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The best pets for families with small children

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Best animals for growing your family with a fur baby

A pet is a significant part of family life, so don't rush into a decision before you know which animals are best.

Take it from me. A friend of mine offered me a Chihuahua puppy when my daughter was 2 years old, and I agreed to take in the puppy before doing my research. Suffice it to say, Ernie was not a good fit for our family. Thankfully, I was able to find him a good home before he bit my daughter — which I was certain would happen in only a matter of time.

Dr. Judy Leigh is a holistic veterinarian who understands the importance of picking the right pet for your family. "My children are now grown, but we had many pets while my children were growing up," she said. Here are her top picks for a happy and healthy family life with a fur baby.

1. Guinea pigs

If a small pet is your speed, Leigh suggested a guinea pig. "They live three to five years and are not as breakable as some small pets," she said. "Plus, they don't require a lot of care."

2. Fish

A fish can be a great starter pet for kids, or the beginning of a very cool hobby complete with aquariums, toys and a growing school of fish. "They are fun to watch, and to buy new toys for their habitat," Leigh said. "A small, decent aquarium setup doesn't require a ton of work, either."

3. Hamsters

Leigh cautioned that hamsters can be a little hit or miss, depending on the hamster and how much it is handled. "We had a lot of really friendly ones and if handled a lot they are pretty friendly. I recommend the bigger hamsters rather than the mini ones," she said.

4. Dogs

"Any breed can be a good pet if trained and handled correctly," Leigh said. She mentioned that Labs and golden retrievers can make great companions and are usually very friendly. If you're interested in a small dog, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel is a great breed. Other small dogs, unfortunately, can sometimes be too hyper or aggressive for families with small kids.

More: 11 best dogs for apartments in the city

5. Cats

The right cat can be a wonderful pet for small children. "My cats were used to sleeping with the kids, being handled, dressed up and put in strollers," Leigh said.

6. Geckos

Interestingly, Leigh said that geckos are great for kids. "They don't require much care and it's fun to watch them hunt live crickets."

7. Chickens

If your municipality allows chickens, a few outdoor chickens can make a great addition to a family. "They are fun to feed and collect eggs, if you have chickens who lay," she said. Just check with your city first.

8. Miniature horses

Yes, miniature horses. "If they are handled a lot, they are extremely docile," Leigh explained. "They are great to groom and feed. We drive ours with a cart and kids adore them. They are always a hit when people come to visit." She added that you must live in a neighborhood where miniature horses are allowed and that families should learn a lot about horse care before investing in this pet.

So which animals should families avoid? According to Leigh, families with small children should avoid the exotic pets on the market like hedgehogs, sugar gliders and snakes. "I am not a fan of these for small kids," she said.

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