Not every kid is ready for a cat or dog. Not every kid even wants a cat or a dog. If your kid has tastes that are a little off the beaten path, or if he or she is just too young and unready for the responsibility of a larger pet, there are plenty of other options. Here are 10 popular pets for kids.
Rabbits are on this list because they are commonly kept as family pets. However, they actually are not an ideal choice of pet for a young child. Rabbits are delicate and very easily frightened, so they require gentle handling that may be beyond many children. They may also require significant “rabbit-proofing” of your home, because rabbits love to chew on anything they can get their teeth on. For more information on rabbit care, read our “12 Tips for a Healthy Rabbit.”
The image of snake ownership that many people may have in their minds is of large, intimidating boas and pythons whose owners feed them rabbits in their enormous enclosures. While that’s certainly an option open to you, the much more manageable corn snake is one of the most popular kind of snakes kept as a pet, and they make a good “starter pet” for kids interested in snakes. It’s important to know you will need to buy mice or rats to feed this snake, so make sure that’s something your child is OK with.
Chinchillas are unique, adorable and increasingly popular rodent pets. In the wild, these plump fur balls are exclusively found high up in the Andes mountains in Chile, but they are commonly bred as pets. Before you make the leap and bring home a chinchilla of your own, you need to know about their very specific care requirements. Chinchillas are active, and they like a lot of room to play and a lot of attention. It’s a good idea to have two chinchillas instead of one, especially if you can’t personally provide a lot of your own time for keeping your chinchilla company.
There’s a lot of difference between street rats and “fancy” rats, i.e., pet rats. Fancy rats make great pets for kids because their high level of intelligence means they can be trained like a dog. They learn and respond to their names, can learn any number of tricks and are deeply affectionate. Fancy rats are known for riding on their owners’ shoulders and generally forming close bonds. The only major downside is their short lifespans. Rat owners can form very close bonds with their rats, but the animals live only 2–3 years, which can be way too soon to say goodbye. Make sure your child understands this.
Hermit crabs have long been popular as a low-maintenance pet for kids who don’t want to have a goldfish like everyone else at school. There are many different species of hermit crab, but the ones you’ll find at the pet store are usually either Caribbean or Ecuadorian hermit crabs. It should be noted that the name “hermit crab” comes from the creatures’ habit of living in shells that they find — used homes, if you will. They are not socially isolated animals. In fact, they do better in groups, and it’s recommended that if you wish to keep a crab pet, you should have more than one. Fortunately, hermit crabs are small and cost an affordable $10–$15 each, so your kid can have himself or herself a crab family without costing you a fortune.
Of the many gecko species, the leopard gecko is perhaps the most popular kept as a pet. They are easy to breed and easy to care for, so they make a great choice as a starter pet for a kid who is interested in keeping lizards as pets in general. Larger, more exotic lizards can be complicated and require a greater commitment, but leopard geckos require little more than suitable housing (warm and roomy), crickets to eat and water to drink.
Hamsters are ideal pets for folks who want a low-maintenance pet, or kids who perhaps are not mature enough yet for a dog or cat. Hamsters are cute, friendly and extremely easy to care for. All they require to stay happy and healthy is a large enough enclosure to move around in and a minimum of daily interaction with their owner. They tolerate some handling well and have no major health concerns. It's no wonder they wind up in so many young kids’ bedrooms and classrooms alike. Be sure, however, that your child can delicately handle small animals.
Bearded dragons — aka “beardies” — are increasingly popular pets due to their easy care and docile, agreeable nature. In fact, these lizards possess sparkling personalities and are surprisingly affectionate, so they're generally receptive to handling and thus can make good pets even for younger kids. And no matter the age of the owner, these critters give a gift almost no other pet can boast: the cachet of being able to tell people that you have a dragon. (Wings not included.)
Tarantulas make excellent pets for kids of a certain temperament. That’s because they not only are both large and extremely cool-looking, but also very docile and easy to care for. A room-temp habitat and about one cricket per week will do your tarantula just fine. However, these pets are strictly for kids who don’t mind not cuddling. They don’t like being handled, and you don’t want to be on the receiving end of their venomous bite. There are many species from which to choose, but Chilean rose-haired tarantulas are the most popular. They are a hardy critter that can easily live 15–20 years.
Next: 15 Popular Cat Breeds
Parakeets aren’t just beautiful to look at; they’re also very social creatures and can be surprisingly affectionate. Encourage your child to spent time with his or her parakeet each day. Parakeets learn to recognize their owners’ voices and can be trained to respond to conversation. They can even be “finger trained,” i.e., taught to sit perched on one or two of an owner’s fingers. This training is an important part of a parakeet's socialization.