10 Best Animals to Keep as Pets

Thousands of years ago, domesticated animals served practical purposes (food, protection). But some animals became our companions as well. What are the best animals to keep as pets, now that we welcome them into our homes without that emphasis on pragmatism?

These days, few people need cats to hunt rats or dogs to guard livestock, but many still choose to keep animals in our homes. In fact, according to the American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey, 66 percent of U.S. households have a pet.

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We’ve listed 10 different common house pets — not limited to the usual suspects like dogs, cats, fish, etc. — but you should always do your research before bringing a furry (or feathery, or scaly) friend home. The best pets become part of your family, and they’re living beings that require regular care and attention.

10. Guinea Pig

The guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) is a small rodent domesticated in Peru 3,000 years ago. Like rabbits, guinea pigs were originally domesticated as a food source and became popular as pets in the 19th century.

The American Cavy Breeders Association recognizes 13 breeds, from the short-coat Abyssinian to the curly-haired Texel.

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Guinea pigs weigh 1 to 3 pounds (0.5 to 1.4 kg) and are 8 to 16 inches (20.3 to 40.6 cm) long. Despite their small size, guinea pigs are somewhat messy pets, so you must clean their bedding daily. Guinea pigs are a long-term commitment: They typically live to 7 or 8 years of age.

Before you go out and buy a guinea pig, know that these social animals do best in pairs. According to the Swiss Animal Protection Ordinance, guinea pigs are one of several species that “must be kept in groups of at least two animals.”

The other pets on the list of particularly social animals? Canaries, chinchillas, cockatoos, degus, estrildid finches, gerbils, Japanese quails, lovebirds, macaws, mice, parakeets, parrots and rats.

The animal shelter or pet store where you find your guinea pigs should be able to tell you which two (or three) individuals get along.

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9. Betta Fish

A fish is a great low-maintenance pet. Aside from daily feedings and tank cleaning, they don’t need much hands-on care. Betta fish (Betta splendens), with their long, colorful fins, have the look of an exotic pet but are available at most pet stores and eat pellet food.

One of the most enduring betta fish myths is that they must live alone. (They’re also known as Siamese fighting fish.) To clarify, putting two male betta fish together is not a good idea. You can, however, pair betta fish with other aquatic animals or try pairing two female betta fish.

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8. Leopard Gecko

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey, 6 million U.S. households own a reptile.

The leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) is a charming and fun choice for reptile lovers. Why? First of all, they’re undeniably cute, with leopard-like spots and little pink tongues. They’re small pets, reaching just 7 to 10 inches (17.8 to 25.4 cm) long at maturity.

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And unlike other geckos, leopard geckos can’t climb up walls, making escape unlikely. These low-maintenance pets are friendly enough for occasional handling but fine with being left alone, so long as you provide them with a heat lamp, food and water. (Their preferred diet? Meal worms and crickets).

Just don’t pull on their tails — they are one of many lizard species that can drop their tails. If your gecko does drop their tail, it can regrow, but it won’t be as beautiful as the original.

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7. Bearded Dragon

A bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) is one of the best lizard pets. Not only do they look cool — bearded dragons come in a variety of colors and have little spikes around their “beard” and torso — they’re docile enough for handling and very curious about their environment.

Bearded dragons are omnivorous, so in addition to insects, they eat a daily salad of vegetables like collard greens and bell peppers.

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6. Cat

After dogs, cats (Felis catus) are the second most popular pet in the United States. According to the American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey, 46.5 million U.S. households have a cat.

Cats are affectionate animals and make good pets for anyone who doesn’t mind cleaning a litter box. They display a variety of adorable behaviors, like purring, kneading and sitting in squares.

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An important consideration when bringing a cat home is whether to keep your cat exclusively indoors. The National Audubon Society encourages cat owners to keep their furry friends inside to protect wild bird populations, and indoor cats live longer than their outdoor counterparts.

If you’re worried about your indoor cat getting bored, why not train your cat to do some tricks? Cats are quick learners and enjoy puzzle games just like dogs.

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5. Dog

Dogs are the most popular pets in the U.S. According to the American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey, 65.1 million U.S. households have dogs. So, are they the best pet? Dogs are known for their intelligence, affection and loyalty, but they’re not low-maintenance animals.

Most pet dogs were bred to be affectionate animals (they follow us everywhere), so you’ll need to spend time with them to ensure their well-being. Dogs can also bark, growl and even bite when they feel threatened. These complex creatures require regular care and training to thrive in our human world.

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The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior “recommends that only reward-based training methods are used for all dog training, including the treatment of behavior problems.”

Not only is reward-based training, also known as positive reinforcement training, backed up by science, it’s a fun way for your new pet to bond with the family.

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4. Rabbit

Rabbits were originally domesticated as a food source thousands of years ago, but today they make great pets. All 50 strains of domestic rabbit originate from the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).

According to the House Rabbit Society, pet rabbits kept indoors can live twice as long as those kept outdoors in a cage. Rabbits are social animals, and the House Rabbit Society recommends treating them like part of the family. Rabbits are intelligent and can be trained to use a litter box.

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The hardest part of keeping a soft, fluffy rabbit might be resisting the urge to pick them up — although pet rabbits are known to greet their owners and enjoy sitting near them, most don’t enjoy snuggling.

3. Hamster

What’s not to love about hamsters? Their soft fur and chubby cheeks (actually storage pouches) make these little guys irresistible.

There are 18 species of hamsters, but the one most commonly kept as a pet is the Syrian golden hamster (Mesocricetus auratus). There are over 120 varieties of golden hamster, representing a wide range of fur colors and textures.

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Unlike guinea pigs, rabbits, cats and dogs, hamsters aren’t considered domesticated, making your pet hamster quite similar to the wild golden hamsters roaming the dry plains of northwestern Syria. In their natural habitat, golden hamsters tend to be solitary, so it’s fine to keep just one as a pet.

As long as you can provide them with a well-ventilated cage, water bottle, food and enrichment activities, a hamster offers low-maintenance companionship.

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2. Rat

Rats are a somewhat controversial pet choice. Most people are more concerned with keeping rats out of their home than bringing them home as a pet. But rats are little geniuses and can make excellent pets for anyone who enjoys training but doesn’t want the commitment of a larger animal like a dog.

There are 56 species of rats, but only one is kept a pet: the domesticated brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), also known as the fancy rat. Fancy rats are smaller and more docile than wild brown rats and come in a variety of colors and textures.

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In their short lives (2 years is typical), pet rats can bond with their human caretakers and each other. (These social animals are best kept in pairs.) If you bring a pet rat home, you’ll be impressed by their intelligent, inquisitive nature. But be aware that they are nocturnal, so you may hear their playful sounds at night.

1. Budgie

More than 6 million U.S. households own a bird, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey. One of the most popular choices is the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus), also known as the budgie, shell parakeet or (mistakenly) lovebird.

What makes budgies great pets? First of all, they’re beautiful to look at, with hundreds of color mutations. They’re also friendly.

“I’ve never owned a bad-tempered budgie, and they’ve always been great company and incredibly sociable birds who enjoy being stroked,” longtime budgie owner Michael Rose told HowStuffWorks.

Budgies are vocal, and can learn to communicate with humans using chirps, chatter and whistles. Because budgies are social birds, they do best in pairs. Get your budgies a large cage (at least 12 x 18 x 18 inches, or 30.5 x 45.7 x 45.7 cm) so they can fly around and explore their environment.

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