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 has been passionate about animals from an early age and has always been more concerned about their individual health and well-being than any scientific or zoological interest. During his long and varied career in animal welfare in the U.K. and worldwide, he has unfortunately witnessed most of the horrors of animal cruelty there is to see and has gained extensive insight into animal welfare issues. On leaving school he trained as an RSPCA clinic assistant in London and later was manager of one of their veterinary hospitals and an animal centre. He was Chief Inspector and manager of the Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau and spent time in Trinidad advising on a humane stray dog control service, before becoming a deputy manager and animal health inspector at Heathrow's Animal Quarantine Centre. He then travelled the world for a conservation group investigating the capture and transport of wildlife for the pet trade and was an honorary consultant to the IUCN and CITES. He is now retired and still travelling the world with his partner to view wildlife and wild places and writing a blog and books on animals.