You work the swing shift at the factory and return home early in the morning. Not quite ready to sleep, you rouse your dog for some quality-time play, but he looks at you with red, bleary eyes. It's obvious he's just feigning excitement – he'd much rather dream of chasing Frisbees than actually do it.
Several hours later, Scruffy is rested and ready to play in the sunshine, but you've adopted something of a vampire's lifestyle. That big, bright interrogation lamp we call the sun is just too harsh at midday. Your lifestyles are definitely out of sync.
If you're thinking about getting a pet, one of the first things to consider is your lifestyle. Pets have deep, emotional needs just like people. While this does not mean you have to listen to the relationship woes of your friends, it does mean you should have the time to bond with your pet.
Where you live is of course a major factor in your decision. A condo or apartment building may not allow dogs, for instance, and you shouldn't flout the rules by bringing one in. You may be forced to choose between moving or giving up your pet. Unfortunately, many people choose to give up their pet to a shelter, where there is little chance he or she can be adopted before being euthanized. You can learn more about the animal issues of where you live by reading Home versus Apartment Living.
It is far better to choose a type of pet that fits your lifestyle. This may mean selecting a companion other than a dog, cat or some other relatively high-maintenance pet. Fortunately, there is a world of options out there that can allow you to mesh your lifestyle with that of an appropriate companion. The following list is far from all-inclusive, but it may give some ideas of the things you should consider.
If you work the graveyard shift or just like to stay active at night and sleep all day, a dog is a poor choice for a pet. When you're up and active, his canine body clock is chiming that it's time to hit the hay. When you're in sweet REM sleep, he's ready to go. Cats. They own the night. Cats power nap an average of 16 hours out of the 24, and particularly enjoy playing at night, as any first-time kitten owner will have discovered. Cats are also much more self-sufficient than dogs and are also ideal indoor pets.
For night people, consider the following species:
Rabbits. These quiet and unobtrusive pets can have a temper if you try to handle them during the day, when they normally sleep. Rabbits are at their best in the morning or late in the evening, which may fit your night owl habits.
Gerbils, hamsters and hedgehogs. These small mammals are generally active at night.
The first question you should ask a prospective roommate is whether he or she likes dogs, cats, birds, etc. Be cautious and ask follow-up questions about his or her experience with pets: Many people say they like pets because they are desperate for a room. Only later do you find out they really can't stand the sight of your pet. Always ask for references from prospective roommates. Cats. Your cat may or may not like new people entering or leaving her home, but so long as her personal space is not affected this shouldn't be a problem. Your prospective roommate may need some patience though; cats want to explore all of their domain, including your roommate's room.
The revolving roommate phenomenon can be hard on some dogs, so you may want to wait until you have a stable living situation before getting a canine.
Canaries, finches, budgies and most small mammals. These are generally unaffected by changing roommates.
Reptiles. Generally reptiles will not notice, although your iguana may get a little nervous around new people.
Fish. They won't even notice, unless your roommate overfeeds or harasses them.
If you're single, live alone and work a regular 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, the world is your oyster in terms of selecting the right pet. But there is another factor to consider: If you are looking for a relationship, your pet may have something to say in your choice of mates. Dogs. Your lifestyle was made for a dog. With so many choices, you need only to select the right breed to fit your lifestyle: active, laid back, or that comfortable place in between.
Cats. This pet just seems to come up in every category, but there is no denying that cats are relatively low maintenance. Self-sufficient and independent, they ask only for some love (on their terms), a warm place near or on you, fresh water, litter and good food. You should look for the breed that fits your own personality. A domestic shorthair or longhair is laid-back, while an Abyssinian is very active. A Siamese will prove affectionate, but they can be quite vocal.
Ferrets. A ferret is like a perpetual kitten – they're always ready to play. They rate somewhere between the demands of a dog and the independence of a cat, which may be perfect for your lifestyle. However, they will get destructive if left alone too long. If you're the type that likes to travel, better pass on the ferret.
Small mammals. Gerbils, hamsters, etc. are also good pets for the single life.
Leaving your pet for a weekend getaway doesn't mean you're leaving behind your responsibilities. If you take frequent trips, either for pleasure or business, you should ask whether your lifestyle has room for a pet. Leaving means making sure all your pet's needs are met, physical and emotional. Rats and mice. These rodents do fine on their own, if they have others of their own species and sex to play with.
Dogs, cats, birds, ferrets and many small mammals are poor choices if you're not around. These animals bond with their human caregivers and suffer from their prolonged absence. However, there are some animals that can do well, provided they are well cared for:
Fish. Again, finding the right pet sitter is crucial. Many fish die from the "good neighbor" syndrome – chronic overfeeding.
Small birds such as canaries and finches. These do well as long as they have the company of their own species. Single birds do not do well alone, however.