Best Pets For College

by Dr. Doug Pernikoff, DVM

College is upon us and depending on our living conditions, many students look for appropriate pets to keep close to their heart.

Humans bond with animals, and vice versa. At home, we may have traditional pets like dogs and cats. However, as students head for college, they often search out a replacement for our beloved family pets.

You may be one of those fortunate students who lives in a rented home, duplex, or even an apartment that allows dogs or cats. If so, you have the choice to bring your pet back to college with you. Students often search out new pets to rescue and adopt, but unfortunately, many of those animals end up on the streets at the end of the school sessions. I implore all folks considering rescue and adoption to reason out their real ability to commit to such a pet opportunity. The obligation to care for the pet goes well beyond the school sessions. That being said, should you have the space, time and resources to properly care for your new pet dog, then so be it. However, if you have neither the space, time or resources for such animals, there are other options to consider.

Many dorms will accept various other pet animals, like reptiles, birds, pocket pets(rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, etc.), or fish.

The beauty here is that these animals take up less space; usually cost less to feed and care for; and, require less of your personal time to support their social and emotional needs. Finally, another great advantage to many of these other suggestions, is the lack of allergic response secondary to dander, so much more common in dog and cat species. The end result is that you will have less resistance to dorm rules and complaints from neighboring students.

People often ask about diseases that can spread from animals to man, called ‘zoonoses’. The good news is that simply maintaining good personal hygiene, by washing your hands after messing with your pets, is about all you have to worry about. Some reptiles, like water turtles or iguanas, can carry bacteria like Salmonella or Campylobacter, both potential pathogens or disease producers to human hosts. Birds can carry a disease called ‘Parrot Fever’ or ‘Psittacosis’, an organism that creates chronic, persistent respiratory or flu like symptoms in humans. Again, as responsible pet owners, these issues can be avoided with good husbandry practices like regular cage cleaning, proper feeding schedules and annual visits to the veterinarian. Regular fecal exams regarding any animal, dog-cat or lizard and bird, will help to avoid exposure to organisms like ‘Giardia’, a one celled protozoan organism that will cause cramping and diarrhea in you as the pet owner, but may or may not be clinical obvious in your pet (mucus &/or blood with diarrhea). All these conditions sound concerning, but actually, their prevalence in properly managed pets tends to be very infrequent.

Pocket pets, or what we used to refer to as ‘laboratory animals’, tend to make good pets as well. I am a very personal fan of rats as pets. They are very smart, and unusually responsive animals. Guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils and even rabbits, can also provide fun and engaging friendships for students challenged with the stress associated with college responsibilities. Recognize that these critters tend to live shorter lives than most dogs and cats, but nonetheless, can be great companions. As always, suitable hygiene is critical to caring for any animal, and for protecting ourselves from contracting diseases.

Finally, fish tanks are really a fun adventure. They provide a night light source, if you desire; their filter motors hum to drown out hallway noises; and, they are fun to put together and manage. Whatever your choice of college pet, be sure that you have the approval of the dorm rules and policies. And, again, be sure you establish a veterinary relationship with a doctor familiar with the more unusual pet you may be presenting.

Have a great school year!!!
Fondly, Dr. Doug Pernikoff