Pretty much every kid wants a pet to call his or her own, right? But the thought of bringing a new critter into a home with a small child fills most parents with stress and dread. Is the child ready for a pet? Will you end up taking care of it all by yourself? Is it even a good idea?
According to PetSmart’s resident veterinarian and pet care expert Simon Starkey, DVM, it’s almost always a good idea.
“Pets make an excellent addition to homes with small children,” he says. “Studies show kids with pets have reduced rates of allergies and asthma, as well as reducing anxiety, not to mention the general benefits from the strong bond between children and their pets.”
He says the job of caring for a pet drives a sense of responsibility among children.
Choosing a pet that works for your family is what’s going to make or break the situation. “The type of pet a family brings home largely depends on that family’s commitment ability to caring for that pet.”
The following are great possibilities for parents considering a pet for their child.
What child would turn up his or her nose at a bunny? “Rabbits are quiet animals, which some families may prefer, but can be just as affectionate as dogs and cats,” says Dr. Ari Zabell, senior director of client experience and advocacy at Banfield Pet Hospital. “Depending on where you live, they can do very well in an outdoor hutch so might even be good for families that aren’t comfortable with an indoor pet.”
2. Guinea pigs
“Guinea pigs are great for kids who are learning how to care for a pet but may not have the space or time for a bigger pet,” says Zabell, “Unlike hamsters, they are not nocturnal so will be awake to play when your kid is expecting them to. Guinea pigs are typically easier to train and play with than rabbits, although they do have a very cute squeaky noise. They are also not very loud or demanding pets.”
We all know fish are great starter pets for kids and Zabell agrees. “Fish are a good pet for kids who are learning routine and responsibility — while they don’t require nearly the same amount of time and attention as some other pets, they still require daily feedings and regular aquarium cleanings,” he says. “It can be really fun to watch how even the most active kids calm down to watch beautiful tropical fish swim calmly in their tank.”
Dogs are a big commitment, but it’s hard to argue that the right dog can be a great, long-term companion for a child. Trupanion’s in-house veterinarian Dr. Denise Petryk, DVM, MBA, says dogs “can be affectionate, kind, loving, playful and loyal — all traits that are important for a great family pet.” She adds that the breed you choose can make a big difference in how well a dog will work out. “Dogs less than 30 to 40 pounds and mixed-breed dogs are great as purebreds tend to have more health concerns.” She recommends bulldogs, boxers, spaniels, retrievers and terriers as breeds that work well in houses with small children.
Dr. Petryk also recommends cats to families with small children, saying they are just as kind and loving as dogs. Since cats tend to be more independent than dogs, they may be a safer choice for families with busy schedules.
6. Hermit crabs
Your kid doesn’t have to be a fan of SpongeBob to appreciate the novelty of a pet crab. They’re active, busy little creatures, and children will love watching them crawl around their habitats. According to Animal Planet, all they need are sand to dig in and rocks to climb, as well as pellet food. Bonus — you never have to take them for walks.