No time for a dog? 5 low-maintenance pets for busy docs

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, for MDLinx
Published February 5, 2019

Key Takeaways

Nothing beats a dog in terms of sheer outward affection. Research shows that owning a dog will calm you, keep you more mindful, and make you feel more social. Dogs are also perfect companions for older people who feel lonely.

But let's face it…not everyone can shoulder (paw?) the responsibility of owning a pet like a dog or a cat. Long hours in the hospital or clinic make for short hours at home. Even though they bring a lot to the table (bowl?), free-roaming pets need maintenance, too.

So, if you're low on time and high on desire to own a low-maintenance pet, here are five offbeat pet ideas to consider:

Hermit crabs

Lifespan: Up to 10 years

Length: Up to 6 inches

Did you know that hermit crabs are not "true crabs" at all? Their soft bellies require them to take shelter in an adopted shell. These critters have personalities all their own and are social creatures. Hermit crabs live in pairs or in groups. But, take heed: they will fight if they're not the same size.

Hermit crabs molt, or change skins, periodically. You will have to provide them with new shells as they grow, as they are not living in the wild and cannot "shop" for new homes themselves. But, although they are usually docile, hermit crabs can deliver a light pinch when disturbed.

Hermit crabs require the following:

  • A hooded 5-gallon terrarium for two crabs
  • A gravel lining between 2 and 3 inches in depth (to burrow in when they molt)
  • Pellet or powdered food, supplemented with dark, leafy vegetables, and fruit
  • Ceramic water dish, and another low dish full of conditioned water to soak in
  • A couple of extra shells as new homes
  • Heat source
  • Fluorescent or LED lighting source for 8 to 12 hours of light per day
  • Hiding places

Hermit crabs live in tropical environments and require an enclosure temperature of between 70° and 75° Fahrenheit, and humidity between 50% and 80%. Regular misting is required. Crabs are also sensitive to metal, so it's important to keep metal out of their habitat. Most importantly, they are remarkable escape artists, so keep the terrarium securely covered at all times.

Bearded dragons

Lifespan: 6-10 years, but up to 20 years is possible

Length: 16-24 inches

Bearded dragons are popular and good pets for beginning owners. They are social, easy to tame, and intriguing to watch. One lizard requires a tank between 55 and 75 gallons, with logs and rocks for basking and hiding. They also require fluorescent lighting and a heater.

Bearded dragons need both UVA and UVB radiation; the mercury vapor bulbs that provide these can be found at any pet store. Exposure to sunlight is also beneficial, but never through a window. Basking temperatures under the light should be 95° to 105° F. A cooler area should also be available for the lizards in the tank, ranging from 80° to 85° F.

Bearded dragons eat a diet of insects (mostly crickets) dusted with calcium and vitamin D supplements and need a small dish of water. They also need to be fed fresh fruits and vegetables. Bedding can be either paper towels, indoor/outdoor carpeting, or play sand (for adult dragons only).

These lizards are semi-arboreal, and will need a perch, such as rocks, a small log, or branches to climb on.

Bearded dragons are originally native to Australia and live in deserts. Their habitat should be kept dry, although the lizards can be misted with a water bottle from time to time.


Lifespan: 10-15 years

Length: 5-6 inches

Lovebirds have a lot of personality, and have been described as "active," "curious," "feisty," and "playful." They are extremely social, and capable of forming deep bonds with their owners.

Lovebirds require a large enough cage with bars and toys to keep them entertained. These birds eat commercial food, seeds, fruits, and vegetables, and drink a lot of water, which requires their water bowls be refreshed daily.

Lovebirds can be kept alone, although their name implies otherwise. Since it's likely that your lovebird will be spending long hours alone, it's a good idea to buy a partner in crime to keep it company. These small, social birds like to be handled and resemble small parrots. As their name implies, lovebirds are relatively affectionate and can call for your attention. They also like to chatter.

Keep in mind that lovebirds can be feisty and require taming. If untamed, they may become aggressive. Regular handling and training are necessary with these birds. Because they love to play, lovebirds would benefit from a variety of toys to keep them occupied and happy while you're off saving lives.

Crested geckos

Lifespan: 10-20 years

Length: 7-9 inches

Crested geckos are native to the South Pacific and were thought to have gone extinct before they were found again in 1994. Shortly after their rediscovery, they became a popular pet among beginner lizard enthusiasts. These small guys are pretty calm but can get jumpy when handled. They must be handled gently, because when they are scared, they will shed their tails, which they cannot grow back, unlike other gecko species.

One crested gecko requires a 20-gallon tank, but with a larger tank, you can house more geckos. Geckos have sticky pads on their feet that allow them to climb, so their terrarium must be screened. Furthermore, they need bamboo, vines, or corkwood placed at various orientations to climb on. Paper towels can be used as bedding, as can coconut fiber bedding, moss, or peat.

Crested geckos eat a commercial gecko food, which can be supplemented with insects, such as crickets or mealworms, which you can purchase at any pet store. They also need a shallow water dish and heater. Because they're nocturnal, crested geckos don't require special lights. Keep in mind that crested geckos like it hot, with temperatures ranging 72°-80°F, and between 60% and 80% humidity. To maintain these humidity levels, their enclosures must be misted daily with warm water, which is best done at night, when they are active. For thirst, these lizards also need a shallow dish of water, which you must change daily.


Lifespan: 3-8 years

Size: 5-8 inches

The African Pygmy Hedgehog looks like a porcupine but is a lot less scary. Its quills are soft, and come in adorable colors including salt-and-pepper, cinnamon, and snowflake. Hedgehogs are quiet and active creatures that make great company for people with day jobs because they are nocturnal. They require a 2- to 3-square-foot cage and should live alone. Like cats, they need a litter pan.

Hedgehogs can be fed hedgehog food or grain-free cat food, as well treats of fruits, crickets, mealworms, and veggies. They also like to chase and eat crickets.

These creatures have a tendency to become obese and should have an exercise wheel so they can stay in shape. In the wild, they travel large distances every day, so exercise is important to keep them healthy. Aspen shavings or recycled paper can be used as bedding, and they can drink from a water bottle or bowl.

These cute creatures are prone to health issues. Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (WHS) sometimes affects domesticated hedgehogs and entails a progressive paralysis manifesting as wobbly hindquarters. Hedgehogs also have protruding eyes, which are prone to infection and irritation.

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