Best Critters for the Kids
Choosing wisely for fun and safety
Dogs and cats are the most common family pets, but other critters in the animal kingdom may be well suited for your family’s home and lifestyle.
Several of these smaller creatures live for years and provide both companionship and the chance to teach children responsibility. Shelters offer these animals, too, and adoption means you may get one in good health, along with decent information on care and feeding.
“If you know what you’re getting into, you’ll be more likely to have a happy animal, a good relationship with your pet, and an easier time dealing with any challenges that might arise,” according to the Best friends Animal Society website.
“If you know what you’re getting into, you’ll be more likely to have a happy animal.”
But remember, some of these critters have short lifespans, just three to five years. If you’re getting them for young children, you may be forced to explain a pet’s passing to a not-quite-ready child.
That said, read on to see if one of these awesome creatures may fit your home, wallet and lifestyle.
This guy might outlive us all, so make sure you plan for long haul. These dudes can live 75 to 100 years! The slow-but-steady friends make awesome pets for older and younger children alike.
PROS: Can be kept in dry tanks or turtle boxes, wonderful for apartments or smaller spaces, can be moved easily, and don’t need the handling and attention some small pets require. Amusing to watch as they amble and eat, and they can sun on a porch or the living room floor. Some even hibernate during winter, giving you a well-earned break.
CONS: Tortoises need the right type of lighting and warmth for their tanks, and tanks or boxes must be cleaned about once a week. They also need regular baths, and a reptile vet must be found for emergencies. They are known for their leisurely pace but can move fast, so keep a good eye on a hard-shelled friend. They are burrowers, and can disappear underground if you aren’t watching them when outside.
Real-Life Owner says: “We love our tortoise, and he is very adaptable. He does love to nip toes, so you have to keep eyes out for that. He will follow our dogs around the apartment, which is funny. We are amazingly attached to Buster, and love taking him outside for a slow walk in the grass. He listens for us and comes to the edge of his box to be pulled out.”
These furry friends are also great for smaller spaces, and with careful attention a small child can enjoy petting them. Rabbits have great personalities, and can live up for as long as nine years.
PROS: Beautiful, soft and cute — what more can a pet-owner want? Rabbits are smart and can be litter-box trained. Many families leave their indoor cage open so that their friend can hop around the house freely. Rabbits eat pellets, some fresh vegetables and hay.
CONS: Rabbits, however, can breed like, you know, rabbits. Make sure if you buy two that they are same-sex. If you get one of each sex, money should be set aside to neuter or spay the rabbits. Rabbit cages must be cleaned daily — these animals are clean by nature, and even one missed cage cleaning can cause distress. Do not keep your rabbit outdoors; their bonding nature makes being isolated outside a no-no, and can also leave them vulnerable to wildlife. Also, rabbits have been known to be difficult; they can chew anything when you’re not looking. A rabbit needs more careful care than many people realize, so talk to a trusted veterinarian or animal expert before you make this purchase.
Real-Life Owner says: “I was devastated when we had to re-home our bunny Nelson. He was funny, gorgeous, and I know he loved us. The cage cleaning was too much for my mom for the long haul, so off he went, to another family. I still think of him, years later.”
These small, beautiful, brightly colored birds make wonderful pets for small spaces. They readily bond with their humans, so interaction is needed. These feathered friends can sing and whistle if trained to do so. They eat pellets, fruits and veggies. They can be delicate, so are best for older children. Parakeets can live up to nine years.
PROS: Smart and engaging, parakeets provide hours of fun. Easy to care for and relatively inexpensive to maintain.
CONS: If you don’t like bird sounds, a parakeet isn’t for you — they chirp a whole lot. They also need time outside their cage, so be prepared to let them loose in the home pretty frequently (which, of course, means some guano clean up). They need a lot of socialization with humans, so be ready to commit.
Real-Life Owner Says: “Our parakeet Tweetie Pie is a huge part of the family, and the kids love him. He brings a happiness to us that is hard to describe. His cage cleaning is not so fun, but he is worth it!”
These appealingly tiny mice-like creatures are not nocturnal, like hamsters, so they are awake when your children are. They are easy to care for, and can live up to four years.
PROS: Fun to observe and play with, and inexpensive to buy. They will not keep your child (or you) awake all night — remember this when considering a hamster, which will run on a wheel all night. Gerbils are good in pairs or multiples, but make sure all are same-sex.
CONS: Every child’s heart breaks when their gerbil gets loose, as they are so small you may never find them again. Cage must be cleaned at least once a week, and don’t forget their clean, fresh water – this is easy to overlook in a busy household.
Real-Life Owner says: “Gerbils are tough — once my toddler son pinched our gerbil’s tail off by accident! I bandaged the poor thing up and he ended up being just fine, although my child was traumatized. I still remember that gerbil’s soft little eyes.”
These adorable animals come in long- and short-hair varieties, and are big on personality. Great for smaller spaces, a guinea pig is inexpensive to buy and can live up to 10 years.
PROS: Cute and funny, guinea pigs live long enough to grow up with your child. They can be played with by older children, and can even go outside if a portable “pet fence” is used. They love to chew on grass and enjoy fresh air.
CONS: With a distinctive call, guinea pigs drive some adults crazy, so make sure they can be housed far enough away from sensitive ears. Be prepared to clean up their pellet droppings if they are out of the cage for too long.
Real-Life Owner says: “Growing up, my guinea pig Betty was my truly best friend. She was always squealing when I got home from school, she would get so excited, and we all loved her. She is buried in our back yard.”
These beautiful fringe-tailed fish, also called “Siamese fighting fish,” do better alone, so don’t house two or more together. A colorful addition to any home, they are interesting to watch — relaxing, too. Life span about two years.
PROS: Exotic-looking pet that needs minimal care. Clean water and food will keep your pet healthy and happy.
CONS: A fish is a fish — can be enjoyed visually, but may bore the average kid. Remember to change water at least once a week. Can only be kept in singles — no groups of betas in a tank.
Real-Life Owner Says: “Our betta was pretty cool, and lived in a vase on our counter. My mom loved him, and decorated his vase for him. I think it was like therapy for her, after dealing with all us kids.”
Have fun with your small pet no matter which one you choose. With proper care and attention, your family will enjoy all the unique benefits of having a tiny furry or feathered friend.