Fish or puppy? How to choose the nice-sized pet for your home

The dachshund is becoming more popular – partly because they are a good fit for our increasingly cramped dwellings. But how much space do animal companions actually need?

Sausage dog registrations have soared in the past three years. Photograph: Back in the Pack dog portraits/Getty Images

They were once bred for flushing out badgers, now the sausage dog is becoming popular because it’s an ideal fit for small flats. According to the Kennel Club, there were 9,000 new registrations last year, up 40% from 2015 (raising concerns about the spinal problems the breed can suffer from, and unscrupulous breeders). It has partly been driven by fashion – dachshunds have been regularly used in advertising, and popularised by celebrity ownership – but also because homes are getting smaller. While the first question of pet ownership should always be: “Am I the right person for this pet?” – rather than the other way around – it may be worth rethinking how much space, or not, pets need.


You don’t need a farm or smallholding to keep chickens. Although they would be happier with as much space as possible to roam, the recommended minimum for a chicken run is one square metre, and preferably two, per hen. Chickens like company, and three is recommended for a small garden.

Chickens like company, so you need enough space for at least three. Photograph: Design Pics Inc/REX/Shutterstock


Once considered an easy first pet, goldfish need more than a bowl and a few fish flakes. Bowls are a terrible choice – they are too cramped, oxygen-poor and basically mean the poor fish is swimming around in its own filth. It is a myth that goldfish grow to “fit” the tank, but the small fish you get from a pet shop will get bigger (up to 30cm) and they need space. They are also social, so they need friends – and therefore even more space. The It’s Not Just a Fish campaign group suggests a tank that is a minimum 120cm long for fancy varieties of goldfish.


It is possible, though not necessarily recommended (unless they have a medical problem or disability), to keep cats indoors. The RSPCA recommends indoor cats have access to several rooms, including places to climb, stimulating toys and lots of interaction to stop them getting bored. They will also need enough exercise to stop them putting on unnecessary weight.


There has been a recent trend for keeping indoor rabbits, but the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund stresses that while they can make good house pets, it is not a simple undertaking. At least two rabbits (they like company) will need space – minimum 3m by 2m, perhaps the size of an entire room – which will need to be rabbit-proofed (no electric wiring or poisonous house plants they could chew, for example). Lots of toys should be provided, but they will also like to chew anything in sight, from furniture to door frames.


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