My husband always says that no household is complete without a four-legged member. Ater adding a furry creature to the mix of our crazy household, I couldn't agree more! But the decision wasn't easy. We went through an array of small animals before finding out what type of pet worked best for our family.

Evaluate Your Lifestyle

Are you and your family always on the go? Is an adult home during the day? How much time do you have to care for and spend with a pet? If you choose an animal that needs interaction and playtime, such as a dog, be sure someone is home enough hours each day to keep him happy. Or be ready to take the dog along while you sit through soccer and baseball games, and pick up kids in the carpool lane. Also consider your family atmosphere. Does your house resemble an amusement park on a holiday weekend, or is your lifestyle more subdued? Think about which pets would do best in your living conditions.

Consider Each Family Member

Does anyone in your family suffer from allergies? Is anyone fearful of certain types of animals? Are your children old enough to be respectful of pets and not harm them? Most experts agree the youngest child should be at least 6 before the family gets a pet. However, you know your family best. Some young children have enough self-discipline to follow the rules necessary to keep pets safe ("Don't pull the kitty's tail," or "Don't feed the guinea pig play dough."). If not, you'll need to provide rigorous supervision of both your pet and your child.

Educate Yourself

Before introducing any new animal to the family, do your homework. Read everything you can about each type of pet you are considering. Who knew that goldfish should NEVER be kept in a bowl or that a single small fish needs two to 10 gallons of water (depending on which expert you ask)? Offering to pet sit for another family while they are on vacation is a great way to learn. It's like renting―it provides a chance to try out the type of animal before making the commitment to own. Also, make sure you can provide for the animal's needs over its expected lifespan. Getting a dog for a teenager might seem like a great idea, but when the teenager goes off to college the dog will be left at home.

Involve All Family Members

Each family member must be consulted regarding the potential pet. Everyone needs to know ―realistically―what is involved in taking care of an animal, and everyone needs a chance to express his or her preferences and concerns. While my husband wanted a large dog, my son didn't want a dog that could knock him over if it jumped up on him. We settled on a medium-size dog with very good manners.

Analyze Your Finances

How much can you spend on caring for a pet? If the answer is, "Pet care isn't a line item in our family budget," then you aren't ready for pet ownership. The expenses add up quickly: food, medical bills, equipment, grooming and training all cost money. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the average cost of owning a cat or small dog (including start-up costs) is approximately $1,000 to $1,500 for the first year. A large dog costs almost $2,000 for the first year. Even fish, birds and small "pocket pets," such as hamsters, cost several hundred dollars. And these amounts don't include the cost of the animal itself.

Consider Adopting

Many homeless animals are waiting in shelters and adoption centers for a chance to live happily with a family. Adoption centers not only have dogs and cats but also plenty of small furry animals and birds wanting good homes. A good adoption center will help you find the perfect pet for your family.

Imagine Daily Caretaking

Although children will promise to take care of the new pet, once the novelty wears off, the responsibility will most likely fall on you. Do not get a pet if you are not willing and prepared to take on most of its care. Children inevitably will get involved with their friends, schoolwork, after-school activities and play, while the lovable family pet slides to the bottom of their priority list. That said, here are some age-appropriate ways your child can help.

Responsibilities by Age

Ages 3 - 5

  • petting (if appropriate)
  • pouring food
  • refilling water

Ages 6-9

  • brushing (if appropriate)
  • helping to walk a dog
  • cleaning (with help) the pet's cage, tank or litter box
  • reading books or watching shows about pet care

Ages 10 and up

  • walking a dog or cleaning a small pet's cage, tank or litter box without help
  • brushing a pet or cleaning its teeth (if appropriate)
  • attending training or pet care classes