Easy Breezy?

Which pets are the most low-maintenance? The answer may surprise you

“...it depends on what one considers ‘low maintenance’”

Photo taken in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Getty Images

You want a pet, but you don’t want to deal with the stress of a creature that requires feeding, playtime, and walks several times a day, every day — you can barely look after your cactus, never mind a cat but still... you want companionship. It’s ok — it’s human to want a buddy. And there’s no shame in getting a pet with qualities to suit your lifestyle, but is there such a thing as a “low-maintenance” pet? And if so, how do you know which pet is best for you before you commit?

Inverse talked to four pet experts to answer this surprisingly common question and more — ultimately, they say, the answer may come from an unexpected source.

“I think it is less of ‘who is low maintenance,’ and more of ‘what kind of maintenance fits your lifestyle,’ which varies from species to species,” Katherine Pankratz, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, tells Inverse. In other words, you need to know yourself before you go to the pet store or you will be in for a shock.

Which pets are low maintenance — and which are not?

“I think it depends on what one considers ‘low maintenance,’” Pankratz says.

Cats are typically considered low-maintenance, for instance. They clean themselves, don’t need to go walks, and can be left alone for short periods of time.

But, Pankratz says, while cats “may not need to be frequently taken outside,” they still have “many different needs.”

Rather, think about sizing down from a cat, the experts say.

“Probably the lowest maintenance pets are guinea pigs, rats, and hamsters,” Sari Kanfer, a veterinarian and small mammal expert at Exotic Animal Veterinary Center, tells Inverse.

By contrast, “reptiles, birds, and rabbits are high maintenance,” Kanfer says.

Kelly Hicks, a medical oncology resident at Oregon State University Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine, tells Inverse that fish — particularly goldfish or betta fish — are “very low-maintenance and good starter pets” for people who have never cared for animals, including children.

Fish do require weekly or biweekly cleaning of their aquarium tanks, Hicks says, so if you struggle to water your plants once a week, you may want to forget about fish.

Chyrle Bonk, a veterinarian at PetKeen, agrees that fish are a great low-maintenance option.

“Fish are great because they really don’t require a lot of attention from you besides daily feeding and occasional cleaning of their tank,” Bonk tells Inverse, “yet they can be really calming and even relaxing to watch when you are home.”

Turtles are also “really cool” low-maintenance pets, she adds. They don’t necessarily require daily feeding and enjoy “human interaction.”

But like fish, turtles do have other needs that may make them unsuitable pets. Read on to learn more about the needs of different animals in the home — including the best pet for someone with a busy schedule.

What pet is the easiest to take care of?

Some pets work better depending on their needs and your lifestyle. Learn about each pet’s needs so you can make an informed decision.Getty

There’s no definitive ranking for the “easiest” pets. Your specific living situation means some pets will be easier or harder to care for regardless of their inherent survival needs.

“It may do better to discuss each species’ needs and allow a person who’s busy or in an apartment to determine which best suits their lifestyle,” Pankratz says.

For that reason, Pankratz offers up some of the most common, indoor pets and their needs so prospective pet owners can make informed decisions by matching their lifestyle up to the perfect pet (if you can’t commit to a dog, don’t get a rabbit).

Take note that “birds,” “snakes,” and “lizards” are so different depending on the variety so you need to look up your chosen species’ particular needs, too (spoiler: there are many).

Dogs — physical needs:

  • Water (daily to multiple times daily)
  • Food (daily to multiple times daily)
  • Bathroom breaks (at least 3 times a day)
  • They may have varying levels of grooming needs

Dogs — behavioral needs:

  • Social interactions
  • Routine and predictability
  • Novelty (so long as it doesn't cause fear)
  • Exercise
  • Mental enrichment

Cats — physical needs:

  • Water (daily to multiple times daily)
  • Food (daily to multiple times daily)
  • Bathroom access (litter box hygiene means getting it scooped once daily and fully changed monthly
  • There may be some variation in grooming needs

Cats — behavioral needs:

  • Routine and predictability
  • Flexible social and solitary interactions
  • Mental enrichment
  • Exercise

Birds — physiological needs:

  • Time outside the cage
  • Perches
  • Clean air
  • Correct humidity
  • Appropriate sunlight
  • Food (daily to multiple times daily, some require special foods you need to make at home)
  • Cleaning (daily, depending on species)
  • Veterinary care is needed for grooming (nail, beak, wing maintenance)

Birds — behavioral needs:

  • Predictable routine
  • Social contact (another bird may be useful here, as they can become overly reliant on their human)
  • A solid 12 hours of darkness for sleep
  • Mental enrichment (tons of it — you know how smart crows and parrots are, right?)
  • Exercise

Fish — physiological needs:

  • Water tank (the correct size)
  • Water quality
  • Aeration
  • Filtration
  • Constant water temperature
  • Stable dark to light cycles
  • Food
  • Vet care (mostly for disease maintenance)

Fish — behavioral needs:

  • Some fish are social, some will try to eat other fish — make sure your fish are compatible with one another
  • “Fish can be smart and taught to perform tricks,” Pankratz adds

Snakes — physiological needs:

  • Climate is everything: Heat, humidity, lighting, temperature, safety all factor into keeping a snake
  • Water
  • Food (varies by species)

Snakes — behavioral needs:

  • Some snakes are social
  • Some snakes are social on a seasonal basis
  • Their food needs to sync up with their predation strategy (foraging or “sit and wait” approaches)
Pet snakes might seem like lower maintenance pets, but reptiles actually have many environmental needs that could pose a challenge for some pet owners.Getty

Turtles — physiological needs:

  • Climate control (heating, humidity, lighting, temperature, safe housing, a body of water for swimming)
  • Water
  • Food

Turtles — behavioral needs:

  • Some species may or may not be housed together
  • Some species swim
  • Some species hibernate

Lizards — physiological needs:

  • Water
  • Climate control (temperature, humidity, lighting, safe housing)
  • Feeding schedule varies by species

Lizards — behavioral needs:

  • Lizards like hiding spaces
  • It’s not recommended to house many lizards together and not to mix species

Mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils — physiological needs:

  • Nesting material, burrows, or sand baths
  • No bright lights
  • Water
  • Food
  • Clean bedding
  • A chew toy
  • Space to exercise

Mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils — behavioral needs:

  • Gerbils are very territorial and social
  • Mice are social
  • Rats can be both solitary and social
  • Hamsters tend to be solitary
  • They are quiet animals in comparison to other pets

Rabbits — physiological needs:

  • Sense of safety
  • Fresh air
  • Water
  • Constant access to food
  • Cleaning every 2-3 days
  • Vet care (including teeth maintenance)
  • Some breeds may have special grooming needs
  • Climate control

Rabbis — behavioral needs:

  • Predictable routine
  • A good night’s sleep
  • Social time with another rabbit or a person
  • Can scream if terrified
  • Mental enrichment
  • Exercise
  • Rabbits are smart and can be taught tricks including agility training!

Guinea pigs — physiological needs:

  • Housing
  • Water
  • Food to forage
  • Appropriate chewing toys
  • Daily clean-outs

Guinea pigs — behavioral needs:

  • Social time
  • Exercise (may often need more than cage housing)
  • Hiding places
  • Often a “quiet pet by comparison,” experts note

Some other so-called “exotic” pets include hedgehogs, chinchillas, and ferrets. Check the laws in your state or country to see if these pets are allowed in your region before you go looking for one.

Also, if you’ve got multiple pets of different species in one house, it’s important to remember that these species may not always get along with each other. Consider speaking with a veterinarian if you’re concerned about adding a pet of a different species to your household.

What pets are best for someone with a busy schedule?

Pets generally aren’t good for people with a busy lifestyle, but there are some exceptions.Getty

“Most common types of pets and busy schedules just don’t mix,” Bonk says.

“Dogs, of course, are out if you have a busy schedule.”

She says that cats may still be an option for owners with busy lives, “especially if you get an automatic feeder and/or a self-cleaning litter box so that they can still get their regular meals even if you’re not there.”

But Hicks cautions that while cats are more self-sufficient, they also “require routine veterinary visits,” which may be beyond the capacity of some owners.

Smaller mammals and reptiles may be a good option if you’re frequently out of the home for work or other commitments for hours at a time.

“Hamsters, mice, reptiles, and fish require the least amount of daily interaction. But guinea pigs and rats make good pets as well,” Kanfer says.

Experts are more divided when it comes to birds. Kanfer recommends avoiding birds if you’re seeking low-maintenance pets, while Bonk suggests most birds are “self-entertaining with the right toys and only need their food bowls filled every couple of days.”

What low-maintenance pets like to cuddle?

Hamsters are fairly low-maintenance and like to cuddle, experts suggest. Getty

“Low maintenance, yet cuddly pets may be hard to find, but there are a few out there,” Bonk says.

She recommends trying out hamsters if you’re seeking a low-maintenance, cuddly pet.

“There’s a reason they are a common classroom pet; they love interacting with people and require minimal care. They are also really cute, soft, and quiet,” Bonk says.

Similarly, she also recommends gerbils, rats, and mice. While rats and mice may not be as popular for obvious reasons, they are “lovable pets if you can wrap your mind around letting them into your house.”

Cats require more care than hamsters or mice, but for her part, Hicks thinks they’re also cuddly and (fairly) low-maintenance.

“I also believe that cats are another low-maintenance pet, and on the contrary to fish, they will willingly cuddle with you,” Hicks says.

What house pets don’t smell?

Reptiles, among other pets, are good for owners sensitive to smells. Getty

If smelliness is a significant consideration, then your options become more limited and not so cuddly.

“Reptiles are not smelly or noisy, but require extensive habitat setups and specific temperature, humidity, and diets,” Kanfer says.

Personally, Bonk recommends turtles and tortoises, which “don’t smell and don’t make a peep.” Some snakes can smell, so that could be a turn-off, she adds.

Other, fluffier pets require regular cleaning of their habitats to avoid smells. According to Kanfer, these pets include rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and small rodents.

What are the best pets for apartments?

Experts can offer advice on apartment-friendly pets, but at the end of the day, you have to abide by any pet restrictions in your lease.Getty

“Living in an apartment presents some special considerations for pets. Not only do you have to worry about space, but you also don’t want something loud or smelly,” Bonk says.

Cats are generally a good option, but you need to regularly clean the litter box to avoid odors.

“Some birds can work well, but you may have trouble keeping some types, like parrots, quiet,” Bonk says. Kanfer adds that birds also “need a lot of attention and exercise” and have specialized diets.

Bonk concludes “fish are the ultimate apartment pet,” but says that you also shouldn’t discount turtles and tortoises.

“Turtles and tortoises are great for apartments because they can live in a well set-up terrarium that, depending on the size of the animal, won’t take up much room,” Bonk says.

“Rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, small rodents make good apartment pets and are not noisy,” Kanfer counters, but she also concedes that rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas require exercise and space to roam around, which may not be an option in smaller apartments.

Dogs are harder to care for in apartments, but not impossible.

“I think as long as you consider breed-specific personality traits — i.e. avoiding dogs with reactive barking or need for daily, strenuous physical activity — it is totally acceptable to have a dog in an apartment setting,” Hicks says.

Many apartment complexes don’t allow dogs or have weight restrictions. Some apartments allow cats, but many landlords don’t allow any pets at all — with the exception of service animals.

Check with your landlord about your apartment’s policies before getting any pets that could be a violation of your lease.

What pets are allowed in an Uber?

Which pets can you take in a rideshare vehicle? It depends on the company policy.Getty

Uber’s company policy states that approved service animals can ride with their owners at all times. For non-service animals, you’ll need to book a pet-friendly ride by looking through specific options on the app.

On a pet-friendly ride, “you may bring one small animal such as a dog or a cat,” according to the company. If the driver is okay with it, you may be able to bring other kinds of small animals beyond cats and dogs.

However, the company asks that you place your pet in a carrier or crate or otherwise restrain them with a leash or harness. You’ll want to bring a blanket to place on the seat to keep it clean, as you may be charged extra if your pet sheds fur or urinates (or worse) in the car.

Lyft is similar, stating: “Passengers should call their driver after requesting a ride to ask if they can bring their pet along.” Some drivers might have allergies or could be uncomfortable with animals in their vehicle.

Plan accordingly and schedule a pet-friendly rideshare trip ahead of time if you know you need to bring along your pet.

Share: