What pets don't hate being pets?
May 13, 2012 11:33 AM   Subscribe

What pets don't hate being pets?

My dog seems to love being a pet. But when I see caged birds or reptiles they seem so stressed out, and the fact that they need to be kept locked up at all times probably means they'd rather be free. I'd love to get another pet, but I don't want to feel like I'm something's captor. Any suggestions?
posted by malhouse to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you live in an area where outdoor cats are acceptable, they're practically free to do as they please.
posted by Jehan at 11:38 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is there a specific reason not to get another dog? (Space limitation, etc.)
posted by scody at 11:39 AM on May 13, 2012

Best answer: when I see caged birds or reptiles they seem so stressed out

I'd suggest that either the ones you've seen were being kept by someone incompetent to do so, or that you've misread their behaviour. A lot of reptiles, for instance, like nothing more than to laze about under heat lamps waiting for delectable crickets, chicks or rodents.

Most rodents are fairly happy to live in captivity, provided they have plenty of clean space and things to do. The only time they tend to be stressed out is when they're not used to humans. A rabbit or guinea pig that's used to being handled is about as relaxed an animal as you can get. I used to have a couple of guinea pigs. Sit and groom one for long enough and it goes all slack and purrs with pleasure. If I wasn't hideously allergic to fur, I'd probably still keep them.
posted by pipeski at 11:41 AM on May 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

I have indoor cats who won't go outside. Even if I am encouraging a sit on the patio they just stare at me like I'm wasting my time and they want no part in that. Dogs for sure are the ultimate companion I have one of those as well. I think the smaller the cage/home the more captured they would feel. That leaves just the house pets as far as I can think of right now.
posted by MyMind at 11:41 AM on May 13, 2012

Cat, your dog is your obedient servant, a nice cat will be your equal. Who owns who will run through your thoughts.
posted by Max Power at 12:05 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Talk to a good snake and reptile breeder. Most snakes and reptiles don't have a big range in the wild, if left to their own devices. And in any case, any snake or reptile you're going to buy from a reputable breeder was born in captivity, so you're not its "captor"--it wouldn't exist if it hadn't been born specifically for a human to keep.

I do feel very strongly that nobody should ever keep a wild animal in captivity, or capture a wild animal for sale.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:13 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who is vegan and believes keeping any animal as a "pet" is cruel and narcissistic. Whilst I wouldn't go that far, I think it's quite telling that the animals that seem most comfortable as pets are those we have bred for generations for exactly that purpose. The forbears of cats and dogs were vicious tigers and wolves.

However, if you're alright with keeping a pet, maybe stick to ones that don't have to spend the vast majority of the time trapped in a cage much smaller than their natural habitat?
posted by iotic at 12:29 PM on May 13, 2012

I've got just the pet for you, a pet rock.

More seriously, most captive birds and reptiles in the US are bred for the pet market. They've never run free, and were they to escape, would likely die quickly due to a lack of conditioning for the wild. My son's snake has lived his entire life on thawed mice. I don't think he could hunt a live rodent in the woods after 10 years of living the snake high life having warm dead mice handed to him on a weekly basis in his temperature controlled habitat. The instinct is certainly still there, but the snakes that live to adulthood in the wild are the ones that learn to hunt most efficiently, learn to avoid to predators, etc.
posted by COD at 1:21 PM on May 13, 2012

agreeing with pipeski that caged animals that seem unhappy aren't being cared for properly. My two birds spend most of their time out of their cages, and often go back into them of their own accord when it's time for sleep. They sing, chew on the rafters, fly around and generaly have a good time. A pet owner's responsability isn't just to feed their animal, but also to make sure that their space/cleanliness/emotional/entertainment needs are met. Do this right, and they have a perfectly happy existance.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:26 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

And on the subject of birds, some species are just easier to keep than others. Cockatiels like 5_13...'s above (cutie pies!) and parakeets like my budgie Fennel are way less challenging to keep busy and entertained and happy than, say, the Quaker parrot I fostered or my parents' African Grey.

And I don't believe anyone at all should keep a cockatoo; if you go to the splash page at MyToos.com you can hear why. Parrot rescue is kind of a sad road to start down. If you keep a large bird, you need to be aware that it's like entertaining a perpetual toddler. They're highly sensitive beings who also have the capacity to inflict serious injury.

To answer the question: having had smart horses, smart dogs, smart cats, and smart birds, give me dumb every time. The dumber they are, the happier they seem to be in captivity. My favorite cat of all was my dumbest one ever.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:45 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There is also always the option of rescue. I worked with exotic rescue for many years, and while I may have opinions on what does and doesn't enjoy captivity, you never need to feel guilty if you are improving a life. My sugar gliders came from a 1 foot cubed hamster cage. At my house they had a custom built floor to ceiling cage with fresh branches and lots of enrichment. I still don't feel that they are best off in a cage, but if they were too tame to be wild, I gave them the best environment possible. Many people keep mice, rats, birds, rabbits, etc. in deplorable conditions. There are a bunch at your humane society right now! Maybe you could research the needs of a species you like, build it a way better world than it has previously known, and feel ok about that?
posted by troublewithwolves at 2:20 PM on May 13, 2012 [15 favorites]

I would go with a cat. When you have a pet cat it's a mutually beneficial arrangement.
posted by bleep at 2:20 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out if my indoor cats are happy.

I can't be sure - nobody could ever be sure what any animal feels - but my guess is that they are. They appear to love me. They cuddle up to me, groom me, greet me when I come home, and follow me everywhere around the house. They aren't exhibiting any stress symptoms that I can see and their body language indicates that they are relaxed and content. They are playful. They look beautifully healthy. Perhaps most importantly, they seek out my company many times a day.

As far as I can tell, it's a win-win situation.
posted by Cygnet at 2:47 PM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

you never need to feel guilty if you are improving a life

I wish I could favourite that comment, like, a million times
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:46 PM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

As long as they're not alone, rats love being pets.
posted by kavasa at 5:07 PM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

My cats always seemed incredibly happy, but I was (and am) a very fierce believer that cats should not be kept confined indoors. Mine had complete freedom to come and go as they pleased, were in and out of the cat flap at all hours and loved to hunt, play, fight and generally get a bit wild and bonkers out in the neighbourhood. To my mind this is how cats should be. As I say, they seemed to agree.

I generally don't like the idea of keeping animals shut away indoors or, if I'm honest, the idea of keeping animals for personal amusement at all. The only reason I felt okay with my cats is that I gave them that absolute freedom (along with affection, shelter and a ready supply of food) and they kept on coming back, even though they didn't have to. I gave them the option of leaving. I figured the fact that they didn't (with the exception of one inveterately feral Tom) meant they were okay with the arrangement.
posted by Decani at 5:08 PM on May 13, 2012

Most of the animals you'll find at a typical pet store will be quite happy being pets, assuming that they are provided with the right conditions. No animal will be happy being a pet to an incompetent or malicious owner, in quarters which are too cramped, and in less-than-clean conditions.

Take tropical fish. I raised tropical fish semi-professionally for a while. There's nothing happier and more content than a group of schooling fish in a big, clean, well-planted and well-maintained fish tank. And nothing is more pitiful, more visibly miserable, more short-lived, than the opposite.

The same goes for hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, many bird species, ferrets, lizards, snakes, frogs, etc.

Some animals are solitary, others require companionship of others of their kind. Some animals need strict control over temperature and humidity levels, and others are able to handle a wider range of temperatures. Some need fresh food provided daily, and others can have dry food poured into a hopper once a week.

The way you have to approach this problem is: what kind of care are you able to reasonably provide an animal? How much space can you dedicate to its housing? How much time will you have to spend with it every day? How often are you willing to clean its quarters? And what do you want out of the relationship? (Will you be sad if you get an animal - like fish - which don't cuddle?)

Then it's just a matter of finding the animal that will best mesh with what you can provide it.

Just like people, animals are happy when their needs are met (and where possible exceeded). I don't think a hamster ever bridles under the knowledge that you are its master and it is your subservient "pet." But it will sure be pleased if you provide it with a big, clean cage with the right kind of bedding, plenty of fresh water, good nutrition, an exercise wheel, tunnels to run through, toys to chew, etc.
posted by ErikaB at 6:08 PM on May 13, 2012

If your dog will tolerate one, a cat is a great pet. They're basically roommates with fur.
posted by elizeh at 7:04 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

A single cat is unhappier than a pair or more. Cats need other cats to do their whole cat thing. We have gone from a high of twenty-plus cats to over the years down to a current single elderly cat who is lonely. She mostly hated and fought with the other cats we had, but now they're gone to the great jungle in the sky, she is whinier and either sleeps or begs constantly for attention. She really enjoyed prowling "her" shelves and bullying the other cats. A pet cat alone indoors is sad.

I think being a solitary animal for a group animal is more stressful than a small cage.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:54 PM on May 13, 2012

Roger Scruton has an interesting piece that relates to this. I'm not familiar with his work as a whole (he's British, and from what I can tell, a conservative philosopher), but to sum it up: he sees that the only animals that should be ethically kept with humans are working animals, as there is a symbiotic relationship between them and us, and they actually want to be a part of our lives, because they benefit from it. So, based on that assumption: dogs, cats, ferrets (yes, they were originally bred to be working animals), horses, llamas (too big?), falcons (too exotic?), etcetera...
posted by vivid postcard at 9:06 PM on May 13, 2012

Snakes, I think, don't generally mind being kept as pets. Because snakes are dumb as rocks, and do not care about much of anything. They don't know how. I adore mine abjectly, and try to give them all the space and hides and cage furniture and delicious mice they could possibly need. And some of them like coming out to explore, and some of them prefer very strongly to be left alone. I don't think they ever like their owners, as such, because, you know, snakes. However, I have seen several over the years, including one of my own, who have developed an obvious and individual trust for their owners which other people don't necessarily get. They do have personalities and preferences. They're just dumb as rocks. Seriously, you can see through an amelanistic baby corn snake's head, and they don't get much more clever as they get bigger. (I do love them so, though.)

I've done a fair bit of reptile rescue, so I know what you mean about reptiles seeming miserable in a lot of cases. Those owners are the ones we're happy to see turn their pets over to us. Reptiles definitely aren't for everyone, and I wouldn't say they actively like being pets. But I don't think they actively dislike it either. Part of the reason I keep them is because they're so damned relaxed about everything that I can't help but be calmed by watching them or playing with them. (I have corn snakes and carpet pythons, which are both pretty calm species.)

My cats actively like being pets.
posted by Because at 10:11 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rats make great pets. You want to get them young and hand tame them, but I have had Rats on and off for years, and a tame pet rat is in no way like a wild rat, they are super domesticated like a dog. I used to let my rats free range every night, open their cage door so they could go where they wanted and they mostly wanted to be climbing on me, when they'd had enough they'd head back to their cage.

My brother keeps a wide range of reptiles, he has seen some horrible conditions people keep their snakes or lizards in and yes those animals were sad to be in tiny little cages with the wrong food and their needs being met. You give a reptile of any sort a size appropriate cage, with their dietary, heat and UV light needs being met and you'll have a happy snake/lizard. My brother has a huge bearded dragon that likes nothing more than to snuggle up on the couch and watch TV with him.

If you research the needs of any pet you decide to get, get captive bred animals and make sure you are not just meeting them but exceeding them, giving them lots of stimulus and chances to use their instinctive behaviors such as chewing or digging or whatever pets can be happy in captivity. If they are getting to do all the things they want to do, they don't think of their cage/tank as a prison and you as the warder it is home, where the food and fun things to do are and you are not a prison guard but the person bringing them food and fun things to do.

Having said that I don't have a lot of time for wild caught animals or animals that need a lot of room and special social/environmental set ups like wolves, monkeys, apes etc being kept as pets.
posted by wwax at 8:48 AM on May 14, 2012

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