Most parents know the struggle of their children begging for that cute puppy or kitten in the pet store window. But there are other family pet options, too, that aren’t quite as big of a commitment as other furry best friends.
From cleaning and feeding to playtime, pets are a major responsibility. Those same basic facts hold true when it comes to small pets that are easy to take care of. It’s just a more pint-sized commitment – that still offers plenty of classic benefits of pets for child development.
That said, some small creatures are easier to take care of than others, particularly in the realm of exotic pets. When looking for that special pet for your child, consider the various little animals you might typically pass by in the pet store.
And learn a bit more about them here, first.
In general, fish make great pets because they are small, portable and they don’t chew on your shoes. Tom Campbell, owner of Fish Doctors of Ypsilanti, adds that they are “beautiful, inexpensive and easy to care for.”
Cleaning is very minimal; it takes an hour a month to clean their living space. Owning fish is relatively affordable, too. For example, beta fish are about $6. All you need is a bowl (or aquarium), architectural pieces to liven up their space and to encourage activity and, of course, fish food.
And, perhaps most importantly, Campbell says, when you have fish, “You’re not going to be stepping on poop on your way to get your coffee.”
2. Bearded dragon
The bearded dragon is the most popular of the small pets that are easy to take care of, according to Mike Palmer from Premier Pet Supply in Rochester Hills.
Bearded dragons are indigenous to Australia, so their environment needs to be as similar to the desert as possible. That requires a terrarium or aquarium set to 90 degrees Fahrenheit by using a heat lamp and heat pad to keep the temperature consistent, Palmer explains.
Their diet can be relatively adventurous for your kid, too, considering they eat insects – live ones, like crickets. Or if you want to err on the tamer side, they also enjoy dark leafy greens.
Snakes can be great small pets for your child. While your new pal might only be a few inches long, bear in mind snakes can reach a good three to five feet – though they’re still pretty compact.
Palmer says the ball python is a good contender. It isn’t poisonous or venomous, and its diet is relatively simple. They only have to eat once – mice, alive or frozen – a week. Only water needs to be around at all times. Their living environment is simple as well; make sure to provide a heat lamp in their tank.
Tanks for ball pythons are a modest – 36-by-18 inches, Premier Pet Supplies notes. Just keep in mind that, with this example, your scaly friend’s lifespan is 20-30 years.
4. Guinea pigs
If your children are interested in a pet they can give lots of attention to, then a guinea pig would be a good choice. With guinea pigs, you need to be extra attentive about getting things for them to chew on to maintain their dental health, along with supplying them with fresh water and cleaning their cage, Palmer notes.
As far as upkeep, guinea pigs don’t require much. Just make sure their nails are trimmed on a regular basis and, again, their cage is cleaned out. Don’t forget to supply them with a small hut or home so they have a place to retreat to and hide in.
If your child wants a small pet with a fun and quirky personality, a ferret is a great candidate. Palmer says they love to cuddle, interact and play.
But “make sure to have your home ferret proofed,” says Palmer, since ferrets love to go room to room and find holes and crevices to hide in.
Lastly, a major plus to owning a ferret is they can be litter-trained.
Although they don’t live long – only three to four years – and despite a sometimes-sketchy reputation, rats in fact make excellent pets for a child.
They’re very intelligent, for one, and can even be trained to do tricks or maneuver through mazes (Palmer suggests looking up videos on YouTube to give ideas on creating your own rat maze).
“Adequate time for action and play is important,” says Palmer. Along with being super fun and trainable, rats are also easy to take care of, since rat food is easily accessible and they are highly accepting of treats.
So … which pet?
Having a hard time deciding which one is right for your child? Try having him or her write a report, Palmer says.
“We have kids write up reports on the animal they want and why they think they’re responsible enough,” he says.
This can help get kids engaged from the start – and ultimately avoid the classic scenario of parents taking care of the pet by default.