An animal can be a welcome addition to any family – but parents have to be mindful of what type of pet they’re bringing into their home. Will it gnaw on your furniture? Will it be high-maintenance or expensive? And, ultimately, will it be a good fit for your child? There are many pets to choose from – and even more factors to consider. Here’s a starting point for picking the right critter. Click into the resources for further expert info.
They say a dog is a man’s best friend – and that can go double for kids. Depending on the breed, canines are loyal and loving creatures, but they do require more time and training than others pets.
Looking for the right personality and behavioral fit is key. When choosing a pup, if possible, observe whether the mother looks after her babies. Is she timid and inattentive to them? The dogs may end up unhappy and turn the house upside down.
If you’re sniffing out a shelter mutt, watch for signs of social dogs, adds Sue Sternberg, a New York-based trainer. When you hold up your hand to the kennel wires or bars, the dog should come and sniff. Dogs who jump at your face, bark at you or, conversely, retreat are red flags.
Felines could be a good choice for the child or parent who doesn’t want a pet attached at the hip. These curious, intelligent, naturally clean critters are pretty self-sufficient: Leave out the cat food and water, and they’ll usually take care of the rest (often including any rodent issues you might have).
Of course, you may have to toss in some initial litter-box training – and, like any pet, vet care is key. But they’re self-cleaning (sweet!) and don’t shed all that much.
When choosing a kitty, pick one that’s playful and attentive rather than edgy and timid. Swing by the Michigan Humane Society for its tips on cat behavior, health and training.
Poor things. While rats are commonly misunderstood as icky, dangerous pets, they actually fall in the same group as frequent family pets: hamsters and gerbils (friendlier than the hamster). Also, rats are actually the smartest and friendliest of the three rodents – and they’re frequently described as sweet and loyal companions, making them great first chums for kids (though be warned: Their lifespan is typically only two to three years). About.com offers a few other things to chew on before choosing a rodent as a pet.
These underwater fin-flippers don’t need a leash. Or a litter box. Not even a bone. Goldfish and guppies are suitable for all ages and won’t break the bank. Fish can help stimulate a child’s imagination as the kid gazes through the glass tank, watching the fish meander through caves and corals.
Not to mention, it’s a chance for them to learn a little responsibility about feeding another little living creature (and cleaning out its digs). And remember, these tiny chums can suffer from stress. Take a peek HealthyPet.com’s fish care tips before taking the plunge.
You may not exactly do a happy dance if your child wants a pet snake. But keep in mind that these pricey pets shouldn’t be feared. Snakes sold at pet stores live simple lives and aren’t as dangerous as many think.
Corn snakes for example, one of the most popular snake-pet species, are hesitant to bite, max out at five feet – and come in plenty of pretty patterns, notes ReptileKnowledge.com. What to avoid for kids? The site sums it up in two words: gigantic and venomous. Ultimately, a child’s maturity is key in whether to select a reptile (or any pet, really).
Guess what the third-most-common uncaged pet is in North America? You got it: Furry little ferrets follow in the paw-prints of dogs and cats, Doctors Foster & Smith notes. These slinky, playful pals live an average eight to 10 years – and, while they can sleep up to 20 hours a day, they can be crazy-energetic when awake (making them a less-ideal choice if you’ve already got younger kids).
Find a ferret when it’s young, so it can grow to be tame and friendly. Older ferrets may have already developed wild habits. These fuzzy friends, which are usually happiest in groups of two or more, can roam around the home – but definitely keep an eye on them!
Like dogs, bunnies require generous amounts of petting and can become loyal friends; like cats, they can be litter-trained and are generally tidy. But, PetEducation.com notes, they can be tricky to handle (making them a poor pick for little children who want to cuddle) and are natural chewers (read: rabbit-proofing the house is a must). To boot, these creatures can take more time to feel comfortable around people – which, the site adds, makes them a non-ideal “first pet” for kids.
While they’re pretty darn docile, keep in mind that Peter Cottontails become attached to their owners – and they also need exercise and plenty of chew toys and caged living space. Definitely a higher-maintenance choice (which is why many animal-welfare organizations say to avoid buying one as a “surprise gift” during the spring season!).
This post was originally published in 2010 and has been updated for 2016.