What is the definition of a suitable pet?

pet ownership, exotic pets, what is a suitable pet

How do we define a pet animal and what species make a suitable pet? It is difficult to establish where and when the term ‘pet’ originated to describe animals being kept captive as our companions, and not for food or working animals, but there are various accepted definitions of the concept such as:

  • an animal that is domesticated or tamed;
  • kept for a person’s company or protection;
  • pampered and treated indulgently as opposed to being kept for performance, agricultural value or research;
  • an animal which enjoys being handled or stroked and can show affection.

These tags immediately raise many issues, as to be classified as a suitable species the animal needs all the attributes of these criteria and more which results in much debate and disagreement between the obviously biased pet trade on one side and animal rights advocates at the other extreme and professional bodies and experts in the middle.

macaw, captive
Can keeping an intelligent free-flying bird confined as a pet be suitable.

Every animal on the planet can conceivably be kept captive, but this does not necessarily mean they will thrive and live through this experience. The pet trade would have us believe that any species can be made ‘suitable’ by just domesticating or captive breeding them and they cynically introduce new ones onto the market, ably assisted by internet pet sites, social media and pet care books, all of which are keen on maintaining their turnover and profits, but little thought is given to the animals’ welfare or the ethics of keeping them, whereas professional bodies and welfare organisations believe many are unsuitable and suggest we should perhaps be concentrating more on their unsuitability.

“the mythical beast that is the suitable pet cannot exist”

Suitable pet or not?

Using the word ‘suitable’ in the context of pets is a bit of a misnomer anyway as the mythical beast that is the suitable pet cannot exist as the word is defined as being ‘right or appropriate for a particular person, purpose, or situation’ and no species or individual animal can hope to be all-encompassing. In order to fulfill every prospective pet parents’ wishes, situation and circumstances, and to be the right environment for the animal, it would have to be a very bespoke creature indeed to be a perfect match.

The variety and scope now offered on the pet market is vast and the days of just keeping a dog, cat, rabbit or small rodent are long gone and have been replaced with a desire to keep reptiles and other so-called exotics and unusual animals, again mainly through encouragement by the pet trade, internet sites and the media.

“Realistically only the domesticated dog and cat have the attributes and gifts to fulfill the role of a ‘suitable’ pet”

Cat, face, eyes
Are dogs and cats the only species which meet all the criteria of suitable pets?

Most pets are identified as being ‘companion animals’, because a companion is a mate, buddy or confidant and that is all many of us ask in a pet, but there will always be those who want to push the boundaries which usually ends in suffering for the animals involved.

Realistically only the domesticated dog and cat possess the range of emotions, nature and devotion to console and keep us company, and also, if cared for properly, can also reap benefits from the relationship themselves, unlike such creatures as reptiles or fish, therefore it could be argued that pet keeping should be restricted to these species, but there is little hope that this would occur.

Any referendum or vote on restricting pet ownership to just dogs and cats would certainly get my vote.
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Author: John Brookland

John Brookland is an animal welfarist, and amateur historian. He authors two popular blogs: animalrightsandwrongs.uk and animalrightsandwrongs.com with a monthly worldwide readership of thousands. He has written seven books on his exploits helping animals, also on social history and a book on the war horses of World War One. During his long and varied career which has taken him round the world, he has unfortunately witnessed most of the horrors of animal cruelty there is to see and has gained extensive insight into most animal welfare issues which he uses to write his blogs. He is now retired and still travelling the world with his partner to view wildlife and wild places before they and he disappear.