A family dog? Booooring. Maybe a cat? Double boring, and three times as mean! In the quest to spice up domestic life and get a little exotic companionship, people often look beyond the expected when chosing a pet. But for every successful tale of an animal adoption, there are horror stories of animals not well-suited to living alongside humans. So what's the sweet spot between the kitten and the cougar?
Scientists from the Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands recently looked into which animals — specifically, mammals — would make the best pets and for whom life alongside people would be the least difficult and most humane. They published their findings in a new study in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science. And their answers will surprise you.
The researchers assessed nine different criteria to come up with a "suitable" list: Criteria included the average size of the animal in adulthood, how active the animal needs to be, the extent to which the animal needs shelter and the cleanliness of the animal.
The scientists assembled a list of 90 possible mammals by looking at evidence of which species were being kept in the Netherlands, then collected anecdotal evidence from veterinarians and animal rescue shelters. The researchers removed "production" animals like cows, horses, rabbits and guinea pigs, and excluded from consideration dogs and cats, too.
But let's quit beating around the Bactrian and get to the point of what furry friend could take up residence most easily in your abode. The study found that the top five most suitable mammals to assume the role as human companions are:
1. Sika deer (Cervus nippon)
2. Agile wallaby (Macropus agilis)
3. Tamar wallaby (Macropus eugenii)
4. Llama (Lama glama)
5. Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus)
Animal cuddlers take note, though — the researchers aren't necessarily recommending that people take on these animals as pets. Their primary goal was to create a framework with which to assess whether an animal could meet the standards of pet suitability under the Dutch Animal Act.
"The main influence of this work is methodological. In the Netherlands, many mammal species are kept and for a long time the government wanted to guarantee the welfare of animals," says lead researcher Dr. Paul Koene in a press release, explaining that the study was an aim to better work within the definition of the word "suitable," used in a 2013 Dutch law mandating general care requirements for animals. "Therefore the Dutch Animals Act was made stating that mammals should not be kept unless they are production animals, or are species that are suitable to be kept by anyone without special knowledge or skills."
While the suitability framework and database was particularly designed for the Netherlands, Koene says he can imagine something similar being used in a wider context across Europe, in the United States or other countries. A team is at work on analyzing a larger inventory of 270 more mammals, and may investigate the suitability of birds and reptiles.
Then again, with the entire world turning to creature collection via Pokemon Go, the whole endeavor may be moot as we instead amass a digital poke-menagerie.