When your kids get to the age when they’re saying “Daddy, I want a dog,” what do you do? They don’t know their Dalmatian from a Dachshund – they just want a furry-legged friend to love. Pet ownership can be a fantastic opportunity for kids to learn valuable life lessons as they care for a living creature.
Dogs and cats are the most common. However, there are tons of other species to consider. Pets can teach children about responsibility, but which one is right for your family? We’ve organized some pet options according to how easy they are to take care of below.
Never had a pet before? These creatures are easy to care for and perfect for young kids who aren’t quite ready to commit to a more intensive pet ownership experience.
Considered the perfect ‘starter’ pet for children, fish are a great way for your family to dip your toes into pet ownership waters. If you’re looking for a pet that doesn’t require much work, a finned friend might be ideal.
However, these aquatic wonders do take more work than you might expect, especially the seemingly simple goldfish. The good news? You can start small with something like a zebrafish and expand your aquarium on your own terms. Just make sure there’s enough room for your fishy friends to thrive.
Smaller mammals like hamsters, guinea pigs and gerbils are relatively easy to raise. Also, most will thrive in a small living space and care is relatively straightforward. Just be careful as they can be nippy.
Although not something you can snuggle like a cat or dog, regular and gentle handling promotes friendliness. Surprisingly, rats make excellent pets due to their intelligence, laid-back nature and enjoyment of human companionship.
For more guidance on small pets that are simple for kids to take care of, head over to this blog.
If all these low maintenance pets are still sounding too much for your active family, have you considered brine shrimp? Better known as sea monkeys, they’re foolproof starter pets that everybody can enjoy. Available in kits, children just need to add water to watch their tiny shrimp grow.
Maintenance for these resilient creatures involves adding feed about once a week and occasionally adding water to keep them happy. A colony can thrive for a year or more with only minimal care. This buys you some extra time before your only choice is to cave in and visit the local pet shelter.
These pets are a step up from your sea monkeys; that’s for sure. They’ll definitely require you to be more involved when teaching your kids how to care for the family's new addition.
Turtles can make the perfect pet if you want something peaceful and calm with notoriously long lifespans. While this means you don’t have to worry about your child losing their childhood pet any time soon, it also means you should be prepared to take care of this pet for a long time.
All of the equipment needed for their enclosure can get pretty expensive. Your turtle will need heat lamps, filters and other equipment depending on their species. Fortunately, most of this is a one-time cost and after the initial set up, you can shell-ebrate. Turtles don’t require much of your time, but just be wary they need cleaning out a bunch.
Rabbits, with their little cotton tails, have hopped into our hearts as a household favorite. Highly intelligent and very inquisitive, both house and outdoor rabbits love to socialize and engage with their owners.
Because of their friendly nature, it’s recommended you keep these floppy familiars in pairs, which is what bumps them up to medium maintenance.
Looking for something a little more exotic? Lizards can be a unique option. A leopard gecko is excellent for beginners as they don’t require UV lighting. Other popular choices are iguanas, chameleons and bearded dragons, but all lizards have different needs and behaviors. It’s vital to do your research before inviting your new scaly sidekick to stay with you.
The most important consideration when owning a lizard is making sure you can provide the right heat and light in their environment (which will need to adjust at different times).
You’ll also need to feed them live prey like bugs, which helps to educate young kids but perhaps a no-go if you’re squeamish about that sort of thing. If you can fulfill these requirements then your lizard will be happy as Larry – which is a pretty good name for your new reptilian housemate.
Birds are a good choice for children who aren’t interested in having a cat or a dog. They require a substantial amount of maintenance and care, but birds are mostly contained in their cage. They're also full of personality and can be entertaining for children who want something different.
An inexpensive parakeet may be the right place for kids who haven’t raised birds before to begin. However, more expensive (and more intelligent) birds like cockatiels and cockatoos can also make great pets, but they may need more stimulation. I’m sure the kids can keep them busy.
Who can resist a fluffy feline? Fighting for the top spot in our hearts, cats don’t typically require as much maintenance as dogs. They don’t need to be walked (unless you want to) or bathed and cats are usually more than okay with being left to their own devices.
Kittens are childhood favorites but they’ll need enrichment in their environment if they’re housecats. Cat towers, scratching posts, toys and litter boxes can take up floor space – these pets don’t travel light.
Your local animal shelter staff can advise you on the temperaments of adoptable cats to find the purrfect one for you.
Considered the boss level of pets, these animals will reward you with love and affection, but you need to work for it.
A cuddly puppy is probably the most classic children’s pets, but boy, can they be hard work. Long walks, attention and a significant time commitment – but it’s all worth it for the wagging tail.
They’ll need chew toys to stimulate them and prevent them from chomping on your furniture, but their loyal soul is a major advantage. Having a dog can encourage your child to go outside and play more, but a dog may not be the best pet for your family if there's nobody home during the day. You’ll have to be prepared to hire a dog walker or send your pup to doggy daycare.
These barking best friends can be trained and can usually go anywhere your child can, so they make good everyday companions.
According to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey, a huge 66% of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet. To join them, we recommend you carefully consider your living situation and your child’s age to determine what pet is the best fit for your family. You shouldn't expect children to take care of a pet all by themselves. They’ll need help, guidance and education with their everyday care.
It’s essential you realize any pet you bring into your home requires an ongoing financial commitment. Try fostering a pet before committing or even look after a friend’s pet first. Whatever you decide, give a warm welcome to the new member of your loving family. For more pet content, head over to our blog.