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How to Tell if You Shouldn't Get a Pet

Child with lizard pet

The range of house pets seems to grow every year, with the standard animals (dogs and cats) fighting for space alongside the slightly specialized (rabbits and reptiles) and the downright exotic (just what is a sugar glider, anyway?). But certain pets may not be compatible with all kids and families. Some animals don't have the right temperament for life with little kids; some require care that's beyond a child's caretaking capabilities; and some just aren't as exciting as advertised. So before your little ones fall in love with a pet they shouldn't have, learn about the types of pets that don't work well with families. Here are a few guidelines on how to tell if a pet isn't right for you.

If Your Kids Can Be Too Rough or Sensitive

This doesn't mean that a child should never have a delicate animal, like a lizard or a hamster, but it does mean that smaller children will need supervision when handling one. "I do not recommend pets that are 'fragile' -- those that require very specialized care and environments or they die, such as birds, saltwater fish, and reptiles," says Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM, who runs the Veterinary Medicine site for About.com. She also advises against "those types of pets that may cause harm or illness to a child simply by being handled," especially animals such as reptiles and chicks, which may cause salmonellosis, and nocturnal animals, like hamsters, which are more prone to biting when handled during the day. You might also want to hold off on introducing these types of pets until your kids can remember (or are old enough) to be careful. The CDC also recommends that children younger than 5 or people with weak immune systems should avoid handling high-risk animals (turtles, water frogs, chicks, or ducklings), including any water from their containers or aquariums.

If Your Family Has Severe Allergies

Unless everyone in your family has spent a lot of time with the specific breed you're considering, you should all see an allergist for testing before bringing a pet home. Be aware that dog allergies in particular can be very specific -- a person who is allergic to golden retrievers might not be allergic to cocker spaniels. If anyone in your family is allergic, don't rely on allergy medication to make it possible for you to live with a pet. Although some people are able to cope with living with allergens, not everyone is so lucky. There's nothing more heartbreaking than having to find a new home for a beloved pet because of severe allergies.

If Your Kids Are in Love With a Fantasy Pet

Avoid animals that have recently been featured in a TV show or movie, unless you're prepared to do independent, unbiased research into whether the real-life version is a good fit for your family. You don't want to be stuck with a pet that's unsociable, overly energetic, or badly behaved just because the Hollywood version seemed so adorable (or manageable!) in last year's blockbuster. Even if the breed is a perfect fit, consider holding off adopting any animal that your kids are in love with this week. Remember that children change their minds often, and today's favorite animal might be tomorrow's unwanted chore.

If Your State or Local Laws Have Restrictions

What do firecrackers and hedgehogs have in common? Both are illegal in New York City. Many animals are forbidden as pets in certain cities and states, and laws vary wildly from state to state. Although it's essentially legal to own a tiger -- no state permit or license required! -- in Wisconsin and South Carolina, most mongoose species are illegal (for import or sale) in all 50 states. Animals that are commonly found in pet stores, such as ferrets and other rodents, might not be legal in your location or might require state permits or other licenses. It's best to check your state and local .gov websites to learn local laws before you acquire any pet.

If You're Not Ready to Invest in Caretaking

Many rescue shelters allow families to take pets on a trial basis to make sure that everyone's happy before formalizing the adoption. "I always recommend adopting rescued pets if at all possible," says Lianne McLeod, DVM. "However, when kids are involved, it is very important to be sure of the pet's temperament. Older rescued pets are a bit more likely to come with baggage, whether it is bad habits due to a lack of training with former owners, or fears that might have developed in a bad situation." McLeod advises adopting your pet from a reputable rescue organization, which will properly evaluate each pet's temperament and make recommendations about whether the animal is suitable for a family environment. To determine whether a rescue is a legitimate organization, animal crisis group RedRover recommends checking Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org) and BBB Wise (bbb.org/us/charity/) to confirm that it's a registered charity.

Ultimately, the most important thing to consider is the pet's personality and how it meshes with your family's schedule, wants, and needs. Think carefully about what you want from an animal before you invite it into your home. The best pet for your family is the one who fits into your lifestyle.

Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.