Having a pet can be such a rewarding experience for a child. Learning to care for another living being helps teach kids responsibility, develop nurturing, and build maturity. That being said, owning a pet is not to be taken lightly, and it’s important that your child realizes this new friend is not a plaything. It is a living, breathing being that requires a lot of care to thrive and grow.
Coco the dog may not want his ears tugged and may respond aggressively if he is attempted to be ridden like a horse. He may look like a member of the pony family, but he certainly is not. Older kids tend to have a better understanding of what looking after a pet entails, but younger ones are often too little to handle high-maintenance furry friends without a lot of guidance and instruction.
We’ve compiled a list of the 10 best pets to introduce to young children so they can develop lasting bonds with their new friends. We’re not just talking dogs and cats, either. There is a whole world of interesting and unique creatures that can make great introductory pets, if you’re open to it.
10 Hermit Crabs
This is not your typical pet, but hermit crabs can be both low-maintenance and economical additions to your household. These little crustaceans require daily fresh water and food, plus a misting of water to keep their shells moist.
Kids will be fascinated by the hermit crab’s molting process, by which they change shells. Molting occurs regularly, as a new shell must be shed as the crab grows. They can be handled, but should be done so under the supervision of an older child or adult. These are tiny crabs and can easily be injured if left to roam the house alone.
So this is the type of pet you should only get once your children are of a certain age and are more able to control their fine motor skills. This will stop any accidents from happening and from a possible traumatic event from being relived in your child's dreams.
9 Gerbils, Hamsters, and Mice
These small rodents make excellent first pets. They are mild-mannered and can provide endless hours of entertainment with their comical antics. They require a clean cage, an adequate supply of fresh water and food daily, and some toys (like a wheel) to occupy them.
These are social creatures that like to be handled. With supervision, your child can take a hamster or gerbil out of the cage to handle, or roam a safe room in the house.
You might want to consider whether you have a little girl who is unabashedly disgusted with our adorable rodents. If she is, her brother might use his new pet as a means of torture and teasing, which is, pretty obviously, not desired. Make sure your pet decision doesn’t cause more in-home chaos than necessary (yes, some is necessary).
8 Small Lizards
If your child is interested in reptiles, a small lizard is a good way to go. A leopard gecko or a bearded dragon is one of the best types due to their size. Iguanas, in contrast, start off small, but can grow to be quite large and require more care.
Small lizards are docile creatures. They can and will eat everything in sight, so the key is to feed them the right amount. Teach your child the importance of not over-feeding his new pet. They tend to be resilient, making them perfect for the energetic small child.
Be sure when you're purchasing the lizard that you and your child are prepared for the longterm care of the lizard. Lizards can live long lives, and they will surely live longer if they're taken care of properly. This starts upon purchase. Never buy a lizard that has crust around their eyes or seems less active, these are sick lizards and won't bring about pet owning joy as much as you're hoping for.
7 Small Birds
Canaries, finches, and parakeets make great first pets. They do not require a lot of human interaction and are quite happy if bought in pairs. These feathered friends require cages large enough to flap around in and daily fresh water and food. Birds are best suited for less energetic children, as sudden movements and loud noises can startle them. Expect a loud hiss if this happens.
Make sure your child does not try to handle the bird unless you are in the room. Some birds do not like to be touched and will respond with a painful nip as a reminder to leave it alone.
If You Let Your Bird Fly….
If you train your bird to come out of its cage, make sure the environment is safe enough for flight/walking along the floor. Close your blinds so the bird does not fly into the windows. Some breeders recommend clipping a bird’s wings for safety. If performed correctly by an avian veterinarian, it is a painless and simple procedure. A light wing-clip will allow a bird to safely fly indoors and land without getting injured.
Parrots, in contrast, are very high-maintenance. This includes cockatiels, as they are the smallest of the parrot family. These birds require a lot of socialization and grow depressed easily if not given the proper attention. These birds will screech loudly until demands are met (sometimes for hours on end), making them a better bet for older children or adults, who know how to meet their needs.
6 Small Fish
Fish have to be one of the best starter pets for kids. Depending on the species you pick, they are easy-peasy to take care of. Fish are also perhaps the least interactive pet you can own. Unlike some other small pets, they cannot be taken out of their aquariums to roam around.
Small children have to be especially careful around fish. The desire to reach in and handle their new friends may be too tempting for some curious kids. Teach your children to keep their hands to themselves and to understand that these beautiful creatures are to be admired, not touched.
One way you can ensure that your children aren't playing with the fish is to put their glass bowl up high enough so they can't reach it, but can still see the fish swimming around. Another idea is to get a tank large enough to fit many different types of fish in the tank so the children are more likely to watch the fish than they are to want to interact with them.
If your child is a lover of the “Franklin the Turtle” series, then a turtle may be the perfect pet. There are so many species to choose from, so research should be done beforehand to ensure your turtle remains an appropriate size into adulthood.
The most important thing to note is these creatures are long-term investments. Turtles can live up to 30 years old with proper care, and tortoises, up to 50 years old. They require a large tank (29-gallon glass aquarium with a screen top) and an adequate supply of fresh water and food daily. Their diet can include a mix of live and prepared foods. The tank must have a filtration system to keep their environment sanitary.
Unlike some other pets, turtles should be handled infrequently. For one, it stresses them out. Nobody wants a stressed-out turtle. Secondly, turtles can carry bacteria (including salmonella), so it’s important to wash your hands well after any handling.
4 Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs, also known as cavies, make great first pets. They are small in stature and weigh in at up to 3 lbs. They can have long hair or short hair and come in a variety of colours.
They require fresh water and food daily, prairie hay, a dose of vitamin C, and lots of exercise. If you have an energetic child who loves to handle his pet, guinea pigs love the attention. Pet-proof a room and let your guinea pig roam free. In its cage, you can add paper towel rolls and small boxes for it to run through and hide.
Guinea pigs can also get along with other types of animals as well, such as rabbits and other sociable creatures. If you're buying a small guinea pig you may even want to consider buying two so they can be lifelong companions.
3 Small Snakes
This may not be your first choice by any means, but if you have a reptile lover in the house, a snake may be on your child’s wish list. Images of cobras and other frightening creatures may come to mind, but there are lots of safe varieties to choose from. The most popular variety to own is a corn snake. These are nonvenomous and grow to a maximum of four or five feet. Corn snakes are quite friendly. They will happily curl up in your hands for warmth.
Snakes require large, sturdy tanks, fresh water, and a heat source. Make sure there are no weak spots in the tanks, or you might find your slithering pet plotting its great escape. Their diet is another story. Most captive-bred snakes accept pre-killed prey, which can be found at a pet store. Make sure your snake does not want live meals, or you may be in for quite the ride.
Snakes require the same amount of care and attention that you would give a dog or cat, so don't think you can buy one and let your child look after all the snake's needs, you'll definitely need to be involved. So if the thought of having a snake in the house fills you with dread, you were probably going to say no anyway, but go with that instinct!
Ant farms were huge in the 1950s and have certainly come a long way since then. Nowadays, ant farms have loads of variety and style, including using nutrient gel instead of sand and 3-D setups.
Your child can learn a lot about insects from ant farms and may delight in helping to care for his “first farm.” They are relatively low-maintenance, too. Care requires removal of old food and debris, regular feedings, and fresh water.
Consider it a live-in nature lesson for your budding outdoors enthusiast. Ants work together and build communities in ways that actually are ideal even for human beings – if only we could build each other up the way ants do. This example of community-building offers a unique element that other pets just don’t bring to the table.
Cats require the most maintenance out of all the animals on this list, but they still make great pets for children. Unlike dogs, cats do not have to be walked, and they spend a lot of time sleeping (especially as they get older). In fact, older cats spend most of their day sleeping. Cats require fresh water and food daily, as well as litter box changes. Kittens are very playful, and your child will delight in chasing a kitten with a ball of string or pretend mouse.
Cats can indeed be loveable, but they can also be quite temperamental. Do not leave your child alone with a moody feline. This could result in serious injury from a scratch or bite.
Encourage your child to be gentle with the cat and not pull its tail or whiskers. Cats can be very independent and do not always want to be handled. They may enjoy being in the same vicinity as their owners, but this does not always mean being cuddled. A mutual respect should result in a lasting relationship.
These interesting and unique small creatures can make great starter pets for you and your family. The key is to supervise your child at all times and make sure he/she knows an animal is not an extension of the toy collection. Pets can help teach children compassion and develop a sense of responsibility at a young age. It is never too early to teach these skills to our young.