Tips for Picking the Perfect College Pet!

Danny in front of fishThere’s no argument that the number one thing all college kids absolutely love is animals. There’s nothing like flock of students who sprint to pet a newly discovered dog on campus. Often students think about getting a pet of their own for companionship and stress relief. In some cases, these decisions turn into great human-pet relationships while in others a complete disaster. Having cared for and owned practically every available pet in the book here’s some advice on getting a new companion during your college career.

Firstly, you should note that the on-campus housing limits you to nothing besides a fish tank less than 30 gallons total per room (10 gallons per person). Off campus housing is much more ideal for keeping pets.  Be sure to check with your landlord for their pet policies and if there are extra required costs before getting a new companion.

Fish: A+ College Rating

My 10 Gallon "UConn" Fish Tank.
My 10 Gallon “UConn” Fish Tank.

I always like to start with fish because they’re one of my favorites groups of animals and often underrated. Not only are there a wide variety of species, colors, and temperaments but many are relatively easy to care for. One of the greatest things about fish is that they are always inside an aquarium. Unlike other animals, like snakes, fish generally stay inside the tank and you won’t have to worry about one frolicking through your dorm or apartment building if they get out!

Fish are an ideal choice of pet in college and a great stress reliever. Watching fish tanks has been proven to lower stress levels and relax people with anxiety. Entire fish tanks can be set up for under $100 and require low maintenance. Small 10 gallon kits are available at local pet stores and are great for easy to keep bettas, tetras, guppies, and other small freshwater community fish. If you are more interested in saltwater fish be sure to do your research as they require different setup techniques, daily maintenance, equipment and are generally much more expensive.

Fish are allowed in UConn college dorms and can be easily transported back home during the summer and winter break with a few secure buckets. Fish, like bettas, are generally very hardy and can go full weeks without feed or negative health effects. Myself and many other fish hobbyists have left fish over spring and winter break without issues. Daily feeding, addition of water to account for evaporation, algae scraping, and checking temperature parameters are the general maintenance. If you want a low maintenance pet that can be beautiful, active, and a fun addition to your dorm room- fish may be right for you!

Rodents (rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, etc): A- College Rating

Generally small and easy to keep- most rodents can make great college pets. Enclosures are generally cheap along with bedding, feed, and the initial cost of the animal. For dorms hamsters, gerbils, or mice are your best bet. They can be easily kept in a 10-gallon tank, generally don’t smell, and require only short daily care (feeding, water, cleaning). Rabbits, rats, and guinea pigs need larger enclosures but are also great choices and are generally very personable. Do your research as species like gerbils and guinea pigs are social animals and prefer being kept with multiple individuals (of the same sex so you don’t get tons of babies). Members of this group also have teeth that never stop growing throughout their lives- so provide plenty of chew toys to prevent dental problems. These animals may require vet visits and spaying.

Chinchillas are also included in this group. They can make great pets but are generally harder to keep as they require daily dust bathing to keep their coat in good condition. They also don’t love being handled and are more expensive.

I have gerbils and rabbits currently and they are great college companions! They are very easy to drop off at a friend’s house for short term leave care.

Hagrid, my Enchi Ball Python.
Hagrid, my Enchi Ball Python.

Reptiles and amphibians (snakes, lizards, frogs, etc): B+ College Rating

Reptiles and amphibians can be great pets. One of the easiest pets to care for in this group are snakes. With 2 ball pythons, a Kenya sand boa, and a western hognose snake I can attest to their ease and benefits of ownership. Snakes (depending on age, size, and species) only have to be fed once every 5 days to 2 weeks! You may have to deal with frozen mice and rats but the low frequency of feeding gives you plenty of wiggle room if you must leave for a few days. Snakes also don’t gain much from human interaction- they can get used to being handled and are usually docile but don’t require daily stimulation like other animals. They enjoy being curled up under their log on a heating pad. Do a quick YouTube search and you can find easy cheap setups for all species in this group. With these species, you generally want to watch humidity and temperature levels- please look up safe parameters before purchase.

Frogs, lizards, and salamanders are also good choices. These require more regular daily feeding but may be much more fun to watch than snakes. Geckos and bearded dragons (in the right enclosure and proper care) are great college companions. If you’re more adventurous you may venture into a living dart frog & plant setup. Frogs and salamanders should not be handled regularly.

Turtles and tortoises are also included in this group. I don’t suggest them as the best choice for college students as tortoises require very large enclosures and more involved lighting and feeding requirements. Aquatic turtles release lots of waste into their tanks and require constant cleaning.

Be wary of salmonella in this group. Wash hands before and after handling!

Birds (parrots, finches, budgies, quail etc):  C- College Rating

I’m going to make this one quick. Birds are my favorite animals. That being said, I understand that parrot species require a tremendous commitment of time, energy, and money. They require regular vet visits which adds up quickly in costs for us broke college kids. They are also generally noisy and messy which makes them less than ideal for communal living. Many species can live extremely long (up to 80 years) which means they’ll be around a large portion of your life. They also have extremely high attention needs- comparable to that of a young child. Budgies (parakeets) may work well as they are small, cheaper, generally hardy, and don’t live quite as long. Finches and button quail may be a better choice if you really want a bird in college but these species dislike being handled. My advice would be wait to get a parrot until after college!

Dogs and Cats: C- College Rating

You can compare my view of keeping dogs and cats in college to my stance on keeping parrots. They are a BIG commitment. Most dog breeds require very frequent stimulation such as walks and play time. Both cats and dogs need specific vaccines, regular vet visits, and spay or neuter surgeries. These costs along with their initial purchase costs, upkeep (feed, treats, toys, litter, etc) are way too much for the average college student to be responsible for. Only buy an animal if you know for sure you can financially support and keep it healthy in great living conditions. Apartments often make you pay extra to keep dogs and cats on their properties. You also must worry about finding caretakers for dogs and cats even if you are just gone for a day. Obviously, these animals make fantastic companions and can improve mental health and stability. I know people who have cats and dogs successfully in college – but I would advise against it at this stage in our life.

Juanita, my Mexican Red Knee Tarantula.
Juanita, my Mexican Red Knee Tarantula.

Other (ferrets, sugar gliders, tarantulas, scorpions): A+ to F College Rating

 A wide variety of species can be placed in this other section. From the easiest of all pets, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, which can go months without food and are virtually indestructible, to the hardest to keep marmosets (small primates) which should not be kept as pets at all.

Ferrets, sugar gliders, or a hedgehog may make a great college companion instead of a dog or cat. Please do research before purchasing. Sugar gliders require very specific feeding and care rituals. All three should be brought to a vet regularly and are not good choices for first time pet owners.

If you are not the squeamish type- tarantulas and scorpions make unique, interesting, easy to care for pets. I have 4 tarantulas currently. They can be kept in small containers, only have to be fed a couple times a week (crickets and other live bugs), and are generally very hardy. These invertebrates are often only sold at reptile expos.

If you are a livestock or horse person just go visit the barns on campus and get involved with animal science groups!

This entry was posted in Animals.