenance pets (not ranked in any particular order)
The guinea pig is a classic pet due to its minimal maintenance requirements and social nature. They are happy, whether sitting on your lap, running around in their habitats, or lounging inside a hollow log or other prop. If you provide a consistently clean environment, a healthy diet, and some love and attention, they can provide years of easygoing fun.
Hamsters, gerbils, and mice
Small rodents such as hamsters, gerbils, and mice are typically on the lower end of the maintenance spectrum. Their small size means they don’t need a large habitat, and they don’t need to be walked or trained (although some people do train their rodents). Their diets are relatively simple, and they are capable of exercising themselves if their environments are equipped with plenty of activities.
We put cats in the low-maintenance category for this article, although many cat owners would likely disagree based on their own experiences. The fact is that every cat is different. Some crave human interaction while others seemingly prefer their solitary time. Some short-haired cats barely need grooming while long-haired cats need it regularly.
Many people see cats as low-maintenance because they believe cats can be left alone at home for long periods of time as long as there is a big bowl of food and a water dish available. But if you ask your veterinarian, this is not necessarily true. Leaving a cat alone means that its litter box won’t be changed, its food may spoil (if it is wet food), and it will not receive prompt veterinary attention if it is sick or injured while the owner is away.
Small birds can be low-maintenance to varying degrees, mainly based on how much human interaction they require. Some birds, such as finches and canaries, generally do not appreciate contact with humans, so they simply require the correct diet and an appropriately sized cage. Other small birds, such as cockatiels and parakeets, need time outside the cage to play and be socialized. Those considering getting a bird should also factor in time to clean cages.
Regardless of the type of pet you’re considering, understand that you’re making a commitment to care for a living creature. Ensure that the needs of your new pet align with your lifestyle before taking the plunge.
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