Adding a domestic pet to your family can be one of the most rewarding, impactful, and exciting long-term decisions you can dive into! Nonetheless, having a pet is also a significant lifestyle change and a big commitment. Each stage of life with children brings different perspectives and challenges. You should know that caring for a pet can help them grow in empathy and responsibility, as well as improve mental health! The unconditional love that many pets provide is a wonderful benefit. Extending your crew isn’t something to take lightly, so we wanted to make it easier. Let’s look into the top 10 best pets for kids, the most important things to consider about each, and the steps to take before choosing!
Of course, canines are at the top of the list for the most popular family pet. It is rare to find a kid who hasn’t asked for a pup at some point in time! My children in particular brought up the topic regularly for about two years before we actually brought home our Goldendoodle. It wasn’t that we didn’t like dogs, but there was a lot to consider. Dogs are amazing animals but are also higher maintenance. Between food/toys, vet costs, potty training, grooming needs, and exercise requirements, taking on these furry friends can sometimes be more than families bargained for.
We would recommend waiting until your kids are old enough to fully understand and participate in the daily care of a dog. That age range will vary depending on the individual kid but is most commonly around the 12-year-old mark. If you do feel that your family is ready to handle all that a dog entails, you will not regret the choice to add one. The blessings that they bring far exceed the commitment required.
Cats rank second for most favored addition to the family, and it’s easy to see why. Felines are not only adorable but smart, playful, and loyal to their favorite humans. You will find that house cats are lower maintenance than dogs, but still require much responsibility both financially and practically. You should ask yourself whether or not your kids are ready to feed/water a cat, change a litter box, manage fur shedding, and provide daily attention. Just like dogs, they also need vaccinations and basic veterinarian upkeep.
Do you know the saying that cats have nine lives? Well, it was coined for a reason. Cats can live for quite a long time (mine was 19 before she passed). If your kids will be under your roof for a long time to come, this might not be an issue. It’s very possible, however, that your kids will move out before the kitty’s lifespan is reached. This is something to consider as you may need to continue caring for a cat on your own. Though they love with their whole hearts, cats can be temperamental. They often don’t appreciate being smothered so younger kids might feel threatening to older cats. Be cautious of claws and temperament when choosing one from your local shelter! If none of the above poses a problem for your family, head on out and see what sweet little faces are waiting to be adopted. The cuddles, purrs, and biscuit making are all yours for the taking.
With their fluffy cottontails, floppy ears, perfect lap size, and cute beady eyes, who could resist a bunny! Did you know though, despite their reputation as an easy starter pet, rabbits are actually better suited for older children? According to Dr. Laurie Hess (DVM and owner of the Veterinary Center for Birds and Exotics), they are very loving, live a long time, and bond well with their caregivers. However, they are also social creatures that thrive on regular attention and will require a greater care commitment. You will find that bunnies make great companions as they are curious, interactive, and cuddly when they feel safe. Their tending is somewhat similar to that of a cat. They require litter box and/or cage cleaning, need fresh hay and veggies, proper bedding, and supervised time out of their habitat. Domestic rabbits tend to live 8-12 years, so they will also be long-term commitments for your family.
I think most every parent has heard of the squealy, overgrown hamsters known as guinea pigs. They are a favorite creature to be around kids because of their size and manageable needs. Truth be told, after my childhood cat passed and before my kid’s dog joined us, we had a guinea pig! His name was Banner, and he was a delight. Guinea pigs typically enjoy being around people and are even better with another guinea pig. They will actively play and engage with obstacle courses or toys! Most will sit calmly in a child’s lap and squeal happily when they hear your voice.
There are a wide variety of guinea pig breeds to pick from, including adorable long-haired ones (if your child can handle a little extra effort to brush them)! They have moderate-sized cages that will fit in any sized home, but they also love to roam freely while supervised. The main responsibilities for this pet include keeping the cage tidy and providing fresh hay, salad, and pellets daily. Guinea pigs tend to have a life span of 5-7 years, which is great if you are looking for a less intense commitment.
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These little guys are the smaller, nocturnal version of guinea pigs. As long as their habitat is furnished with toys, clean bedding, and areas for burrowing or climbing, they are mostly independent and can entertain themselves for longer periods. Even so, to keep a happy hamster you should lovingly handle them daily. As mentioned, hamsters are nocturnal which means they are most active at night. For that reason, you may want to keep them in a separate room for noise level. They can be a lot of fun and a good baseline pet for teaching some responsibility, but hamsters are fragile and not as low maintenance as many assume. Cages should be thoroughly cleaned weekly. They are best suited for kids 8+ who have a proven record of reliable character. Otherwise, parents will end up doing all the work!
Small birds can be great options for kids who like to observe more than interact with their pets. There are hundreds of different bird species, each with its own beautiful colors and charming personality traits. Birds are not recommended for younger children due to their tendency to bite. Since birds use their beaks to help them grasp and climb, this behavior can be misinterpreted by kids as aggression. Before choosing to bring a bird home, visit a pet store for a hands-on “test” experience to make sure your child enjoys what a bird has to offer! Their cages have to be cleaned regularly to maintain proper health and to keep your bird content. You must also consider perches, possible wing clipping, and nutrition (some birds can be picky eaters!). All of that aside, tween-aged kids often find that birds make for great company as they form strong bonds with their owners. Canaries, Finches, and Parakeets are among the most practical choices.
If your kids aren’t exactly the furry friend type, you may want to consider a fun reptile! Bearded Dragons are hardy, calm, slow-moving, and passive as far as lizards go. They do enjoy being held and socialized with. Their general max length is around 2 feet which means their vivarium will be a manageable size for any space. Like other reptile pets, they require special UV lighting and temperature controls. Sometimes live insect feedings are a necessity, so make sure your kids aren’t squeamish! Bearded Dragons tend to have unique personalities and live anywhere from 8-10 years.
Simple fish as pets are a great place to start with young kids. You can begin with just one or two and expand your aquarium as you gauge your child’s interest or lack thereof. There are many fun and colorful varieties of fish at most any pet store! However, you should always consult with a store associate regarding each fish’s individual care needs.
It’s relatively easy to teach a child age 3 and up how to feed their pet by sprinkling fish food delicately. Explain that too much food can hurt the fish, and keep the fish food up high to avoid any mishaps. You can find easy ways to include small ones in cleaning the fish tank which can help them feel accomplished and bonded to their new pet. Besides the feeding and tank cleaning, fish are good to go! Visual enjoyment and a little buddy to talk to are all a toddler to preschool-aged kid needs anyways, right? You should consider that fish tend to die more frequently than other types of pets. Young kids are resilient, but be prepared to walk your child through the process of possible “fishy friend replacements”.
Turtles are a low-maintenance pet for young kids. They are quiet, cute, and easy to clean up after! The main attention point with tortoises is their diet. They need a large variety of food, including an easily digestible array of leafy greens. How much space a turtle needs depends on the variety you choose. There are land turtles and aquatic turtles, which have varying habitat needs. Turtles can be an appealing choice for those who live in warmer climates year-round. In that case, your pet can happily live outdoors! No matter which type of turtle you’re after, make sure you research before making a purchase.
Rounding off our list, we have the African Dwarf Frog. Guess what? My family had some of these guys too! These miniature frogs are very robust and fun to watch swim around. My daughter had a small tank in her bedroom which we filled with balanced water, plant/structure decorations, and plenty of aquarium pebbles to line the bottom. You should carefully clean the tank on a schedule and provide just a few food pellets daily. Beware, the pellets are a little stinky! I will be honest, my daughter did not take the best care of her frog on her own. She was only 6 and forgot about him regularly, but with gentle reminders, we were able to stay on top of it. Even so, the frog thrived and survived for over 3 years! All living creatures need care and attention, but if you’re looking for very minimal needs then these dwarf frogs might be a great fit.
This list is certainly not all-inclusive of the array of available pets, but I hope it provides a guide to help you begin your research journey! When considering a particular pet, I recommend having more than one discussion among your family members to ensure that everyone in the home is on the same page. Do plenty of online research and visit your local pet stores to ask as many questions as are needed. Most associates are more than willing to answer and ensure you are prepared for the journey of pet ownership.
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