What Was The Most Common Pet In Ancient Rome

Roman Animal Keeping

Ancient Rome was full of pet owners, but what kind of pets were people keeping in their households? Many people did not have the privilege of having exotic animals, so it is important to figure out what the most common pet in Ancient Rome was.
Despite the cultural context, the ancient Romans seemed to share the same fondness for their pets as many do today. There are records of people keeping and caring for different types of animals, such as cats, dogs, goats, sheep, and even chickens. When it comes to the most specific pet of ancient Rome, there are some clues from archaeological, historical and even literary records.

Dogs as Pets in Rome

It is not difficult to guess that the most common pet in ancient Rome was a dog, since they were considered companions of both the gods and the mortals. Dogs were valuable and even kept in households and were sometimes even used as a symbol of wealth. Dogs were kept as guard dogs, lap dogs, and even hunting animals.
Dogs were used as guard dogs and were sometimes even present in large public spaces such as public baths and even amphitheatres. Dogs were also kept as lapdogs, a popular pet among the wealthy citizens of Rome.
Dogs were also used for hunting, with the most common dog used being the Italian Greyhound. These small dogs have a great sense of smell and were highly valued for their hunting abilities. Roman soldiers also had dogs, mostly for protection on the battlefield.

Cats in Roman Households

Cats were also kept as pets, though not as popular as dogs. It is believed that cats were brought to Rome from Egypt and that they were seen as an unlucky animal. Cats were used as guard animals, effectively keeping rodents away from homes.
The Romans seemed to have also taken a special liking to cats as some wealthy persons had them in their homes as well. Cats were even kept as companions and were adorned with jewelry and some were even kept inside cages.

Other Pets

Apart from cats and dogs, the Romans also kept other animals such as goats, chickens, hedgehogs, and even birds. Goats were most often quite popular among farmers who kept them as livestock.
Interestingly, chickens were kept much as they are today, in pens and even as pets. Many people kept chickens as they were a source of eggs and a source of food as well. Other birds such as pigeons, doves, and even parrots were kept as pets.
Fried hedgehogs were also popular among certain members of the population, especially in rural areas. Hedgehogs were seen as a pest and were caught and killed for their meat.

Well Kept Pets

The Romans seemed to have taken a liking to animals, evidenced by some of the large public places dedicated to animals such as the Circus Maximus and the Colosseum. Roman poet Virgil even had a pet fox, which he named ‘Felix’.
It is clear from evidence from archaeological, historical, and literary sources that the most common pet in Ancient Rome was a dog, followed by cats, goats, birds, and hedgehogs. Dogs and cats were kept as guard animals and lapdogs, while other animals were kept for their meat and their eggs, such as chickens and hedgehogs.

Literary Sources

The evidence of pet ownership in Ancient Rome can also be seen in literary sources. We find record of people keeping animals as pets in writings from ancient authors such as Pliny the Elder and Martial, who mentions his pet-pigeon, ‘Cicero’.
Pliny the Elder wrote of some of the strange animals he encountered in Rome, such as monkeys, panthers, and even a rhinoceros. He also recounts how one person owned a pet lion and how it even learned how to protect its human companion.

Popular Culture

The love of animals in Ancient Rome can also be seen in popular culture. Pet-related items were popular during the time and even used as decorations in the homes of wealthy people. Pet-related items such as statuettes, oil lamps, and even coins depicted cats, dogs, and other animals as symbols of companionship.
Ancient Rome also had a sense of ‘pet fashion’. People adorned their pets with jewelry and other items to indicate their prestige and wealth. Cats and dogs were particularly popular, and people even gave them special items for them to wear.


The evidence clearly points to the fact that the most common pet in Ancient Rome was a dog. Dogs were kept in households and were even used as guard animals and lapdogs. Though cats were also popular, evidence suggests that dogs were the most common pet.
Cats, goats, chickens, and hedgehogs were also kept as pets, either for protection, food, or companionship. The love of animals in Ancient Rome can also be seen in popular culture, where pet-related items were used to show status and wealth.
It is clear that during ancient times, animals were loved just as much as they are today.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

Leave a Comment