What makes one animal a pet, and another not? Why are some animals companions, and others food? What separates one animal from being domesticated and other from living in the wild?
Oddly enough what are pets in one part of the world, may be food in another. Guinea Pigs were, and still are, a food animal in South America. In other parts of the world they are commonly kept as pets. We, in Europe and North America, keep cats and dogs as pets, yet we recoil in horror when we hear they are consumed as food in Asia. We eat cattle, a sacred animal to many in India.
Some animals are better suited for a life of domestication, be they pets, or livestock. Any animal that can tolerate captivity, is relatively easy to breed, and fairly safe to handle, can be kept a pet, assuming local laws allow such.
photo by author
Cats, and dogs are the most popular “pet” world wide. While some are service animals, preforming helpful duties like mousing, or guarding, most are pampered pets. Cats and dogs are endearing because they enjoy the attention from humans. Even though we make fun of cats as being more independent, they certainly appreciate human attention more so than some animals, this is why they are so popular.
Fish and birds are also often kept as pets. Certain fish are small enough and reproduce well in captivity and this makes them well suited to being kept as pets. Others are colorful and in such demand they are caught in the wild or bred by specialists and sold for top dollar.
Horses are an animal that was once kept more for function, but they are beloved by many and although often considered “pets” many people use their horses for competitions, as tools for show. These are one of the more expensive pet animals. Unlike most other pets, horses seldom remain with one owner. Most are resold many times over as owners grow or progress in skill and demand taller, or more competitive mounts.
Smaller caged animals are often kept as pets, usually by children. Such animals include Guinea Pigs, Rabbits, Hamsters, and even some more exotic animals. Rats are considered pests or pets, depending on ones point of view. Sugar Gliders are becoming trendy pets in some parts of the world, but are not a common pet in their home land of Australia.
Less cute, but still popular, many lizards, snakes, and amphibians are kept as pets. Even insects are kept as pets. These types of animals appeal to people who do not have time for cats or dogs, and may have allergies to dander.
Small caged animals are kept for the sole reason of entertainment and companionship for their owner. As such we can see that a pet simply needs to be an animal that can be kept with some degree of simplicity. Although many would like to keep an animal such as a Koala as a pet, these animals actually have shorter lifespans in captivity. An animal whose life is actually hampered by being kept as a pet is generally not considered practical, and realistically could not be bred for such a purpose.
I hand raised this lamb when her mom couldn't care for her. She is a pet.
An animal can be domesticated if it can be kept in an enclosed space without it becoming a danger to itself and others. Llamas are often considered as domestic animals, bison are generally not. Both can be kept, but llamas are far more tolerant of humans, and although they may spit and kick, they are considerably less dangerous. Sure a few bison can be tamed but on the whole they are far more risky, and usually when they are mature even the friendliest bison will no longer be considered as a "pet".
Some people do keep animals commonly thought of as livestock, as pets. Most often these animals are purchased as orphans and raised in such a way that they are very friendly and tame. Most livestock is only handled when needed so are more distrustful of humans (and with good reason). Chickens are becoming more commonly accepted as pets. Goats and sheep are also often kept as pets. Many of these types of animals commonly thought of as only being livestock are now bred to be smaller and cuter, perfect for pets. Pigs are as intelligent as dogs, and make terrific pets, if one is allowed to keep them.
What separates one animal to be food and another to be a pet is in the eyes of the beholder. If a person is raised to consider bunnies as food, that is what they will be. If a person is raised to see insects as pets, that is what they will be.
As we can see what makes an animal a pet is hard to determine. Over all if an animal can be kept in captivity somebody, somewhere will want to make a pet out of it. Sadly some will do so with no regard to the animals welfare and will only want to keep the pet for their own vanity.