Dear Miss Behavin’: We’re looking to adopt a pet! We aren’t sure what kind, and the kids are open to anything from a turtle to a dog. Our home is small, we’ll be first-time pet owners, and we’re often out of the house at least 8-10 hours a day. What’s a good starter pet?

The first step to pet ownership of any kind is research! While there’s plenty of pets that could be happy in your home, it’s up to you to decide which one is the best fit. If you’re open to an exotic animal, consider a leopard gecko or bearded dragon. Both are relatively simple to house and care for, but still require daily attention. Turtles and tortoises can make wonderful pets as well, though they are a long-term commitment. Many turtles live well into their 80s, and some tortoises live over 100 years!

For those looking for a shorter-term commitment, rats and guinea pigs are an excellent choice. Both species are highly social and benefit from living with at least one other individual. The perk to this is that they can keep each other company during times where you might be too busy to interact as much as you’d like.

It’s also wise to think about how much space you can dedicate to an animal. A single leopard gecko would be happy living in a 10 gallon tank, but a bearded dragon will require something closer to 40 gallons. Tanks can often be placed on a shelf or dresser, while rats and guinea pigs might need a stand-alone enclosure and certainly need more space. If you’re lacking in floor space, be creative and increase the area of the cage by building vertically!

Take your time researching and meeting different kinds of animals before taking the plunge, and don’t forget to get established with a vet before bringing your new family member home. Owning an animal is a big commitment that comes with big rewards. Good luck in your search!

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