Pete Wedderburn at home with 'Pip'
From dogs and cats to cows and gerbils, veterinary surgeon Pete Wedderburn presents his top 20 family pets.
Somebody once said: “The more people I meet, the more I like my dog.” Dogs exemplify unconditional love. They are eager to please, with no bad moods, almost worshipping humans in return for a little food and attention.
They also encourage us to take exercise. The right dog in the right home is an unbeatable example of a pet at its best. My favourite type is a healthy cross-bred mix, but the breed of pedigree dog I like above all others is the playful border terrier, pictured.
If dogs are from Mars, cats are from a planet yet to be discovered. They are self-aware, fastidious, proud creatures who do as they please. It feels an honour to be chosen as a cat’s friend, and there is nothing more calming than a cat curled up on your lap, emitting a soothing purr.
I love the quirky individuality of pedigree cats such as the Burmese, but my overall favourite is a ginger moggy.
These intelligent mammals were once maligned as fluffy dimwits to be kept in solitary confinement in a garden hutch. “House bunnies” now live indoors, use a litter tray like a cat and impress visitors with their cheeky personalities..
4. GUINEA PIGS
The ideal starter pet for children. They like to be petted, communicating with high-pitched squeaks, and are less likely to nip than many other small pets.
Despite their “dirty” image and unappealing (to many) looks, rats make surprisingly good pets. They are intelligent, clean and, when tamed, easy to handle.
They resemble mini-kangaroos, with their powerful hind legs and upright posture. These inquisitive, busy creatures, dig networks of tunnels in their bedding and provide plenty of entertainment for their owners.
The only small pet mammals that enjoy solitude, hamsters make good single pets for children, despite the fact that some can give the odd blood-letting nip. Plenty of gentle handling from a young age minimises this risk.
From parrots and cockatoos that live for more than 50 years to budgies and canaries with a life span of a decade, there are plenty of birds to choose from.
The RSPCA says it can be difficult to meet a bird’s welfare needs in a cage and that an aviary is the ideal option.
Small snakes, such as grass or corn snakes, make fascinating, different pets. The diet of frozen newborn mice can upset some people, but is it any worse than the meat that goes into pet foods? Live feeding of prey is cruel, and unnecessary, despite the myths...
A tankful of fish can be a colourful, intriguing and soothing presence in a room. It may be difficult to imagine having an emotional bond with a fish, but if you had a goldfish that lived for more than 20 years, you might change your mind.
11. STICK INSECTS
Stick insects are safe and interesting starter pets. They excel at reproduction and escapology: if you don’t want stick insects hiding in your curtains, make sure the tank is well-sealed.
Startlingly similar to mini-dinosaurs, lizards appeal to people who enjoy their “shock” factor.
There is something strangely satisfying about seeing a small flock of hens strutting and scratching around in the back garden. And don’t forget the bonus of fresh eggs.
14. DUCKS AND GEESE
The blunt-shaped bill, distinctive “quack” or “hoot” and big, wide, webbed feet are all appealing. These aquatic birds offer natural pest control by eating slugs, and, quick to raise an alarm, they make excellent property guardians.
Horses and ponies have an imposing combination of strength and sensitivity. A serious commitment often results in unforgettable friendship.
If you have space and time, the curious company of a few goats can be beguiling. With a bit more time, you can have your own milk supply.
Sheep are often kept as pets after being hand-reared as lambs. But some people find their empty-looking eyes off-putting.
Sir Winston Churchill said: “I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
If you have the land, a small pig such as the kune-kune might suit you. This friendly breed tends to make a better pet than the traditional farmyard porkers.
19. TORTOISES AND TERRAPINS
These creatures are low on my list, because I feel they are better served by remaining untouched in the wild rather than being kept in unsuitable tanks and fed on inappropriate diets, as is so often the case.
I yearn to have my own small Dexter cow in the garden. They have soulful dark eyes and a charming “Moooooo”. Perhaps one day…
Top 20 family pets - Telegraph