So, your kid wants a pet but you’re just not a dog or a cat kind of person (or someone in the fam is allergic). What’s a parent to do? Try one of these smaller, less intimidating pets for your little animal lovers!
Keep in mind, experts recommend kids don’t have their own pet until at least around 8 years old, when they are able to help care for the animal themselves. And, according to the Humane Society, young children, especially those under 5, are at greater risk for zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be passed from animals to humans) “because of their undeveloped immune systems and because of their tendency for close contact with pets without proper hand-washing.” For this and other reasons, the Humane Society also recommends waiting until children are older to adopt a pet.
Still want to add a tiny family member? Here are some good options:
No, we’re not talking about the sort that roam New York City subway tunnels. Domesticated rats (which are pretty cute, if you’re into rodents) actually make great pets. In fact, Dr. Jennifer Graham, assistant professor at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, told Parents magazine that rats are “some of the best pets for small children,” says Dr. Graham. “Rats can be calm, laid-back, not as nippy as other small mammals, and they can be handled a lot.” They can even be trained to retrieve small objects and use a litter box. Take that, Fido!
Lifespan: 2-3 years
photo: Rebecca Lai via Flickr
Kids will love watching these little guys scurrying through tunnels and running on hamster wheels (all night long!), though youngsters should be aware that these little rodents, especially females, can bite, so they need to be extra careful handling them. Parents magazine source Dr. Katherine Quesenberry, an exotic animal expert, recommends getting a larger breed hamster, like the Syrian hamster (also called the golden hamster), which can be easier to handle.
Lifespan: 3-5 years
photo: David Masters via Flickr
3. Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are great pets as long as you’ve got the time to invest in them (they need to play with you!) and are willing to get a pair of the sweet-natured rodents (they’re social animals and will get lonely when solitary). These little guys are in the same family as hamsters but have an even gentler disposition and are less likely to bite. They need stimulation and attention, however, so if you think your kid will lose interest quickly, they might not be the best choice for you.
Lifespan: 5-10 years
photo: velacreations via Flickr
These large rodents have silklike fur and are friendly and gentle (though they can bite if not socialized properly). A well socialized chinchilla will even come when you call him and will be eager for rubs. They can also be litter box trained. And, unlike many other rodents, they aren’t smelly! According to Animal Planet, the chinchilla has no body odor. “Even its droppings will take several days to emit a smell; if the animal’s cage is cleaned frequently, odor becomes a non-issue.”
Lifespan: 12-20 years
Rabbits make friendly pets, and larger breed rabbits especially, like the Flemish giant rabbit, which can grow to be 12-15 pounds (that’s almost twice the size of an average cat!), can be docile and laid-back (though they require a lot more space than smaller bunnies). They are smart enough to be litter-trained — and can even be taught to walk on a leash, according to Animal Planet. They also enjoy human company provided you socialize them and play with them often.
Lifespan: 8-12 years
photo: Rhiannon Boyle via Flickr
What better way to teach kids where their eggs come from than having a henhouse in the back yard? Chickens (if your city allows you to have them) are full of personality and can be trained to come when you call them. One thing to keep in mind, however, is where you live: in colder climates, chickens have to be kept inside (or in a heated henhouse) to stay warm. Click on this article to find the breed of chicken right for you.
Lifespan: 6-12 years
photo: YagarTheViking via Flickr
To find out more about what pet is right for you, check out this guide from the Humane Society. And, of course, always check your local animal shelter or animal rescue groups when looking for a pet.
What’s the best pet for your family? Tell us in the comments below.