Ideal pets for kids

Jul 1, 2012 at 4:06 a.m. ET

Dogs and cats might be the most common pets for families, but they're not always the best choices if you have small children.

Girl with goldfish

Luckily, we know plenty of animals that do make great pets for small hands and hearts -- and these small pets can prepare kids for owning dogs and cats in the future.


Goldfish have to be -- hands down -- the easiest small pet to have and maintain. All you need is a small bowl, fresh water and some food and your child has a pet he or she can keep for years (yes, goldfish can live upwards of 25 years -- the oldest goldfish lived to be 40!). The most important part of owning a goldfish is teaching your children how to care for it: Kids will naturally want to feed their fish every 15 minutes. Instead, supervise them while they feed and care for their goldfish in the beginning to keep from having that sad talk about a dearly departed pet.

The downside? They're hard to play with! Lots of kids love petting and playing with furry animals and that's not an option when you choose to keep fish as pets.


A hamster's small size is perfect for small hands -- and the tiny furry creatures don't mind being handled after they get used to it. Your child can "train" his or her hamster by picking it up by the scruff on the back of its neck (it won't hurt) and petting with soft, gentle strokes at least once a day. Hammy the Hamster will eventually get used to it and will let your child hold it in his or her hand. Plus, kids are endlessly entertained when a hamster runs around in its little exercise ball -- consider it a cheap babysitter for a few minutes while you drink a cup of tea.

The downside? Hamsters are nocturnal creatures, so your child might wonder why Hammy sleeps all day and plays at night. Also, hamsters typically only live for two years, so you'll be having that difficult talk about life and death sooner than you hoped.

Guinea pigs

Guinea pigs and hamsters are often confused, but the little "piglets" are bigger -- and their size makes it more difficult for overzealous youngsters to injure them. They're a lot more sociable than hamsters, so your child can play with them without you having to worry about animal bites and hurt feelings. The best part? They live four to seven years on average, so your child will have a companion for longer.

The downsides: Guinea pigs are poop machines. You must watch them closely while they're out of the cage. Also, their diets require lots of vitamin C, so you'll have to be mindful of that while preparing their daily meals.


Small reptiles like geckos are both fun and easy for children to handle. Your child will love "petting" his or her pet reptile's scaly skin and will marvel over the different color patterns on the skin. Just a note, though: Reptiles like geckos have tails that will fall off if handled roughly. The tails will grow back, but it can be a scary sight for little ones (and adults, too!)

The downside: Some reptiles, particularly larger ones, may be inclined to bite. Also, some reptiles require live food sources ranging from crickets to mice. If this makes you uncomfortable, know the details of reptile care before making a purchase.

Tell us

Which small pets do you think are good for your kids? Share in the comments below!

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