General

The most popular pets throughout history

Are you a cat or a dog person? Maybe you don’t like either and are more into turtles. While some people aren’t into pets at all, most have some type of preference. And over the years, specific types of pets—or even breeds—have fallen in and out of favor over time. Considering that having companions from the Animal Kingdom is something we’ve been doing for centuries, which pets are the most popular?

Before we dig into the statistics, it’s important to note that finding completely accurate data for worldwide pet ownership is difficult. While in the United States, these numbers are compiled regularly, not every country consistently records this information. So for the most part, when we discuss pet ownership and the most popular types of pets, we’re focusing on data collected from developed nations. Still, you can assume that these trends would also hold true in other parts of the world.

Dogs

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Of course, man’s best friend tops the list of the most popular pet in history. The canine is also one of the oldest proven pets, with archeologists dating some rare dog bones to as far back as 32,000 years ago. However, most scientists agree that pretty much every dog that we know of today comes from two separate domesticated wolf strains. It’s known that this occurred in Europe 16,000 years ago and again 14,000 years ago in Asia.

Archeological digs have also found numerous examples of how important dogs were to their owners. Some sites have discovered elaborate burial places for beloved pooches. Meanwhile, we know that the Romans often kept toy breed dogs as companions. And centuries later, European royalty even had clothing made with special pockets to carry their favorite pooches with them. Studies estimate the pet-dog population at 74.8 million; in the U.S., the most popular breeds are the Labrador Retriever and the English Cocker Spaniel.

Cats

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It shouldn’t be a surprise, but the second most popular pet is the cat, with an estimated 88.3 million causing mischief around the world. So, why are there more cats by the number if dogs are more popular around the world? Based on the 2016 study we referenced, the reasoning is that even though more individual households own dogs, cat parents tend to own more than one. And this is because cats are more independent. Fido may be man’s best friend, but he’s a needy fellow. Cats can exercise themselves, only need a litter box, and don’t typically demand as much of their owner’s attention as dogs require.

Hamsters, mice, & guinea pigs

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Have you ever watched a video of a hamster eating a burrito? Besides the fact that everyone wondered who made a tiny burrito, we all thought that the hamster was adorable. And it turns out that hamsters—and the closely related mice and guinea pigs—are fairly docile, child-friendly pets that are pretty popular around the world. Hamsters, mice, and guinea pigs fall under the “small animals” category from the 2016 survey.

While we can’t pinpoint specific numbers for each species, it’s safe to say that with 24.3 million small animals being kept as pets, they’re a pretty popular choice. Once relegated to science labs, someone finally realized how cute these rodents could be. More importantly, hamsters, mice, and guinea pigs are all furry friends that don’t need a lot of space with a mess that can be easily contained to a cage.

Fish

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Some surveys differentiate between fresh and saltwater species, but we are combining the two. Estimates say there are 142 million freshwater fish being kept as pets, and much like with cats, pet owners who keep fish tend to own more than one at a time. If you’re diligent and are willing to manage the upkeep required to have a fish tank, fish can be a great alternative to other pets. Many people cite allergies and messiness as the main reasons they won’t have a dog or cat. However, fish usually don’t pose these risks—unless you let your fish tank gets dirty.

Birds

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And finally, we turn to the avian world. Birds are very popular house pets because, when compared to a dog, they tend to be more independent and create less of a mess in your home. Technically, birds don’t fall under the domesticated category. However, their fairly social nature and low maintenance make them a popular option. Additionally, if you’re a fan of birding or just enjoy bird calls, they can be the perfect companion. And in 16 million households, they are.

So now you know why certain animals are the most popular pets. You probably weren’t surprised that dogs and cats made this list. But were there any other animals that you didn’t expect to see?

Note that there is no clear data set that outlines which animal has been the most popular pet of all time. But, based on statistical and archeological information, we can draw conclusions. For this article, the figures referenced above are from a 2016 survey conducted by Growth from Knowledge, a market research think tank. We’ve further broken that down and listed pets in the order of popularity referenced from this 2018 article.