Anyone who owns a pet will tell you that the creatures they share their home with add unmeasurable joy and happiness to their days. From walking a dog to snuggling a cat to serving a reptile its daily meals, taking care of another being is one of life’s most rewarding experiences. It can also slash your stress. One 2021 study published in the journal Anthrozoos even found that owning a pet later in life is related to fewer symptoms of anxiety.
However, it’s no secret that certain animals require lots of time, energy, and money. That’s where low-maintenance pets come in. They’re just as fun and stress-busting as an energetic pup, but don’t require endless attention along with multiple walks per day. Read on for the easy-to-care-for critters that experts say will liven up your home and keep the blues at bay.
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Syrian hamsters—also known as golden hamsters and teddy bear hamsters—are the most popular type of hamster. “[These pets] are generally low-maintenance, quiet, and interesting,” says Matthew McCarthy, DVM, a veterinarian and founder of Juniper Valley Animal Hospital in Queens, New York. “They’re fun to watch if you get them a wheel and are tame enough to hold, although a gentle touch is needed.”
These critters are nocturnal, so McCarthy notes they often wake in the evening hours and will happily interact with their humans then. They require daily food and water and a small habitat that’s cleaned about once a week.
You might not have considered owning a rat as a pet, but McCarthy assures us they’re snuggly creatures who will gladly chill on your lap while you read or watch TV—and what’s better for stress relief than cuddles? Of course, “you don’t want to pick up pizza rat down at the Times Square station and take him home,” says McCarthy. “Instead, seek out pet rat breeders or rescue groups—there are plenty—and they will set you up with a nice domestic pet rat. They have been bred as pets for over 100 years.”
Rats are quite social and prefer to be kept in same-sex pairs or groups. House them in a wire cage and provide them with fresh food and water once a day.
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Nothing soothes stress like having a companion to talk to—and budgetrigars (or budgies, for short) fit the bill. As the most popular breed of parakeets, they are decidedly chatty and low-key. “Budgies are highly social birds and love to interact with people, birds, and even other animals,” says McCarthy. “They frequently learn behaviors and mimic voices and tones, and, with practice, some parakeets have been known to learn vocabularies of more than 100 words.”
Although they can’t learn to converse, they can be taught to mimic and respond to cues and verbal commands. All they need is a small, clean cage with a perch, as well as food and water. Add a few toys with reflective surfaces, bells, and rattles to keep them happy, suggests McCarthy.
Hermit crabs are inexpensive, low-maintenance, and cute. (Seriously, who doesn’t want to watch a group of tiny crabs trade shells and crawl around.) “These guys are quite social and groups of crabs tend to be more active than individual crabs,” says McCarthy. “Since caring for a few hermit crabs really isn’t any more difficult than caring for one, having multiple crabs is recommended.”
They do need a humid cage, which does require some setup. “Use an under-tank heat pad to keep your pets warm,” says McCarthy. “A large water dish in the cage will supply humidity.” Once you experience the joy of one crawling in your hand, you’ll forget all about the hour you put into getting them organized.
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You’ve probably seen these docile creatures swimming in your local pond. But did you know they also make good pets? “Turtles are cool, calm, collected, and they love to munch leaves all day,” says Jeff Carbridge, a qualified animal behaviorist and training consultant at Dog Owner. “Breeds like the African sideneck or the eastern box don’t grow beyond a foot, which is perfect if you don’t have loads of room for them to roam.”
All you need to keep them content is a clean enclosure, food, and water. Carbridge explains that turtles are affectionate creatures with loads of personality who develop strong bonds with their owners. “They take things slow and at their own pace—the way we are supposed to take life but never do,” he says.
Don’t write off cats as high-maintenance just because they’re larger than the other animals on this list. All they really need is food, water, a litter box, some toys, and lots of cuddles. Plus, they provide companionship in many ways—and you’ll notice their stress-busting impact as soon as you feel one purr in your arms.
“They are often loving and affectionate towards their owners, enjoy being petted and played with, and provide companionship simply by being present,” says Amber LaRock, a licensed vet tech. “Many people find that having a cat around the house is a calming and enjoyable presence, and cats can make wonderful friends.”
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