Getting a Pet

Updated on July 30, 2013
L. asks from Mobile, AL
12 answers

Hi All,

My eight year old has been wanting a pet for a long time now, and we are still agonizing over the decision of what kind of pet to get, if any. We have two main challenges. First, we are reluctant to get a pet that would just have to live in a cage because it seems kind of cruel. Second, my husband and I both work at the university, so we have the freedom to travel over the summer, and we often go for three weeks or more. It would seem that a dog is out because dogs really need their people around, and that's too long to be away. We're thinking maybe a cat, but is that too long for a cat too? Would it help to have two?? Any other great pet ideas for us?

Many thanks!

ADDED INFO! :) Just to clarify, we aren't considering a dog--I guess I sounded too wishy-washy about that. Also, no matter what kind of pet we might get, we wouldn't just leave it 3 weeks of food and figure it's okay. :-P With cats, we'd have someone come by to at least feed and scoop. Also, I only work part-time (some of that at home), and we only take long trips in the summer, and we're done for this year, so that's why now seems like the best time if we're going to do it. Thanks for all of the info and advice so far!

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answers from Washington DC on

for a three week trip i'd take the cat(s) to a boarding facility, unless you have a live-in house sitter.

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answers from Columbia on

I don't think a dog or a cat is for you. Three weeks is entirely too long to leave a furry, social, dependent animal who needs clean water, food every day, and a clean litter box (for kitty).

I would suggest starting with a fish. They can be left with a feeding tablet with no problem, and it's a good place to start for an 8 year old, responsibility-wise.

Until you're not traveling 3 weeks at a time, you really don't have the right situation for a furry pet. Perhaps your son can visit friends' pets and enjoy them, or offer pet-sitting services to neighbors (with adult supervision).

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I work with cats at a rescue. I think it's always better to have two cats, IF they are cats that like others. Just like any animal, cats sometimes need to be an only. It's helpful to rescue cats that are cage or litter mates. Although kittens are cute and fun, I would recommend getting cats. If you are out of the house often and travel for lengths of time, a kitten won't be mature for a good while, to handle that. I do think two cats will be better for your situation, but only if they like each other and are old enough to not be destructive. You could pay a teen or friend you trust to come over to tend to them and keep them company every so often.

3 weeks is not too long for a cat, if someone goes over and makes sure they have food, water, and scoop the box 1-2 times a week. (Only do it that infrequently if you put an extra box or two down. Cats do NOT like their boxes to get full.)

I actually don't think any furry animals would be great for you, if you consistently travel and are out of the home, and at work all day. Perhaps, a fish tank??

ETA: I should add, cats are OK for that length of time, IF they have the right personality for it. Some cats hate being left, and you would not be able to do this.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Honestly, if you aren't going to be home consistently, it would be a good idea to wait. As others said, dogs have to be boarded and even if cats have company, who can guarantee they will get along? (We had two cats who were littermates and still fought horribly.)

The other issue which I didn't see is that dogs WILL develop abandonment issues if you are not around regularly. It would be one thing if the travel was rare and you had a house-sitter which the dog was friendly and familiar with; but they do become very attached to their owners. Cats, too, need love and care and consistency. We have a cat who I HATE leaving alone. We've always had pet sitters stay with him for anything more than a three-day absence and they have been friends who know him. Otherwise, we have a pet care person come in twice a day to make sure he gets his food and meds and that his water is fresh and his box is clean.

So, just know that it is possible if you are willing to shell out money for good care.

The last thing to consider is that usually kids want a pet, but they are not into cleaning up after the pet (poop pickup, litter boxes) and having to feed them two or three times a day, etc. Also consider doing your research on the animal breed's usual health care needs. Some breeds have trouble with arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other ailments. Our cat-- we didn't know he was sick when we got him and after 8 years with him, we've put at least $4,000 into him. He also gets twice a week care at home for his needs. All things to consider.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

You'll need someone to care for your pet when you're gone for extended periods of time no matter what kind you get... even fish will need feeding and water changes.

Talk to your son about what *kind of pet he wants. Does he want a "holding" pet, like a dog or cat or an interesting pet like a crawfish, fish or reptile? How much is he going to take care of the pet, and how much will fall on you...?
We have had guinea pigs, which are great first pets for kids. They are heartier than rabbits (and don't escape and chew up all your electrical cords), and they are social and entertaining. Some people do not like them because they claim that they smell, but I have never had that be the case. I think it's because of the kind of cage we have and that we change it once a week. They do need LOTS of attention and a relatively large amount of space for a cage... the one thing that most people make the mistake of (too small of a cage). They can also be noisy.

We also have fish... fish are great, but they need weekly water changes. Some are easier to keep than others.

We have a corn snake, which would probably be my top recommendation. They are super easy to keep. They do not handling often, but not for long periods of time. They don't need cage changes that often and don't need to be fed often. And they are beautiful animals. They also don't get very big (unlike a python or boa).

Cats are great... we've always had them. Depending on their temperament, they don't mind you being away or they get mad at you and pee on your stuff.

We also have had a crawfish. These are surprisingly quite entertaining!! They eat pellets, but are easy to overfeed because they hide their food. And you do have to be a little careful about the water quality.

Any pet you get or consider, please do your research first. I think it's so sad when people decide they want a pet, but don't think it through and then don't want it because it gets... too expensive, too big, too much work... too whatever. Or they don't know all there is about caring for it and it dies or is malnourished.

Best of luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

With any pet and if you travel, you have to be willing to get and pay for, a pet sitter or for boarding it.

Dogs will be too high maintenance per your traveling.
3 weeks is a long time. To have it at a boarding place.
Same for a cat.
Unless you have relatives or a GOOD trusted neighbor, that will take in your cat... but you'd need to pay them. I mean, taking care of a pet/feeding it/cleaning their poop etc. is extra work, for anyone.

What about fish.
Guppies are low maintenance.
And they don't need a social life with its owners.

My friend and her kids, were pet sitting a friend's guinea pigs.
For like a couple of months.
But even she said, with their busy schedule and them working, well, it was like having an extra child. In the house.
But they did it for a GOOD family friend.

Or maybe a bird.
We have birds. They are good pets. Easy. Well that is what we think.
But still, its a pet, the cage has to be cleaned and them fed.
We have a parakeet and a wild bird which we took in when it was just a fledgling and fell out of its nest and was nearly dead.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

I have a cat and a dog. When we go out of town, I board my dog, and leave the cat at home. I make sure there is plenty of fresh water bowls around, and then my sister comes every couple days or so and brings in the mail and chats with my cat for awhile, and checks the food and water. If you have 2 cats, they could keep each other company, as long as someone stopped in to check on them and their food I think leaving them is fine.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Whatever pet you get, you will need a pet sitter or to board the pet. You can board a dog, or get a dog sitter if a dog overall fits your lifestyle. If you get a small animal like a guinea pig, you can give them "floor time" to allow for them to have time out of the cage. Same with a rabbit (though rabbits can be sister's rabbits ate her dining room wall).

We have cats because we don't have the lifestyle for a dog. We did not adopt kittens because we wanted animals with "known" personalities. Our younger cat is 4 or 5 and insane (as cats sometimes are) but she gets along with DD great. Our older cat is 12 or 13 and thinks he's a dog and is nearly big enough to be one.

When we travel, we have friends and family visit them daily for some attention and feeding. You can also hire someone to visit them and play with them via a pet sitting service. Some pet sitters will stay in your home so the pets are not lonely (I used to date a guy who did that for a few key clients. They knew him through other avenues, like his job at a vet clinic). When I "pig sit", I usually bring the guinea pigs to my home as it is easier on all of us. Do you have a friend who would take in your dog (if you got one) for a few weeks?

We have two cats so they can entertain each other. If you go to a rescue (there are rescues for all kinds of critters) you can discuss your needs, the animal's needs and how many would be good to get.

You could also consider travel of a type that allows you to bring a smaller pet along.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

3 weeks is too long to leave any animal unattended, they need checked up on and need their littler box changed, food freshened, and water cleaned. Even a fish tank should not be left so long with out care, what if a filter goes out? It sounds like a pet may not be the best choice unless you can arrange for someone to come over every couple of days to check on them and clean/feed. Then a cat would be okay, they can do fine on their own for a couple of days at a time.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

3 weeks is not too long for a cat if the cat has the right personality and there is someone to come by and feed it and change the litter box every few days.

We had 2 cats and we were able to be on vacation and the cats were fine with just someone to look after them every few days. We also know people who are gone for 4-5 weeks at a time with cats, and the cats just need care every other day (we used to get paid to take care of the cats and water the plants!)

One of our cats died and we got another one. We went on a 4-day vacation and this cat got depressed, wouldn't eat or drink and she had to go to the vet when we got home to be treated for dehydration. She is super attached to us! So if we go on any more vacations, we'll have to pay someone to come by every day and play with her and feed her wet food (to make sure she eats).

So it depends on the temperament of the animal, and who you can get to help look after it when you're on vacation.


answers from Phoenix on

I had 2 cats that were inside/outside cats, meaning they used the doggie door to come and go. We had those huge feeders that held food and water and we could be gone for a month and they would be fine. It depends on the cats though. Good luck.



answers from Phoenix on

If you both work at a university, I would imagine that you could find pet-sitters quite easily! I think you could do fine with two cats. I had two that were buddies when my husband and I were transitioning between states and we often had to leave them in one state or the other for anywhere from 2 days to a week or more. We paid someone to come in every day for food, water, litter box, and love. If you have the ability to pay for care while you are out of town, go for it! I would check with the rescue where you adopt from and avoid any known neurotic kitties... but a typical cat would be fine with your occasional absence. If you care enough to give it this much thought, I am guessing you will be a good and responsible pet owner :)
On other critters- I had a hamster that was a great pet, but you have to be sure and handle them daily to keep them friendly. Otherwise, they are quite low-maintenance. We are looking into a desert tortoise (non-restricted, of course) for our boys, they do well in AZ. I have also known some really neat rats, if you don't have a "thing" about them they can be great pets :)

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