Juliana is a wife, mother of five, animal lover and freelance writer living in Alabama with her husband, children, and pets.
10 of the Best First Time Pets for Kids
Is your little one an animal lover? Do you think your child is mature enough for the responsibility of a pet? Studies show that there are tremendous health and mental wellness benefits for pet owners and that children raised with certain types of pets are less prone to allergies to animals. When considering a pet, you should take into account things like life expectancy, cost, durability, health concerns, and the age of your child (small kids and small pets don't always mix well). As a mother of five and a pet owner I've learned one very important lesson- don't adopt a pet with the expectation that your child, no matter how old or mature they are, will be the primary caretaker of any pet. There will be plenty of times your child will be busy with friends, school, or practice that the caretaking will fall on you. So it's important to do your homework before selecting your pet. Here are ten pets I've found to be great for kids and somewhat easy for their parents.
Looking for a low maintenance pet that doesn't need to be cuddled? Fish are great pets for small children because they require so little care. If you're looking for a pet that's main purpose is to be pretty to look at, easy to care for, and requires minimal interaction, a fish may be just the pet for your child. Because they're so low maintenance, your child can feed them once a day, and your main responsibility is setting up the aquarium in the first place and then cleaning the aquarium as needed. An added benefit of having an aquarium is that studies show that people in homes and businesses with aquariums are generally less anxious and being around an aquarium can even reduce blood pressure! If you have a little mermaid who loves watching brilliantly colored aquatic animals swim around, a fish would be a great pet. Life expectancies for fish vary by type of fish, but you can generally expect that they won't live terribly long, so this may not be the pet your looking for if you want a friend who will grow alongside your child until the teen years or early adulthood. But if you're only looking for a short-term, low maintenance and beautiful pet for your smaller child, a fish may be perfect for you.
In keeping with the theme of low maintenance, less cuddly pets, turtles are another great option for easy pets that don't require a lot of hands on work, but are super fun to watch. A huge difference between aquarium turtles and fish is the lifespan. Some species of turtles can live more than 20 years, so be ready for a long term commitment before making the decision to adopt one. Kids should also be taught proper handling hygiene. Turtles can be carriers of salmonella, so you should be sure your child sanitizers before and after handling their pet turtle.
Looking for something a little furrier, cuter and mischievous? A ferret might be the perfect pet for you. Ferrets are a belong to the same family as weasels, but they make surprisingly good pets for older kids. Ferrets and younger kids don't mix well because ferrets have a tendency to bite when they are frightened, and young children have a habit of mishandling pets. Expect a ferret to be a good deal more costly than aquarium pets like turtles and fish. The cost of a ferret alone can be rather high for a "small pet", but in addition, there are costs like habitat, hammocks, toys, food, and even litter trays if you plan to litter train your ferret. Also be prepared to hide your shiny belongings as ferrets are notorious for stealing shiny objects and "ferreting them away" somewhere. Ferrets make great pets as small pets go because they can play outside of a cage without the need of a ball, and they can be highly interactive, hilarious and fun to watch and play with. A word of caution: Before considering a ferret, do take into account that they do carry an odor and semi-frequent bathing is necessary to cut back on their smell.
Another great furry friend for older children is a hamster. Hamsters are adorable and lots of fun to watch roll around in their ball or play on their wheel inside their habitat. Hamsters need to be hand tamed early on or they may be aggressive towards children and bite when they feel intimidated, so just as important as hand-training your hamster is training your child in caring for and handling a hamster. These are a low maintenance pet as mammals go, just clean their cage frequently and watch them play! Be sure to add plenty of chew toys to their habitat, as they need to chew to file down their teeth. Hamsters do not make good pets for small children because they are fragile and can bite when they feel threatened, much like ferrets and other small pets.
Another small pet similar to a hamster is a rabbit. These may make slightly better pets, especially for young children, because they're a bit more durable. Rabbits are fun to cuddle, play with and feed. You can even find play pins made for rabbits and similar small pets. When adopting a rabbit, make sure you find a cage big enough to house it (Hamster cages are too small) and be careful about the type of bedding you use as pine can be lethal to rabbits.
A great pet for a child over the age of twelve is a bird. There are many species of birds that make great pets, but I have personal experience with budgies (Aka parakeets) because my daughter used to have one that she was very bonded with. Birds like budgies and other types of parrots are wonderful because they love to chatter and some even talk! If raised from a young age and hand tamed by your child, they can form an impenetrable bond. And as for life span? Plan on having your budgie for about fifteen years.
Another pet my daughters have experience with is gerbils. These small rodents are adorable, intelligent and very playful! They're similar to hamsters, but made their place higher on the list because they're much easier to hand tame and generally less aggressive. Since they're social animals, keep them in same-sex pairs to keep them from getting depressed and lonely. These pets are relatively easy to care for, affordable and don't take up that much space so they make a great companion for kids old enough to simply clean out a cage and remember to feed and water daily.
3. Guinea Pig
For small, rodent pets, guinea pigs top my list because they're durable enough for all ages, generally friendly, and definitely fun to watch and play with. Guinea pigs are similar in size to rabbits so they need a larger habitat. Their diets are also similar to rabbits. They can bond closely to their handler, or get them in same sex pairs and they'll bond with their playmate. Guinea Pigs, also referred to as "cavies" are generally very quiet, but get them excited and you will hear chirping and other funny sounds from them! Like most small rodent-type pets, guinea pigs are relatively cheap in the long run and will be most expensive when it comes to adoption time- the cost of the guinea pig or pigs themselves, their habitat, food, timothy hay, treats, toys, etc. After that, the expenses are generally just food, bedding and treats.
2. Cat One of the best pets I can think of for any age group is a cat. They're quiet, they're suitable for apartment living, they use a litter box, their purrs are soothing, and they're great pest controllers! Cats are great pets and if they're brought into the home early enough, owning a cat can decrease your child's likelihood of having allergies to pets later. Cats are a little more costly than small pets, like the ones mentioned above; Expect the spend up to $300 in food alone per year. However, if you can afford to budget for a cat, they can surely make great companions. The best part of owning a cat? They can stay by themselves throughout the day without getting lonely or destructive. This means if you work outside the home and your children are school age, there's no need to hire someone to walk or check in on your cat; He's probably at home taking a cat nap and is fine by himself. Do make sure, as with any pet, that smaller children are aware of how to handle cats and kittens and are not allowed to pull ears or tails as they may get bitten or scratched in return!
And finally, what pet list would be complete without dogs? They're literally man's best friend. Studies show that dogs and humans evolved alongside each other and that during the dawn of man neither human nor dog could have survived this long without one another. For that reason, we love dogs, and they're fiercely loyal to humans. Be sure before you adopt a dog, you do your homework about breeds and their compatibility with children. Also expect to spend a good deal more on a dog than any other pet mentioned on this list. Both the upfront costs and the maintenance costs can be rather expensive and it's been reported that dog owners spend almost $1,000 per year on larger dog breeds on dog food... Not to mention treats, toys, beds and crates, etc. Another downside to having a dog for a pet is that unlike the other animals on this list, dogs can be very loud. If you're prepared to spend a large sum of money on your pet, can put up with a little noise, and are looking for a beloved best friend who will love your child back, a dog is just the pet for you!
So there you have it, the best pets for kids in my personal opinion. Do you agree? Comment below and tell us about your experience with any of the pets on this list or which pets you've had experience with that you would add to the list.
Juliana Evans Horsley (author) from Birmingham, Al on May 25, 2019:
How awesome that you have so much experience with rabbits! Thanks for the tips about rabbit breeds best for kids!
Ellison Hartley from Maryland, USA on May 25, 2019:
Good facts on all the pets. As far as rabbits go, in my personal experience, they do make great pets. I breed rabbits, and I believe that the larger breeds are better for kids. They are calmer and aren't as skittish as some of the smaller breeds, like mini rex and lops.