Having a pet is a great way to teach kids responsibility and compassion but sometimes a dog or cat isn’t in the cards. These animals are the perfect option as they take up minimal space in your home and are easy for kids to care for. Which one will be the new addition to your family?
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1. Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are great pets as long as you’ve got the time to invest in them (they need to play with you!) and are willing to get a pair of the sweet-natured rodents (they’re social animals and will get lonely when solitary). These little guys are in the same family as hamsters but have an even gentler disposition and are less likely to bite. They need stimulation and attention, however, so if you think your kid will lose interest quickly, they might not be the best choice for you.
Lifespan: 5-10 years
2. Bearded Dragons
Bearded dragons are easy to care for and super mellow. They grow to be about the length of your forearm and are happy to spend the afternoon sitting on your shoulder. Kids will love setting up their enclosure and you can even find costumes for them at Halloween! They do eat bugs so you’ll need to be able to pick those up at your local pet store.
Lifespan: 10-15 years
No, we’re not talking about the sort that roam New York City subway tunnels. Domesticated rats (which are pretty cute, if you’re into rodents) actually make great pets. In fact, Dr. Jennifer Graham, assistant professor at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, told Parents magazine that rats are “some of the best pets for small children,” says Dr. Graham. “Rats can be calm, laid-back, not as nippy as other small mammals, and they can be handled a lot.” They can even be trained to retrieve small objects and use a litter box. Take that, Fido!
Lifespan: 2-3 years
Kids will love watching these little guys scurrying through tunnels and running on hamster wheels (all night long!), though youngsters should be aware that these little rodents, especially females, can bite, so they need to be extra careful handling them. Parents magazine source Dr. Katherine Quesenberry, an exotic animal expert, recommends getting a larger breed hamster, like the Syrian hamster (also called the golden hamster), which can be easier to handle.
Lifespan: 3-5 years
These large rodents have silklike fur and are friendly and gentle (though they can bite if not socialized properly). A well socialized chinchilla will even come when you call him and will be eager for rubs. They can also be litter box trained. And, unlike many other rodents, they aren’t smelly! According to Animal Planet, the chinchilla has no body odor. “Even its droppings will take several days to emit a smell; if the animal’s cage is cleaned frequently, odor becomes a non-issue.”
Lifespan: 12-20 years
Rabbits make friendly pets, and larger breed rabbits especially, like the Flemish giant rabbit, which can grow to be 12-15 pounds (that’s almost twice the size of an average cat!), can be docile and laid-back (though they require a lot more space than smaller bunnies). They are smart enough to be litter-trained — and can even be taught to walk on a leash, according to Animal Planet. They also enjoy human company provided you socialize them and play with them often.
Lifespan: 8-12 years
What better way to teach kids where their eggs come from than having a henhouse in the back yard? Chickens (if your city allows you to have them) are full of personality and can be trained to come when you call them. One thing to keep in mind, however, is where you live: in colder climates, chickens have to be kept inside (or in a heated henhouse) to stay warm. Click on this article to find the breed of chicken right for you.
Lifespan: 6-12 years
8. Leopard Geckos
These calm reptiles are easy for kids to handle and they make fun pets. They are nocturnal and therefore more active at night. They don’t climb walls like other types of geckos but they also don’t require a moist environment which makes them easy to take care of.
Lifespan: 6-10 years
To find out more about what pet is right for you, check out this guide from the Humane Society. And, of course, always check your local animal shelter or animal rescue groups when looking for a pet.
—Kate Loweth & Melissa Heckscher