Think Twice: There Are No Beginner Pets

Why The Term “Beginner Pet” Has No Place Around Animals

By Erin Kirkpatrick

I was aimlessly walking through a popular pet supply store with my boyfriend when I first encountered the term “beginner” in relation to a pet. It didn’t dawn on me until later – I lovingly blame the animals in the store – how irresponsible the term “beginner pet” is.

At the front of every display case was a line-ruled index card filled with the life story of the animal on the other side of the glass. These answers provided individuals who were looking to adopt with a “snapshot” of the pet’s temperament and if possible, their back story.

“Meet Henry, a male black cat, who is three years old and “purrfers” to be an only cat.”


Underneath the speed dating-esque intros, each animal was ranked in terms of the skill level required to care for him or her, starting with Beginner and ending at Advanced. Guinea pigs, hamsters, and goldfish were among the unlucky ones ranked as Beginner experience level. How did they get stuck with this ranking?

While I understand that different pets require varying degrees of physical maintenance and financial investment, upfront and over a period of time, no pet is a “beginner pet.” The term itself is dangerous and acts as a defense when things end badly…which happens a lot when you have pets without consequences. Goldfish end up in toilets, guinea pigs are overfed, and hamsters are improperly put away in their enclosures and escape.

Credit: Photograph by Lilly, Dreamstime / National Geographic Kids

Surprisingly or maybe not surprisingly, if you’ve done your homework, many pets labeled with beginner status live a long time. That doesn’t sound beginner to me. That simply sounds like a pet.

Seduced by the lower upfront cost of “beginner pets,” people purchase them without thinking of vet bills, medications, and other long-term costs. For many people, the $30.00 cost of the “beginner pet” isn’t worth the $200.00 vet bill, and it results in the needless suffering of the animal.

A guinea pig raised in captivity lives an average of five to seven years, but guinea pigs Snowball and Sweetie lived until 14 years and 10 months, and 15 years old, respectively. Numerous factors can affect how long animals live, but with the proper care and a mindset that rejects “beginner pet” labeling decades or more are possible.

Parents routinely purchase “beginner pets” as a way of teaching their children to be responsible and preparing them for the dog, cat, or flavor-of-the-month pet that won’t come too far after. And because of their faux-beginner status, there’s not a lot of thought or research into how to provide for them. Sometimes, the initial pet won’t live long enough, despite their normally robust lifespan but because of inadequate care, to meet their replacement.

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Does anyone else see the problem with this approach?

First, responsibility should come before and be proven before a pet is even involved. A pet of any kind and of any cost is living, breathing responsibility.

Second, if a “beginner pet” isn’t being cared for properly, what chance does any other pet have of being cared for?

Third, research is an absolute must for ANY pet. Think about it, would you adopt a dog or cat if you had no idea how to provide for it? I didn’t think so. Do your own research on credible pet and pet care blogs because in the end you’re the one who’s caring for the animal, and you need to be informed. All animals are important no matter how small and no matter what. Thank you, Dr. Seuss.

 Credit: Flickr / @Elena Shumilova 

Fourth, your so-called “beginner pet” may be with you for longer than you expected, so make sure you can provide for it. If the initially thought when getting a pet is what will come after it, I’m sorry, but you’re not ready for any pets.

It is important to understand the work that goes into owning any animal. Every animal is a responsibility, a commitment, and a privilege. So, if you’re thinking about purchasing “beginner pet” or even calling a pet “beginner,” you better think twice.