Pets are like family members and it’s not surprising that many people consider themselves “pet parents” rather than “pet owners.” While the most popular pets are dogs and cats, many homes have avian pets such as canaries, parakeets and parrots, and rodents like gerbils, hamsters, chinchillas and guinea pigs. Other common pets include reptiles such as turtles, lizards and snakes, and aquatic pets such as tropical fish and frogs.
Caring for a pet can be a positive experience, especially for children. Pets can provide companionship, entertainment, and educational opportunities. But pet ownership is also serious business. Pets are living creatures that require regular care and attention. Their maintenance involves an ongoing financial commitment. Pets are capable of providing useful lessons about self-restraint, selflessness, and responsibility. Children may require adult supervision when interacting with pets.
The Best Pets for Kids
Kittens are childhood favorites. Notoriously independent cats need somewhat less care and attention than dogs but no less commitment. Like dogs, cats require regular veterinary checkups and immunizations. A cat may be a better choice than a dog if your family has limited living space. Best breeds for children include:
• Abyssinian (considered friendly and sociable)
• American shorthair (known for getting along with dogs)
• Burmese (affectionate and gentle)
• Birman (easygoing)
A cuddly puppy is probably the most classic children’s pet. But choosing the ideal dog involves more than falling for big brown eyes. Some breeds may be unsuitable for children. Any breed will need a significant commitment of time and effort. Puppies must be housebroken and require daily exercise, regular veterinary checkups and immunizations, and plenty of attention. As a rule, kid-friendly breeds include:
• Golden Retrievers
• Cocker Spaniels
• Australian Sheep Dogs
A well-chosen fish may be the perfect starter pet for a young child. Goldfish may seem like the most obvious choice, but they’re actually more difficult to raise than the Siamese fighting fish (Betta fish). These Southeast Asian natives are adapted to thrive in isolation, in surprisingly small amounts of stagnant water. No aerators, filters, heaters, or chemicals are required.
The appeal of cold-blooded creatures may be less obvious than that of warm and fuzzy animals but certain reptiles make excellent pets. Tortoises, such as the plant-eating Russian tortoise, can live more than 50 years. Some snake species also make excellent pets although constrictors should be avoided. Reptiles are non-allergenic. However, keep in mind that the American Academy of Pediatrics warns against reptiles as pets for young children because they can easily transmit salmonella.
Birds can be excellent pets but owning a bird is more demanding than caring for a tortoise or fish. Some birds are highly intelligent. Others are very social. All birds require almost daily attention. The relatively inexpensive parakeet may be a good starter for kids who haven’t raised birds before. More expensive and intelligent birds like cockatiels and cockatoos also make great pets, but they may need more attention than parakeets or canaries.
Smaller mammals such as hamsters, guinea pigs and gerbils, are relatively easy to raise. Most will thrive in a small living space and require fairly rudimentary care. Except for hamsters which are solitary, it’s best to obtain young same-sex pairs. Regular, gentle handling promotes friendliness. Bites are possible should rodents feel threatened (especially hamsters). Surprisingly, rats make excellent pets due to their intelligence, larger size, and enjoyment of human companionship. Guinea pigs are also excellent kid-friendly pets.
7) Insects & Arthropods
Six-legged creatures might not be the first to come to mind when thinking of pets for children but owning an ant farm can be an entertaining and educational experience for a child. Various suppliers sell habitats designed to let children directly observe ant activities. Ants can be shipped live or grown from eggs. Hermit crabs are another example of creepy crawlies that are easily raised in captivity.
8) Brine Shrimp
Better known as sea monkeys, these tiny crustaceans are essentially foolproof starter pets that even small children can enjoy. They’re available in kits. Children need only add water and watch these tiny live shrimp emerge, become active, and grow. Maintenance for these hardy creatures involves adding feed about once a week and some occasional additional water to combat evaporation. A colony can thrive for a year or more with minimal care.