If you’re someone who had family pets when you were growing up, you may want your own kids to have the same experience. But also, if you did not grow up in a pet household — because of allergies, costs, logistics, etc. — perhaps you want to make sure that your children get the opportunity that you didn’t. Or maybe you never had nor wanted a pet and are honestly kind of bitter about the whole thing because you were out-voted in a family meeting. Regardless of how you got here, you’re now in the position of looking into the best pets for families with kids.
As it turns out, this is a task that’s more difficult than it looks. You’re forking over money to let an animal live inside your home — it makes sense that you’d want to make a well-informed decision. Even if you narrow it down from all the possible (legal) pets to a cat or dog, you still have to figure out which breed fits into your family best. Maybe you’re in search of the best pets that are low maintenance, but your kiddos want to learn more about the best small pets for cuddling. Age (of both the child and the pet) is another factor. Are the best pets for toddlers the same ones older kids would want?
We’re sorry if this is stressing you out but, again, you are inviting a literal animal to live with you, so the stakes are high. Here are some of the best pets for families with kids you may want to consider.
Best Pets for Toddlers
Toddlers are curious and have the potential to be aggressively affectionate. Also, they may not yet grasp the concept of a pet, in that it’s a living thing that someone needs to take care of and not a toy you can leave in the corner and play with when the mood strikes. But, if we’re being honest, you’re going to be the pet’s primary caregiver — at least for the first few years. So, there’s no need to count out classic family pets, like dogs or cats, because your toddler wouldn’t be able to handle one on their own. Some options include:
If you’re looking for a pet that doesn’t require a lot of work or attention, you can’t get any lower maintenance than a fish. Your best bets are the traditional goldfish or a betta fish (if you have the space for a bigger tank). Just make sure your toddler knows this isn’t a pet for cuddling or petting.
First, make sure no one in your household is allergic to cats. Then find one to adopt. Cats come in a variety of temperaments. Sure, they have a reputation for being moody, but cats can also be cuddly and affectionate. While there is work involved with caring for a cat, they don’t need the same level of attention as dogs.
Yes, dogs require a lot of time, work, and effort. But they can also become a quasi-sibling for your toddler and develop a deep bond. However, you cannot just walk into a shelter and pick the one you think is the cutest. Certain breeds — like labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, boxers, and beagles — are more kid-friendly than others. Before deciding on a dog breed, do your due diligence. Research temperament, maintenance, feeding, grooming, and general care issues specific to the breed you’re considering.
Best Pets for Older Kids
There are a few more options to work with if you have older kids who want pets. Plus, you can make it clear that they’re going to have to take at least some responsibility for caring for the critter — something that not only teaches them valuable lessons but also (at least in theory) takes some of the work off your plate. Some possibilities include:
As adorable as rabbits are, it’s probably better to hold off on getting one until your child is a little bit older and can play a more active role in its care. As social creatures, rabbits need a fair amount of attention. Older children will have a better understanding of that (and how to clean up after it).
There’s a reason guinea pigs are popular classroom pets: They’re calm and cuddly without being too high maintenance. They’re ideal for older kids in situations where this is more their pet than the family’s pet, because it’ll teach them how to look after another living creature without it being too much work.
Kids of any age can enjoy looking at and interacting with a bird while it’s safely in its cage. But when it comes to handling birds, older children better understand what it means to be gentle. And certain varieties, like parakeets, are pretty manageable, making it easy for older kids to take an active role in their care.
That’s right — we said snakes. Listen, these creatures tend to get a bad rap, but they’re seriously so cool. We do have a few caveats to this suggestion, though. First, snakes are better suited to more mature pet owners. Their unique needs (i.e. spectrum lighting, precise temperature and humidity levels, specific diet) make them higher-maintenance than, say, a guinea pig. Second, we recommend adopting a snake (yep, that’s totally a thing) through a responsible and ethical snake rescue organization.
Best Pets for an Apartment
If you and your family live in an apartment, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a pet. You may not want to get a Great Dane, but other animals to consider include:
Rabbits can be trained to use a litter box like cats and they don’t take up too much space. Their cages rarely smell and they have the most energy in the mornings and evenings. You can even take them out on a walk!
Sure, you can get a fish for your home, but crustaceans are even cooler. Hermit crabs aren’t noisy and look really cool crawling around their bowl. They can also live up to 30 years.
Lizards are super chill. They’re small and spend most of their time in their tank. Feeding them is easy because they love crickets and mealworms, which you can order online or get from your local pet store. Depending on the lizard you get, they can live anywhere between 10 to 20 years. You can also take them out of their tank for some playtime. They also don’t make any noise and don’t need to be taken out for walks!
Ferrets are very playful, but thankfully they sleep during the day. So, while you’re away, you won’t have to worry about leaving them alone. All you need is a two-by-four-foot cage and to make sure your apartment doesn’t have any dangerous escape holes. Ferrets love to hide and may even find themselves in spaces like the microwave or dishwasher. Keep those areas closed. It’s also much easier to keep track of a ferret in an apartment than in a house.
Get your very own hedgehog. These nocturnal little critters will most likely be asleep while you’re away at work. Not only will they be OK in your absence, but they rarely cause allergies and enjoy their solitude. But keep in mind, some states do not permit ownership of hedgehogs, or require a permit. In the U.S., you can own one in all the states except Georgia, California, Hawaii, New York, and Washington D.C.
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