April is National Pet Month and if you are anything like me, you’re thinking: what a great idea, have a pet for just one month, then give it back!  But no, as the good people behind National Pet Month are here to remind us, owning a pet is a responsibility that doesn’t end after a month. Or even a year. It’s quite literally a life sentence.

Somehow I’ve managed to let my children persuade me into having a number of pets over the years. And so, for anyone considering getting a pet this month, here is my handy guide:

Gone are the days when you could bring a goldfish home from the fair and put it in a bowl of tap water in your bedroom. These days owning a fish is like conducting a chemistry experiment. My son had one for his eighth birthday and while the actual fish was cheap (expect to pay £2), I had to buy a pump and a filter and various chemicals to keep the water clean, along with the requisite plastic plant and treasure chest. Like most animals that live in water, it’s hard to form any meaningful kind of bond with a goldfish. As a result children tire of them quickly. They also over-feed them, which tends to lead to early death, as we discovered.

Guide to picking the perfect pet - Goldfish

Hamsters (see also: gerbils)
My daughter persuaded me to buy a rescue hamster in Pets at Home (who knew there were rescue hamsters?) They’re small enough to keep in a small cage (although you will likely be persuaded into buying a three-storey pink plastic palace with slides and a swimming pool.) They’re also cheap (expect to pay around £5) and kind of cute, if you like small twitchy vermin.  We had to return ours because no-one could pick him up without being viciously bitten (so that’s why they have rescue hamsters…) Hamsters are also all-night ravers who like to go wild on their wheels from dusk to dawn –  so you can’t keep them in your child’s bedroom if you want anyone to sleep. On the upside, they have a relatively short life-span (around a year) so you know it’s not going to live forever, and your kids can learn about the circle of life etc

Hamster - A guide to picking the perfect pet

Guinea pigs
My children have guinea pigs at their dad’s house, so really their dad has guinea pigs and the children get them out occasionally and stroke them before forgetting about them for another week. There’s plenty of humour value in a guinea pig, most of whom have comedy hairstyles and faces that look extra-funny with, say, a cowboy hat on. The other thing guinea pigs have going for them is they’re pretty chilled – they just sit nibbling in their pen 24/7. I know of one guinea pig who was regularly made love to by a big rabbit and he didn’t seem to mind a jot.

a guide to picking the perfect pet

We’ve never owned a rabbit but I asked my nine-year-old daughter’s friend (who has two giant fluffy rabbits in a hutch in the garden) what the good things and the bad things are about having a rabbit. This was her reply: “ The good things are…..there are no good things.”

a guide to picking the perfect pet

Snakes, lizards, Komodo Dragons etc
I just don’t know where to begin. A friend tells a story about her nephew’s snake who escaped overnight, she woke up to it sizing her up for breakfast. Like a Bond movie. Just, no.

A guide to picking the perfect pet

My cat is everything I want to be. Slim, agile, mostly asleep. She comes and goes as she pleases, and I swear that stroking her releases some kind of stress-busting chemical. She doesn’t eat much, and I have never had to clear up a single poo or wee as she goes outside. I am 100% converted to cats (although that time she dropped a dead bird on my face in the middle of the night was a low point.)

a guide to picking the perfect pet

And so to the ultimate conclusion of our family’s pet journey. Once you finally give in to the impassioned pleas and get that puppy, all the other pets seem like childsplay. Insanely hard work, destructive, messy, noisy and utterly infuriating, you’ll fall in love immediately and wonder how you ever lived without one. People (other dog owners, mostly) love to tell you how much hard work it is and how it’s like having another child, and they are absolutely right. Fetch!

a guide to picking the perfect pet