Should we get a pet? Google research seems to say 'yes'.
January 30, 2010 2:52 PM   Subscribe

Can pets really ease depression? My husband is suffering from work-related depression at the moment, he is seeing a therapist for this. When we were discussing getting a pet, we thought it would be best to ask the therapist before going ahead with the idea. The therapist's answer was: if you want one, get one. The problem is that we do not know if it is a good idea or not.

My husband and I saw those wonderfully cute pygmy hedgehogs a few months ago and discussed the possibility of getting one.

Pros: a cuddly pet to play with and share quality time with.
Cons: taking care of a cage, sorting out food (not quite off-the-shelf for that specific pet), making sure the pet is well and in good health, my husband never had a pet for himself.

Basically, my questions are:
1) Is it a good idea to get a pet or will that be something more my husband has to stress over? He was the one quite taken with the idea, yet now he does not mention it and cannot seem to decide whether he would like one or not.
2) Do you have experience about caged vs. non-caged pets to help with depression? (Cats are out of the question because of allergies, dogs because of lack of space.)
posted by tweemy to Pets & Animals (41 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Would you still want a pet if it did nothing to ease your husband's depression, and if his depression meant you were the one cleaning the cage and sorting the foot and taking the hedgehog to a vet? Then consider getting a pet. If not, don't.
posted by sallybrown at 3:00 PM on January 30, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: The therapist is right: doing this by choice because you enjoy the company of a furry creature will help, forcing yourself or someone else to do it won't. If he's depressed and unable to feel much pleasure (anhedonia), he probably won't know if he will "like" it or not-- can you foster a pygmy hedgehog for a few months? That would be the best of both worlds.

Warm, furry things that you can pet definitely tend to lower stress-- and taking care of something can give you a feeling of meaning and purpose, both of which can help depression. Obviously, though, everything in moderation: if you are overwhelmed by taking care of something, it will worsen depression.

But the pygmy hedgehog doesn't sound like it would require that much care and could provide comfort and pleasure.
posted by Maias at 3:01 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get the hedgehog. I've never had a hedgehog, but I've never NOT had a pet, and those little hedgehogs are cute and cuddly looking. I'm firm believer in the theory that pets can relieve the effects of depression. Living with animals is good for the soul.
posted by dchrssyr at 3:06 PM on January 30, 2010

Hedgehogs are kind of a crap shoot on interactivity. If they were hand-raised from a very early age, they can be quite personable and cuddly. If not, they're totally standoffish and will simply ball up in a mishmash of spikes and make themselves totally untouchable. So, if you're going to buy one, make sure you buy one from a breeder that hand raises them, and not from some random pet store.

Personally, when dealing with my various depressive bouts over the years, dogs and cats were the only animals that made much of an impact on my mental state. Out of all the animals humans keep as pets, dogs and cats are about the only ones I'd consider "companion animals"--in that they are empathetic to humans and actually respond to, and often attempt to console, bad moods. I guess what I'm saying is that dogs and cats like being with people, and so give something that appears to be love. Other animals may tolerate people, but have never seemed to offer any emotional support in my experience.

You say you lack space, but what about an older rescue dog? An older dog isn't as rambunctious as a puppy, and if you choose your breed carefully would probably do fine with just a couple of walks a day.

I would actually offer one exception to my companion animal paragraph above: a parrot can be a quite personable creature, on top of being quite bright and entertaining. There are a couple issues with a parrot though: 1) they live 60+ years, so what happens to it when you die can be a real concern; 2) they're extremely bright, and get bored, so entertainment is an issue.
posted by Netzapper at 3:08 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

I want to add a data point. Less than a year before my dad died, he got a puppy. He'd never much cared for dogs but he knew he was dying and I think he knew it would be good for mom to have the dog around when he passed. The dog is just about the only thing that got my mom through the hardest of her depression after he died. That dog was the best gift my dad ever got her.
posted by dchrssyr at 3:09 PM on January 30, 2010 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I have a personal anecdote, which is probably worthless to you but hey let's throw it out there anyway. I had some mild anger and self-loathing issues; therapy never worked for a number of reasons irrelevant to the story. I didn't even want a pet, but I ended up with a little female kitten kind of against my will. A year later, I felt so much better that I got another kitten.

Caring for both of them has just worked wonders and really softened me up a lot emotionally. Of course the process wasn't magical; I just learned a few things about myself along the way, like I can useful and I can be loved. If I put in a little effort, I can make another being's life the best they could have. It's empowering and humbling at the same time.

As far as a hedgy goes, I don't thing your husband would get the full experience out of it. Hedgehogs are kind of passive pets; they don't show a lot of affection, kind of like a lizard or a guinea pig. In your position I would go with either a cockatiel or a fancy rat. Both are wonderfully intelligent and social.
posted by Willie0248 at 3:19 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with those who say that a hedgehog is not the best pet. A hedgehog is a wild animal and has only recently been domesticated. It would be better to have an animal that has been bred by humans for hundreds of years because these animals have been bred by humans to be sociable and easy for a human to build a relationship with. A ferret fit the description of a caged animal that has a long history of domestication.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 3:23 PM on January 30, 2010

I can't comment on hedgehogs, but I had a serious bout of depression after a break-up. I decided to get a cat as a way of dealing, and it was a really good decision. This was something my therapist very much encouraged when I first brought up the idea. I ended up adopting a young cat who had a very rough time of it prior to being brought to a cat rescue.

Having to be responsible for another living creature's life snapped me out of my self-focused misery. In trying to take the absolute best care of my cat and create a safe, stable home, I sort of transferred that thoughtful care to myself.
posted by Maude_the_destroyer at 3:24 PM on January 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

I just got a dog, after not having one for nearly a year. A friend died a few weeks ago, and having the dog has been a big help. He makes me laugh, and he's snuggly. He eats shoes, too, but the good things outweigh going barefoot.
posted by theora55 at 3:27 PM on January 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

Another anecdote:

We got a puppy when my husband was going through excruciating cancer treatment, and resulting depression. I brought the puppy into the house against his express wishes (but knowing that I would be 100% responsible for caring for the dog throughout its lifetime). I expected, at most, grudging tolerance.

Three years later, he loves the dog tremendously, and she is constantly by his side. His blood pressure is lower, and he is happier. He has even volunteered to walk to dog on occasion, and gets food for her at the high end specialty pet store.

This is clearly not a one-size-fits-all answer, but it was very helpful in lifting a situational depression and providing a sense of purpose in our family.
posted by mozhet at 3:28 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you get a pet, get one that bonds to people. It really is gratifying when your pet comes to trust and accept you and seems to get more cuddly and affectionate all the time.
posted by orange swan at 3:38 PM on January 30, 2010

Pets are awesome, but I also would chime with a datapoint on hedgehogs--my brother had one, and while she was very cute, she was (as hedgehogs are) primarily nocturnal, and sleepy/not very playful during the day. Also very spikey, and therefore not fun to crawl under the covers with (which is perhaps my favorite thing to do with friendly kitties). She was prone to skin illnesses, and died after just a few years despite careful and constant care.

I personally vote yes to pets, no to hedgehogs. YMMV.
posted by stray at 3:39 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

One vote here for a chill, adult shelter dog. Hedgehogs are cute, but rarely cuddly.
posted by gnutron at 3:43 PM on January 30, 2010

I don't have experience with hedgehogs, but I do have experience with depression. For me, my dog is a wonderful companion who helps motivate me to get up and move and also calms me when I get panicky.

Over the years I've had lots of different pets, but the ones that helped with the depression are the ones that interacted with me. Having something that was overjoyed to see me when I got home really brightened my mood. I had a guinea pig who did that, but then again it also got really excited when anyone opened the fridge. I did have a little mouse for awhile that would ride around the house in my shirt pocket, and that was fun. Really though, dogs have been the one animal that always made me feel better.

I know you said space is an issue, but I would really consider a dog if I were in your place. An older, small breed dog from a shelter could suit your purposes. There are a lot of small dogs that are well suited for apartment life, and most of them were bred to be companions anyway. Visit the shelter often, and more than one if you can. Maybe your husband will find a dog that he just 'connects' with. Also, if your husband takes responsibility for being the one to walk the dog then he's out getting fresh air and exercise which will help with his depression.

If you really can't do a dog, I would consider a fancy rat. They have a reputation for being very friendly and trainable. Plus, they are soft and easier to pet.

I think having an animal is beneficial to me because I really love animals. If I wasn't so in love with little furry things, I don't know how much of a benefit it would be for me. Everybody is different. I say you and your husband should shop around and if something gets him excited then go for it. If he feels ambivalent but vaguely positive and you are willing to do the work, go for it. If he feels really vague and it will be too much for you to handle then skip it.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:47 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree that hedgehogs are perhaps not the best choice for a pet if you're looking for something that's going to interact with you on a regular basis and form some kind of attachment with you.

On the other hand, I also agree with Maude that merely having a thing to care for can be really uplifting and helpful. Honestly, I've found having a bunch of houseplants around to be helpful to me, so if he wants a hedgehog, get a hedgehog.
posted by adiabat at 3:49 PM on January 30, 2010

I think horses and dogs are great motivators because they a) provide unconditional love and b) make you go outside several times a day and move around. I've never gotten a lot out of indoor pets but I know that other people do so ymmv.
posted by fshgrl at 3:56 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think if you're going to get a pet, you should be pretty psyched about it and it doesn't really sound like you're all that into it, or your husband, either. It's a heavy thing to lay on another living creature, anyway -- 'here, make me happy!'

There are lifestyle changes that can give you more bang for your buck in terms of depression, dietary changes, meditation, exercise, anti-depressants. I kind of think maybe he should go with one of those.

Also, if you could swing it, I kind of think maybe a session or two with the two of you as a couple might be a not-bad idea. You seem a little detached from what he wants, while at the same time wanting very much to help him. Just a suggestion; sorry if it's off topic.

Anyway: pet? I think not.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:56 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you could possibly take care of a dog or cat, call a nearby rescue organization and see if you can do something called a "trial adoption". Note that if you don't keep the cat or dog you try out, it may make you feel a little worse, but at least you'll know the rescue organization will take care of the animal and it will eventually have a good home.

However, I'd bet that your husband will love taking care of a puppy or kitten -- it's amazing how quickly people can be attached. It's very fun to play with them, it's wonderful to feel them cuddle up to you (if you get a cuddly one), and it's rewarding to notice that they follow you from room to room, just being there with you for your company.

If your husband has never had a pet for himself, he could be in for a wonderful experience. Having the animal's foster person to call when you have questions could be very reassuring, also.
posted by amtho at 4:12 PM on January 30, 2010

In my experience, you should only become the caretaker of an animal if this is something that you are very moved to do. Because if you're not, when the animal is ill, or needs care and attention (don't forget, they need that too), if you're not psyched to do it, that's not fair to the animal.

Yes, animals greatly help with depression and stress. I had no idea that would be the case when my late cat picked me at the shelter that day. But I had very much planned for and very much wanted to welcome a cat into my home at that time.

I will advise against a dog for the same reason I do not own a dog. I travel, I work late, I am always out and about. I live in an apartment. I personally do not consider this lifestyle to be one that is fair to a dog. A cat is largely self-maintaining and does not require you to get home in time to walk it, does not require regular vigorous exercise. All animals are commitments but dogs especially so, imho.
posted by micawber at 4:17 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Absolutely. Our dog has an almost sixth sense about when we need cheering up and is just there. The sense that this animal has chosen to be with you and love you unconditionally does wonders for the soul.

If you are worried about maintenance, I would suggest getting an animal (dog or cat) that is out of its puppy/kitten stage but still young. They are still super playful, just not crazy (we got our cats as kittens and I still remember very well the nightly battles they had on our bed. While we were trying to sleep. They've mellowed).

Either way, I highly recommend adoption either through a rescue organization or the SPCA. Some organizations do a lot of work figuring out the temperaments of the pets before placement so you can really know what you're getting.

I say go for it!

ps - I should mention that I had allergies to cats prior to our adopting two kittens. My allergies disappeared after we got them. FYI.
posted by Leezie at 4:18 PM on January 30, 2010

I think a fancy rat will bring more entertainment and love than a hedgehog, too. Anything you get will require a bit of research - when I was considering rats, the amount of information I would have missed out on had I just gone out and brought some home from a breeder... eesh. Nothing is as simple as it sounds, and there is a lot to take into consideration. Even with hedgehogs.

That said, it's important to keep thinking of pets not as a tool to help with some aspect of your life, but as friends. My cat is my roommate more than anything else. (Then again, with cats that's kind of the default, isn't it.) There are chores involved: ones that must be done whether you're depressed or not, whether you have energy, or time, or patience. That's why it's kind of iffy to give an immediate "Yes!" - these are things that really have to sink in. If you're both ambivalent about the idea, it could become a bad thing just as equally as good. I think at least one of you has to be excited about this and willing to do what it takes to keep the animal happy and healthy, for the rest of its life.

With that said, it's absolutely true that pets can make you happy when nothing else seems to work. Their love is unconditional, and it helps when a little furry creature is depending on you to love and care for it back. They are amazing, and they enrich the lives of their owners :)
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 4:19 PM on January 30, 2010

suffering from work-related depression at the moment...

This isn't chronic depression and hopefully it's actually temporary, so yes, having a small pet would be GREAT therapy. The care and cost involved are essentially nil compared to the therapeutic value. And it's just so FUN!

I have to agree about pygmy hedgehogs though. Not only do they not really like human attention, cuddling and whatnot, they are also insectivores and that is a pain in the ass.

You should read up on various small pet animals and find the ones that are social but don't need constant attention. Then check out shelter and pet stores to find the one for you.

I hope that you two are able to find a little fuzzy friend and that he or she brings you great joy!
posted by snsranch at 4:28 PM on January 30, 2010

You should never get a pet without being absolutely, 100% committed to caring for it until its last day on this earth. Pets are a lot of time and money and effort, even when you don't feel like it.

That said, and this is a personal anecdote because that's all I've got, I have suffered from severe depression for years. And yeah, I'm on meds and in therapy and blah blah. I got a cat last year. It was slightly unexpected, but when the opportunity came I went for it, totally committed.

He is the light of my life. I lucked out, because he's so affectionate and snuggly (you can't force a cat to do anything, they bow to no one). He makes me laugh with his silly antics, and calms me down when I brush him or when he sits on my lap. He snuggles up sometimes on cold nights, and I get the enormous pleasure of falling asleep to a purring cat. When I come home after a rough day, he's right there at the door, howling for dinner, and my world seems right again.

You and your husband should be mindful that your pet won't always be a bundle of joy, and is a lot of work. It also won't be a silver bullet for the blues. But a pet WILL add a new layer to your life. Sometimes a really magical one. (I sound like a crazy cat lady. I'm okay with that.)
posted by missmary6 at 4:56 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think the reason a pet may help with depression is because, as other people have said, they give affection and provide a distraction, and also because they provide a social life without the pressure for correct social interaction. When a person is depressed or stressed they may not have the energy to present themself correctly in a social situation whereas a pet doesn't care about presentation. The low key social support of a pet can be helpful.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 5:05 PM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

I know you said cats are out of the question but I just wanted to share a data point. My husband is very allergic to some cats, but not every cat. Stepping into our cat-owning friend's house would literally make him ill after 5 minutes even when the cat was confined to another room, but our cat barely causes a reaction at all. He had some doubts when I wanted to get one, because he had never lived with a cat before and was justifiably worried about allergies, so we found a shelter with a 30-day return policy and made a promise to each other that if his allergies were bad, the kitty would go back and there would be no hard feelings. It's worked out well and we're both very happy; the allergy symptoms are well-controlled with over-the-counter stuff.

Just something to maybe consider. Kitty snuggles are good for the soul.
posted by beandip at 5:08 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I, too, only have anecdotes, and my roommate and I were adopted by a kitten. She (quite literally) stopped us on the street. She's been a wonderful help to me during some post-break up depression I had, and I would not trade her for anything. Even when she tries to eat my dinner, like right now.

Also, I'm generally quite allergic to animals, and I got used to both my now-ex's dog and my kitten. I wouldn't say that it's the case for everyone, but it's worth noting.

Fancy rat does sound like a good pet, though. I don't know much about them except that anyone I know who's had one has been very happy.
posted by inmediasres at 5:21 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you can't have a cat or a dog, a small rabbit might be a possibility. I've never owned one, but I gather they're cuddly, cheap to feed, well understood by vets, and can be let out or confined to a hutch as convenient to you.
posted by zadcat at 5:26 PM on January 30, 2010

There are a lot of studies which back up the assertion that pets help with depression. But I think those studies are geared towards the "high interactive" pets like cats and dogs. Having had a huge spectrum of pets in my life (including hermit crabs, horses, and everything in between) I'm not sure a caged pet like a hedgehog is going to do the trick.

You mention a dog won't work due to space considerations. If you're willing to consider a dog, they do come in very small sizes as I'm sure you've noticed. Also, the very large breeds actually require less space and exercise than small and mid-size breeds.

Would you think about getting a rescued greyhound? Greyhounds don't need big yards, or big houses. They are the biggest laziest couch potato dogs in the world, and you'd have the benefit of knowing you'd saved it from a terrible fate.
posted by ErikaB at 6:05 PM on January 30, 2010

The act of taking care of my cat was one of the things that kept me from totally losing it in the first couple weeks after 9/11.

My cat's always been an annoying, pushy little bastard when it's his dinnertime. Two hours before he starts up a campaign of yelling at me, poking me with paws, an sometimes knocking things off tables to get my attention.

At the time, I lived less than a mile from the Towers, close enough to hear the impact of both planes as they hit. I was in the frozen zone for the first week, and couldn't leave my block without getting carded. I was outrageously close to panic for two straight weeks, sometimes sitting huddled in my apartment and staring into space with my brain in a rabbit loop of obsessing over what happened....

...until Zach started meowing at me at night, ordering his dinner.

At first it was a trial to drag myself over and feed him, but it was a bit of normality to cling to. Then it got me thinking that okay, yeah, the world was falling down around my ears, but HE didn't know that, and HE was still alive, and because of that, HE needed to eat. It was my responsibility to take care of him, and that was all there was to it.

And from that, I realized that I was also alive, and I had a responsibility to care for myself too. The world was in chaos, but I still needed to eat and take a shower and get dressed too.

And...he pulled me out of it, just by being the annoying little glutton he's always been. Oh, and also by falling off the back of the television once when he was asleep on it. Pets also do things that make you laugh, and that helps too. But - the responsibility of caring for some creature that gives you affection back is very powerful.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:23 PM on January 30, 2010 [7 favorites]

If you can't have a cat or a dog, a small rabbit might be a possibility. I've never owned one, but I gather they're cuddly, cheap to feed, well understood by vets, and can be let out or confined to a hutch as convenient to you.

Actually, I would not recommend a rabbit for a depressed person, or anyone who hasn't really researched rabbit care. Rabbits can make great companions, but can be rather high-maintenance what with training them to use a litterbox, keeping them from chewing cords, providing space to run, etc. They're intelligent, active, and can be stubborn. IMO it's cruel to confine them to a hutch. Also, while they can be very affectionate, most rabbits like to cuddle/snuggle only on their own terms, and most hate being picked up.

I'd second the recommendation of a rat, actually a same-sex pair of rats, so they can keep each other company. Rats are fairly low-maintenance, very sweet and personable, and a joy to pick up and cuddle. Their main drawback is a short (2-3 years) lifespan. Actually, if you're not sure about a pet this might be less daunting than an animal with a much longer lifespan. Do be prepared for vet bills - rats are generally hardy but can be prone to tumors and respiratory illness - and for getting really attached to your rats during their too-short lives.

Rats are awesome and I've found my rats to be a real comfort when dealing with depression.
posted by spiny at 6:24 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for something about the same size as a pygmy hedgehog but a little more cuddly and furry and social, might I suggest a guinea pig? Some friends of mine recently got a pair of them and I was amazed at how adorable and fun they were!
posted by platinum at 6:34 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think a good way for you to support your husband is to support and reinforce his ideas. It sounds like he was drawn to the idea of a pet -- it might be helpful for him if you could let him know that its great for him to want something, that he is capable of taking care of a pet even if he is depressed. Being depressed can take away all your self confidence and creat a lot of doubt. Having a pet can be reassuring -- its something that you can take care of, if its the right pet it'll give you back some affection. Your husband may be expressing a lot of doubt about whether or not having a pet is a good idea, and I think you could help by letting him know that you're happy to support his decision and are thrilled that he's taking that kind of step to take care of himself.
posted by cubby at 7:11 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As others have said - a pet, yes - hedgiesnotsomuch. We were considering one for our family, and these considerations helped us decide that we would NOT be good hedgie owners. Same goes for chinchillas, rabbits, gerbils and hamsters. BUT - we babysat our niece's "fancy" rat (he was supposed to be fancy, but was as grayish brown and wiry and pink-tailed as any common street rat, and so we called him "Sewie" - short for Sewer Rat), and quite liked him and did pretty well with him! He had character and showed affection, and wasn't too much to care for for a week or two. However, it was stressful juggling him with a dog and cat as well... Relatives had a ferret, and adored him - but though our daughter would love one, they're also a bit much for us as we are.

My father, who suffers from depression both as a chronic thing, as well as a side effect of medication, cheers up around the bird that we found for them - a cockatiel. She was re-homed from my SIL, and they agreed to take her. Sesame isn't cuddly with anyone but him; she loves him and sits on his belly and grooms his chest hair and peeps when he comes in. If she's out on her perch, she'll hop off, flutter down to the floor and walk over to him. He brightens up around her. And, she still prefers him, even though my mom feeds her - It's so annoying when pets are only loyal to the person holding food at whatever time.

Surprisingly, my husband loves the corn snake we took over from a young cousin. I quite like him too - I've never felt one way or another about snakes, but I'm glad we have him. He's lovely to hold, and very soothing when he twines around my neck. He's pretty low-maintenance, compared to the dog and cat. I wouldn't call him affectionate, but he's aware of us and as long as we're mellow, so is he. It's nice to sit and watch a show with him crawling around and curling up in a warm spot.

And, to add to the depression + the cats or dogs opinions? I love them both, and it was the loss of my best dog ever that sent me into a depression. There is nothing like having a dog - nothing - and I would suggest a smaller, older dog that needs some love. They don't need space, just walks, which are great for depression. They're harder to adopt, and often come trained, and Petfinder will let you search quite specifically and the rescues will help match the dog with your family and lifestyle. That challenge, or mission, might help your husband get past his depression, if he needs a distraction. There's a reason they bring dogs to senior homes and hospitals - they're soulful, and there's that quote "I aspire to be the person my dog thinks I am".

As another said, I am allergic to cats, some more than others, and found that I am fine with my own after he's been around a bit. I wash my hands a lot and don't touch my face. It also says something about housekeeping - some houses don't keep up after cats and I'm allergic in them. Your husband might be fine with a little exposure if the cat is kept up after. I'd say talk to his doctor, and see if allergies can be managed and consider a cat - they're a challenge to please, which is the opposite of a dog; but on a long day, having a warm and purry thing next to you is worth a couple of sniffles to me.

Try fostering first. And warm wishes for all the best - it's hard to live with someone suffering from depression, and it's very caring of you to consider this so thoroughly, rather than impulsively.
posted by peagood at 7:11 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Given your situation, I cannot recommend a dog strongly enough - I've loved reading this thread about the joys of dogs (and, ok, cats) and I want to stress (as EmpressCallipygos did) that in addition to being loving and cuddly - cats and dogs are hilarious. Since your husband is allergic to cats, know that dogs come in every variety of personality and energy level - an older, relaxed dog who wants nothing more than to hang out with people and give and recieve affection can be found if you're diligent about searching shelters or working with rescue people, and I think a dog like that would be a really uplifting creature to bring into your household.
If you're leery of getting a dog, I will say that while rodents aren't comparable - platinum is right to say that guinea pigs can be awfully cute. I recently visited a friend and when I arrived at the house I was so busy fussing over her dog that it had to be pointed out to me that their guinea pig was also standing up, holding the bars of his cage, and was excited to greet me and be petted, too.
posted by moxiedoll at 7:20 PM on January 30, 2010

Tweemy's hubby here - she's asleep at the moment (my sleep is all kinds of screwed up these days) but I'll give her a cuddle when she wakes up for posting this.

Thanks for all the advice so far. To be fair, she doesn't know what I want in this regard, as I don't know myself, though we have talked about it a few times. I have been getting treatment for my work-related 2 year long depression (on my 2nd type of anti-depressants and therapy) for the last 4 months but many days I feel I'm making no progress at all; and lack of joy in life as well as motivation to do anything at all outside work is really tough sometimes. Being paralysed by indecision seems to be one of the many side-effects of my depression.

Your cautions about not getting a pet purely for my state of mind are well taken; that's one of my primary concerns holding me back, that I'm afraid I simply wouldn't be able to look after the animal as well as it deserves. I had a couple of dogs growing up (though we shared care duties), and my wife has had a guinea pig and cats so I'm well aware of the work that goes into keeping pets healthy and happy. I do work very long hours and we live in a (british) small flat on the 1st floor with no garden and steep stairs, so taking any size dog for sufficient walks and giving them sufficient space to live and move around would be hard to pull off, and not fair to the dog if I couldn't. If/when we move to a house with a garden, I'd definitely be tempted by a dog.

I did spend an xmas at my sister-in-law's, and I was so badly allergic to her cat that I could hardly breathe all week, even with anti-histamines. Thus the thoughts of caged animals that might be easier to care for properly, even if they're not as friendly and cuddly as a dog would be. Still, it might be possible to find a cat I'm not allergic to - even though I'm sure cats only tolerate us until they figure out how to operate a can opener ;)

We're probably a bit cold here for a cockatiel, and I've never been that enthused by pet birds, but thanks for the thought. I was looking at hand-reared pygmy hedgehogs as they are rather cute, if not particularly cuddly or affectionate; though peagood's link will make me think some more whether I really could keep it sufficiently warm, and the general opinion is against them.

Fancy rats is an interesting idea in the same vein that I'll look into, but I'm not sure how the wife would take to tame rats... Fostering for a time to try it out does sound like a good way to try it out without making a multi-year commitment up front, which would be a help. I'll have to look into my local shelters to see if they offer it.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:22 AM on January 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

And I've just remembered that for americans, the 1st floor is the ground floor. For the US audience, we live in a 2nd floor flat ;)
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:25 AM on January 31, 2010

I favorited many comments in this thread as I went along, and I just want to say that I really do hope you feel better ArkhanJG, with or without pet.

As another anecdata point, I am also allergic to cats but I took care of a LaPerm for a few days recently and was surprised to find that I could have lived with him. No allergic reaction at all for some reason. And I know I'm still very allergic to cats because my eyes swelled up and were itchy as heck a few hours after I played with a friend's Ragdoll, also recently. Anyway, I couldn't keep the LaPerm because my dog couldn't tolerate him, but I'd like you to know that in my experience, there really are cats that don't trigger allergic reactions. You might try the breeds like Siberians and Russian Blues that are said to be hypoallergenic, and the Rex breeds like Devon and Cornish Rexes (and yes, LaPerms). Please note I'm not saying these breeds won't cause allergic reactions in everybody, just that in my case, a particular cat happened to not make me itch and that there's a chance you might find a good match for you. I love my dog, but cats are awesome, too!
posted by misozaki at 4:55 AM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to clear up a few things: I know a pet will not be an instant happiness-in-a-furball. I *would* be hyped to get a pet, but I do not want to pressure my husband into getting a pet just for me. And yes, a pet is for life, not just Christmas. And it is work too, and we would have to look after he/she properly of course!
I guess a hedgehog is really not for us though, mainly because of the temperature issue which I had not flagged in all I read up about them so far. Fancy rats could be an alternative though.
A dog really is not a possibility, as ArkhanJG explained. But if you have more ideas and anecdotes, keep them coming!
posted by tweemy at 5:34 AM on January 31, 2010

I recently got a Regal Siberian kitten. They allegedly are a naturally hypoallergenic cat. (I have mild cat allergies, and I experienced itchy eyes whenever I cuddled with him, but even that has gotten much better.)

He's adorable and friendly, and absolutely lifts my mood every time I see him. I have low-grade depression/dysthymia and I would without reservation recommend a kitten like him to depressed people (especially if there are non-depressed people around who can serve as the kitten's primary caregiver.)

If your husband's allergic to cats, you could find a way to see if he's allergic to these cats in particular. And if my kitten is representative of the breed (and he is, from all descriptions I've heard) than I would heartily recommend it to even non-allergy sufferers -- he's that adorable and friendly. We had some cat owners over the other evening and they were jealous at how friendly he is.
posted by callmejay at 8:42 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Follow-up: My husband tested negative to cat allergy (so we still have to find out that pesky allergen around) so we decided to get one. Here's our new house guest.

We spent the last few days trying to keep up! She's already scampering about the place at high speed, and has somewhat of a taste for toes. When she's not catnapping, anyway. In our opinion, she's already won the most ridiculously photogenic creature award.

We will probably be around asking questions about her at some point!
Thank you all for your responses.
posted by tweemy at 12:19 PM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just noticed this! Yay for followups! And yay to your new family!
posted by misozaki at 10:09 PM on October 21, 2010

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