Which small pet is the best choice for your kids?

At some point during childhood, almost every kid begs for a pet — hamsters, birds, and lizards to name a few. If you have small children, you might be wondering what type of pet would be appropriate for them to help care for and learn responsibility. Keep reading to find out about the best small pets that are playful and make great pets for kids.

Hamsters

Hamster sitting on carpet floor
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These small rodents are a popular option for a child’s first pet. Hamsters should have a cage with tunnels and places for them to hide in or under. They live on average about three years, so your child will likely learn to deal with grief with these animals. Hamsters are easy to care for — just feed them daily and clean their cages regularly. They are good at entertaining themselves but can be handled gently. Larger species of hamsters enjoy being handled more than smaller species, which tend to be more aggressive. These animals are fun to observe, especially while they explore tunnels or roll around in a ball.

Hermit crabs

Hermit crabs don’t do much other than walk around and eat, so they make a fantastic, low-maintenance first pet for a child. They can’t exactly be played with but are entertaining to watch as they roam about. Of all the animals on this list, hermit crabs require the least amount of space. They will be content so long as they have some sand and rocks in their enclosure. They also require two water bowls — one with freshwater and one with saltwater. Hermit crabs like to burrow during the day and come out at night, as they are nocturnal. Depending on the species, they can live anywhere from three years to 30 years.

Guinea pigs

Guinea pigs are slightly larger than most other rodents kept as pets, measuring 8 to 12 inches long when fully grown. These animals are usually calm and can be raised to be very sociable if they are handled regularly. They live anywhere from five to seven years, making for a companion that will be around for a while. Their diet consists of hay, pellets, and vegetables, which they eat in larger amounts than their hamster relatives. Unlike hamsters, guinea pigs cannot fit in most tunnels and balls, and should not use wheels so as not to damage their delicate feet.

Fish

two fish in a fish tank
Chait Goli/Pexels

Although arguably the least interactive animal on this list, fish can be pleasant to watch. There are many species of fish, some of which live in freshwater and others in saltwater. Obviously you cannot keep both types in the same tank, but you could have two separate fish tanks! From the basic betta fish to the colorful neon tetra, the options of fish to keep as pets are nearly endless. You can also keep other animals in your fish tank, such as crabs or frogs, depending on the fish you have. Most fish, especially freshwater fish, require only daily feeding and regular tank cleaning, making them so easy to care for even little ones can help.

Rats

They might not be the cutest animals, but rats are intelligent and friendly. Rats can be taught to do tricks, like retrieving an object from a maze. They especially enjoy being handled, so you can interact with them more often and for longer periods of time than with other rodents. Rats usually live two to three years. They can survive on a diet of exclusively rodent pellets. If your child wants an animal they can play with, a rat is a great choice for their first pet.

Leopard geckos

closeup shot of leopard gecko looking at camera
Andy Holmes/Unsplash

Leopard geckos are one of the easiest reptiles to care for. They are yellow-brown with black spots and bumpy skin, and they look like they are always smiling! Leopard geckos live, on average, six to 10 years. They eat live insects, and watching them eat can be interesting. If handled gently, leopard geckos tolerate being held. They require a hot place for them to bask in and adequate room to move around. Leopard geckos are a great starter reptile.

If your child wants a pet, a small animal may be the way to go. Rodents are a popular option, as evidenced by the number of them on this list, but there are also lesser-known animals that also make fantastic pets. Keep in mind the care requirements of any animal you choose since you’ll likely be helping your child take care of it!

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