From the May 2015 issue

The Pros and Cons of Exotic Pets for Kids

Thinking of expanding your family with mice, snakes or geckos? A local pet store owner weighs in on the pros and cons of exotic pets; plus things for families to consider before purchasing.

Jackson, age 5 at the time this article was reported, didn’t care much for the family dog. But when he went over to a friend’s house he became enthralled with their pair of turtles, Snappy and Shelly, who’d bask on a rock beneath their heat lamp or swim circles in their aquarium. When these friends mentioned they needed to find a new home for the turtles, Christina Dobbs, Jackson’s mom, jumped at the chance.

“My kids love them,” says Dobbs. “My oldest son Jackson is autistic and non-verbal and he’s never been fond of animals until these turtles.” As far as the Warren mom’s other son, 4-year-old Jameson, she notes, “He loves anything and everything animal.”

While dogs and cats are the perennial favorites for family pets, other non-traditional choices – yes, even the creepy, crawly kinds – seem to have a certain appeal for kids.

If you’ve been considering expanding your family to include more scales, shells or quills, you need to think seriously about the care involved with exotic pets. While all pets offer valuable lessons for kids, exotics take a special brand of love and attention.

Metro Parent asked Donnie Cook, owner of Lou’s Pet Shop in Grosse Pointe Woods, to share some of the pros and cons of exotic pets that are popular for kids.

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Note: Keep in mind this isn’t an exhaustive list of the benefits and drawbacks of exotic pets. Use this as a starting point for your own research or visit your local pet store.

MiceMice

Pros

  • They’re a great alternative to the more conventional hamster
  • These surprisingly intelligent little fur balls can bond to their owners
  • Simple diet
  • They’re small, which means a smaller cage and smaller amount of food

Cons

  • They’re small – and fast (this is one animal you need to be careful with outside of his cage)
  • They have a very short life span; 1½-2 years on average
  • Serpent-like tail can be a turn off for some kids (and adults)

RatsRats

Pros

  • These large rodents are a great alternative to guinea pigs and bunnies
  • Like mice, rats are surprisingly intelligent and can bond with their owner
  • Simple diet
  • Easy maintenance

Cons

  • Short life span; 2-3 years on average
  • As with mice, their scaly tails may not be appealing
  • Domesticated rats have an undeserved reputation for being unclean

SnakesSnakes

Pros

  • They aren’t attention seekers, as opposed to dogs (no daily walk needed)
  • Don’t require daily feedings
  • Amazing agility that can fascinate kids
  • Great for kids who are intrigued by dinosaurs

Cons

  • Most don’t like to be handled
  • About those feedings … most snakes eat rodents, live or frozen
  • Some cities have ordinances against owning certain types of snakes
  • Can have a long life span, depending on the type; some can live up to 30 years

IguanaIguanas

Pros

  • Vegetarian diet
  • Will tolerate being handled (just be careful!)
  • Great for kids who are intrigued by dinosaurs

Cons

  • Depending on the type, these reptiles can grow to be quite large and will require an equally large cage
  • Specialty lighting and warm temperatures needed
  • Long life span – some can live upwards of 20 years!

GeckoGeckos

Pros

  • Good alternative to larger iguanas
  • Known as one of the easier reptiles to own
  • Simple to handle
  • Great for kids who are intrigued by dinosaurs
  • Life span 3-10 years

Cons

  • Specialized equipment, including cage, needed
  • Can slip out of cages if they aren’t secured properly
  • Diet may be a turn off (along with vegetarian fare, they like mealworms)

TarantulaTarantulas

Pros

  • They’re not noisy
  • No need to take them on a walk
  • Tend to inspire kids who are already interested in the sciences
  • Requires little cage space
  • Long life span – can live 20 years!

Cons

  • They’re spiders; can be intimidating for guests
  • Specialized diet (crickets and cockroaches, anyone?)
  • Don’t like to be handled much
  • Long life span – can live 20 years!

HedgehogHedgehog

Pros

  • Unusual animal that’s trendy to own right now
  • Small and quiet
  • Distinct personalities – some are friendlier than others
  • Have the potential to bond with owners

Cons

  • Nocturnal (your hedgehog will want to sleep during the day and stay active all night long)
  • They have quills; if frightened, they can release them
  • Need a warm living environment and specialty equipment and food
  • Short life span of 2-5 years

SugargliderSugar gliders

Pros

  • Unique animal that hails from Australia and glides through the air (think: flying squirrel but in possum form)
  • Have the potential to bond with owners
  • Life span similar to dogs and cats; 12-15 years

Cons

  • Prepare to make a lifestyle change with these high-maintenance animals
  • Purchasing the animal and the equipment to go along with maintaining it are expensive
  • Not recommended for younger children

And remember: Just because your child has allergies doesn’t mean he or she can’t have a buddy. Find out what pets – including dog breeds – are tops for kids with allergies.

Looking for more information on owning exotic pets? Take a peek at some questions to ask before buying an exotic pet, get more details on what to consider before getting an exotic pet (straight from a local vet) and for the turtle lovers, get some info on how to care for pet turtles.

This post was originally published in 2015 and is updated regularly. 

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