Skip to main content

PawTracks may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Avoid tears and upset: How to pick the right animal for your kid’s first pet

Ask adults about their favorite childhood pets and many will recall special moments with their animal companions. It could be a dog who offered comfort in times of sadness, a cat who was always ready to play, or a cockatoo who gave kisses. An estimated 70 percent of US homes own a pet, according to the 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Product Association. Researchers say that pets play an important role for kids in these households.

Caring for a pet teaches kids about responsibility, respect, loyalty, and empathy. Additionally, children who learn to treat an animal kindly and patiently may get invaluable training in learning to treat people the same way, say experts at the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP).

Young girl with pet rabbit.

How to choose the right animal for your kid

Many experts recommend that a child be age six or older before getting an animal companion. Others say that, ultimately, parents are the best judges as to when their child is ready. An animal’s needs and a child’s ability to respect those needs should factor into the decision, say experts at PetMD.

Following are some things to consider when choosing the right pet for your kids:

  • How much interaction does your child want to have with a pet? Are they looking for a playful companion, or are they more interested in observing unique pets, such as a hermit crab or a snail?
  • Many dogs and cats are surrendered to shelters because families don’t have time for them. If there are time restraints in your family, consider pets such as fish, guinea pigs, or hamsters.
  • Dogs and cats also end up homeless due to allergies in the family. Good pet choices for allergy sufferers include fish and birds.
  • Pets can be expensive. In a article, veterinarian Jennifer Graham, assistant professor at Tufts University, says that there are plenty of affordable cuddly pets that make great choices for young kids. These include hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, rabbits, and chinchillas, to name a few.

What are the best animals for kids?

While the most popular family pets are dogs and cats, the following animals also make great pets for kids:

Crested gecko

  • does well with gentle kids and will happily sit in their hands
  • look cool and are interesting to watch


  • can be taught to do tricks using positive motivation
  • young children can help with water changes and feeding


  • intelligent and can be taught to do tricks
  • enjoy cuddling with their owners

Guinea pigs

  • can be extremely friendly and talkative
  • squeak in delight at mealtimes and have been known to purr when petted


  • interesting to watch them build nests and hide food
  • most hamsters are affectionate and like to be cuddled


  • affectionate pets who are gentle and loving
  • sociable animals who crave attention from owners

How do you teach children about animals?

Here are three great ways for children to learn about care and respect for animals:

Volunteering at a local shelter offers children wonderful lessons about respect and kindness towards animals.

Fostering dogs or cats in your home gives children hands-on experience. In addition to helping care for the pets, children learn to respect the different personalities of each animal.

Subscribing to a magazine for kids. For example, KIND News is a bimonthly magazine for children ages 5 through 11. It focuses on pet care and the importance of kindness to all living beings. National Geographic for Kids is aimed at children ages 6 and up and teaches amazing facts about animals to inspire kids to care about nature and the planet.

Young boy putting new fish in aquarium.

What are domestic animals for kids?

Domestic pets are bred in captivity. Smaller animal companions live in homes with their families while larger pets such as horses, goats, and donkeys live outdoors. While many exotic pets such as snakes and turtles are bred in captivity, some are taken from the wild, according to an article in National Geographic. Wildlife should never be kept as pets. Many exotics suffer or die in transit and are subjected to abuse and neglect. If your child is interested in an exotic pet, check that the animal is legal in your state. Also, get a referral to a reputable breeder from a veterinarian, and make sure you research how to properly care for the animal.

Finally, whatever first pet you choose for your child, remember that you will be serving as a role model. Your children will learn responsible pet ownership by watching how you behave around the animal. When you teach them to treat their pet with respect and kindness, you will also be helping them grow into loving and compassionate adults.

Editors' Recommendations

Vera Lawlor
Vera was the pet columnist for 201 Family magazine and has contributed pet and animal welfare articles to Bone-A-Fide Mutts…
Does your cat say ‘meow,’ ‘miau,’ or ‘mjau?’ Here’s how we translate cat and dog language into human around the world
Wondering what your dog or cat would say if you spoke a different tongue? Here's how we interpret our pets
A cat and dog hang out together outside on cobblestones

Your pet might only speak one language, but they can learn any human tongue. They probably know their name at a bare minimum and some dogs can learn up to 1,000 words (even cats can learn a few basic commands, whether they choose to do so is a different story).
But how do we decide what they're saying to us? Countries around the world have different ways of writing barks and meows based on how they hear the sounds. We take a look at the art of translating pet language into human.

What do you call 'bark' and 'meow' in other languages?
If you were in Italy, your dog would say "bau, bau," in France, it's "oaf oaf," and in Portugal, they go "au au." Despite all being in one small area of the globe, each of these languages hears our pets differently. In fact, Word Tips, which researched the subject extensively, figured out what terms people use in the 147 most-spoken languages in the world. It found that there are at least 40 different ways that we write out a dog’s bark. On the flip side, while the exact combination of vowels varies a lot, most cats speak words that begin with the sound in the letter "M."
How do we interpret our pets?
When you actually look at the map that Word Tips put together, you might find some pretty big differences. That's because nearly all these expressions are onomatopoeias, meaning we're trying to put letters to the sounds we're actually hearing. When you add in that languages have different rules, you get vastly different spellings and verbalized words to describe our animals, according to Anthea Fraser Gupta, who has researched the topic. But we're all hearing (at least close to) the same sound, so you'll spot a few similarities, too.

Read more
Have your heart set on a breed? Here’s why it’s important to consider different types of dogs
Think you need a small dog? Here's why you should research different types of dogs first
A woman kissing a dog

Perhaps you love your friend’s Yorkie. Maybe you grew up with a beagle and always dreamt of having one of your own. Getting fixated on a specific breed is normal and natural, and there’s no shame in it. Just like gender disappointment is a "thing" in parenting, so is dreaming about welcoming a specific dog with a distinct look and characteristics into your family.

Still, you want to consider different types of dogs while searching for a new furry family member. It may be difficult to wrap your head around, but researching other breeds and considering all of your options is an essential step in the process of choosing a dog breed. That doesn’t mean you must consider all dog breeds — that’s overwhelming — but you want to look into several. Here’s why and how to jumpstart your search for your next four-legged best friend.

Read more
Why you shouldn’t feed your dogs trail mix
3 reasons why dogs can't eat trail mix or their common ingredients
A Yorkshire terrier licks their lips and looks into the camera

At first glance, trail mix might look like a healthy snack for everyone in your home. It has a little sugar, some healthy fats, and a small number of carbohydrates to keep you going throughout the day. Sounds great, right?
Although people can eat as much trail mix as they please, the same isn't true for our canine friends. There are many ingredients in this popular combo that aren't safe for dogs to eat. Let's go over a few of the reasons why as we answer some of the most common questions:

Can dogs eat raisins?
Why can't dogs eat trail mix?
Which nuts are safe for dogs to eat?

Read more