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Build Your Career Office Life

Paw-some or Cat-astrophic? Pros and Cons of Office Pets

image for LightField Studios / Shutterstock
LightField Studios / Shutterstock

Imagine walking into the office every day to be greeted by a friendly pup or playful kitten. Then picture sitting at your desk with your own pet at your feet all day. Does that sound ideal? Not to everyone.

"If your office currently does not permit pets at work but you are considering becoming pet-friendly, your first step should be surveying existing employees on the idea, listening to feedback," said Teresa Marzolph, people strategist and founder of Culture Engineered. "Expressed concerns should lead to discussions. It's important to understand the root of any objection."

The decision should not be taken lightly, and both sides of the argument should be considered. The second step would be to reread your office's lease to make sure you don't need your landlord's permission, making your approval a moot point. Then, if your business has anything to do with food handling, look to your local licensing bureau; there are likely hard-and-fast health regulations in your area.

If you're in the clear on those two points, it's time to list the pros and cons to weigh your decision. We interviewed workplace experts on their thoughts about office pets.

An office cat or dog might first come to mind when you think of workplace pets, but they're not necessarily the best choice for your workspace – and contrary to popular belief, neither cats nor dogs are the most popular pet in the U.S. That distinction belongs to freshwater fish, a pet group that might be the perfect fit for your office.

Though the notion of a best pet for the office is subjective – it depends on factors such as the noise and lighting levels of your office and how formal or traditional your workspace is – fish tend to require far less maintenance and care than your office dog or cat will. Feeding fish takes just seconds, and you don't have to put any uneaten food away, since all the food stays in the fish tank. Speaking of the fish tank, though, that's the one drawback of office fish: Although they can't leave their tank to beg you for attention, you'll likely need to clean the tank or its water filter at least once a week, and that's time lost from your actual work.

In general, when you're considering what types of pets are best for the office, think less about the species and more about their behavior. A cat that loves to meow loudly or jump onto your keyboard to beg you for attention is adorable, but it'll prevent you from getting work done. Dogs might have a reputation for being louder and needier, but an older dog that naps at your feet all day instead of barking often might be better for your office than a hyperactive cat – and you'd need to clean your cat's litter box at least once a day.

If your desk or cubicle has space for a cage, then rabbits, guinea pigs or turtles might not be out of the question. These pets can be less disruptive to your office environment than a cat or dog, but cleaning their cages is likely to become a daily task.

Your choice of office pet should ultimately depend on how it will affect your workflow and office environment, including your employees' and colleagues' abilities to focus and complete their work. To help you decide whether to get an office pet and narrow down which types might be right for you, consider the following pros and cons of office pets.

According to Emmi Buck, public information specialist for Pierce County, Washington, pets can reduce stress and anxiety, which leads to a better work environment.

"We've found that the majority of people love pets and are excited to have furry friends in the office," she said. "Having your pet or a co-worker's pet in the office is uplifting and brings a smile to your face."

Community Pets have a way of bringing people together by breaking tension and providing comfort. This might make your employees more willing to step out of their comfort zones and socialize with their team.

"Pets can foster a sense of connection and community," said Russell Hartstein, certified professional dog trainer and CEO of Fun Paw Care. "Pets also act as social lubricant, and people tend to act more compassionate and kinder in their presence." 

Marzolph said that bringing a pet to work makes the office feel more like home for many, which promotes healthy work-life balance. These employees likely won't view the workplace as a stressful environment, but rather as a home away from home.

Additionally, pets require time and attention, which can promote healthy pauses from assignments and creative breaks.

"When you need a breather from a big project, pets are a great way to take a minute to scratch their belly and give yourself a quick mini-break," said Buck. "Pets also generally need to go potty outdoors, so it's a nice breath of fresh air … to take a step outside to walk your pet during work."

Work-life balance is a great pro, but employees can easily take it too far. Be wary of too much time spent with the pets and not on work.

"While quick walks or belly rubs can be a good balance to work and taking breaks, some pets might be [needier] than others and end up wasting the time of the office employees," said Buck. "Additionally, if a pet is sick or injured, they might require more care or be loudly coughing, which would increase the distraction factor of the animal."

That's why it's so important for office pets to be trained, said Hartstein. If they're barking, jumping on people or destroying furniture, they might bring more trouble than ease, possibly even becoming a liability.

Some people simply don't like pets (hey, don't look at me – I'm just the messenger!) or, more justifiably, just don't want them in their workspace.

Buck said that if someone is allergic to or not fond of pets, this can create tension in the office and possibly even legal issues for the company. An animal allergy may be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and you must make reasonable accommodations for that person if they request animals not be allowed.  

While well-trained pets typically don't go around biting people for fun, they're still animals, and they can get spooked and defensive at a moment's notice.

"The unfortunate issue of an animal causing an injury is a big potential con of having a pet at work," said Buck. "Even if animals are generally nice and well-tempered, almost any dog is going to react negatively if they're provoked … An accidental bite or causing somebody in the office to trip would be extremely unfortunate and, again, a potential legal issue."

This goes both ways, she added. Workers might accidentally step on or run into a pet, causing unintentional harm or emotional stress to the animal. Make sure any pets allowed in the office are insured. You might also want to speak with your lawyer about having pet owners sign an indemnification agreement that would require the owner to pay for any injuries to co-workers their animal causes.

You don't want your office to smell like a pet store or become unsanitary for your workers, which can sometimes happen with animals.

"Extra hair around the office … can be an annoyance for whomever does the cleaning, and even some of the co-workers who prefer a tidy workspace," said Buck. "Even if pets are completely potty trained, there is always the potential of the pet getting into something they're not supposed to, and either making a mess or becoming sick and throwing up in the office."

If you do choose to have pets in the workplace, be sure to keep the office clean and fresh, and be receptive to any concerns.

Max Freedman contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't writing for business.com and Business News Daily, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. She is also the content manager for Lightning Media Partners. Check out her short stories in "Night Light: Haunted Tales of Terror," which is sold on Amazon.