10 Best Pets for Your Kids

From ferrets to parakeets, here's what you need to know before you hit the pet store

It’s something nearly ever parent faces: Stuffed Kitty gets tossed under the bed and now your child wants the real thing. When that moment arrives, it pays to do a little homework before you commit to a pet. Some are much more kid-friendly than others, even though -- let’s be honest -- it’ll be you who ends up taking care of it. For the best of the bunch, we turned to Dr. Suzanne Scott, a Houston-area companion and exotic animal veterinarian. Here are her suggestions.
 

Cat

Cats are America's most popular pet -- and for good reason. They’re playful, affectionate and independent. If you have kids younger than 3, stick with an adult cat. They'll need time to adjust to children -- be on hand to supervise any interaction -- but once comfortable, they'll enjoy lots of playtime and affection.
Lifespan: up to 20 years
Costs: The first year is more expensive, thanks to initial set-up expenses and spaying or neutering. After that, budget for wellness exams, vaccinations, food and litter.
How your kid can help: Children under 3 are best suited for doling out lots of TLC, while older kids can help out with feeding and litter box duties.
 

Dog

Dogs are loving, loyal and eager to please -- in other words, man’s (and kid's) best friend. If you have children under 3, limit your search to dogs 5 months or older.
Lifespan: 8-19 years, depending on the breed
Costs: The first year is more expensive because of spaying or neutering, but afterward, costs are moderate (think wellness exams, vaccinations, preventive medications and food).
How your kid can help: Children 3 and older can handle nearly all basic tasks, like feeding, bathing, grooming, walking and playing with their dog.
 

Budgie (Parakeet)

The most popular avian pet -- and great for families -- budgies are gentle, playful and easily trained to sit on your shoulder. Bonus: Some can even talk.
Lifespan: 2-7 years
Costs: Count on buying the cage and toys the first year. After that, as long as the bird is healthy, you’ll just have to spring for food.
How your kid can help: Let your kiddo handle basic care and maintenance -- feeding, freshening the water, changing the cage papers -- as well as training.

 

Fish

How do we love fish? Let us count the ways. They’re perfect for kids with allergies, take up very little space and are pretty low maintenance. Tip: Save yourself time at the pet store by researching species and how to manage an aquarium.
Lifespan: Varies by species -- goldfish can live up to 10 years
Costs: Buying and outfitting an aquarium (20 gallon minimum, even for goldfish), will be your biggest expense. Thereafter, costs should be low.
How your kid can help: Kids love to feed fish (while you supervise) and "babysit" for them while you clean the aquarium.
 

Guinea Pig

Tame and cuddly, guinea pigs rarely bite and are the most docile of all rodent pets. They make excellent first pets for older children, with adult supervision.
Lifespan: 4-8 years
Costs: First-year expenses are low and include food, bedding, toys and a large cage. Also budget for an annual veterinary exam.
How your kid can help: Besides feeding and cleaning the cage, your child’s number-one job is playing with her new friend, something guinea pigs reward with a variety of squeaks.
 

Hamsters

Have a child 6 or older? Consider a hamster -- they’re busy critters that love being held. They’re also nocturnal and, if woken up during the day, may nip, so supervise any handling.
Lifespan: A dwarf hamster lives for 1-2 years, while a larger hamster live for 2-4 years
Costs: The biggest expenses come in the first year, when you have to buy a cage and exercise wheel. After that, budget for a steady supply of food and bedding.
How your kid can help: Kids can be hands-on with a hamster. Let them help clean the cage; play and hand-tame their critter; and supply twigs for chewing and walnuts, apples and raisins for snacks.
 

Rabbit

A great indoor pet for the right family, rabbits love to be held, come when called and can be trained to use a litter box. They do like to chew, though, so cover up any electric cords.
Lifespan: 5-10 years
Costs: The biggest expense is spaying/neutering and a cage, both of which you’ll pay for when you adopt your rabbit. After that, budget for food and bedding.
How your kid can help: Let children play with the bunny, change its litter box and bedding, and replenish food and water.
 

Ferret

Have an older kid? Ferrets make a great pet for tweens and teens, since they’re playful, engaging, fastidious and friendly. They’re most active just before sunrise and shortly after sunset and also love to chew. Translation: Keep an eye on them when they’re not in their cage.
Lifespan: 6-8 years
Costs: Your first year with your ferret is a moderately pricey one. That’s because you’ll need to pay for spaying or neutering, de-scenting (an absolute must), rabies/distemper vaccinations, a cage and a litter box. After that, expect to pay for basic necessities like food and bedding as well as veterinary check-ups and vaccinations.
How your kid can help: Your kiddo can be responsible for feeding, cleaning the cage and litter box, and bathing the ferret once a month.
 

Gerbil

Gerbils are calm little creatures that seldom bite and are hearty and active during the day. Since they require gentle handling, they’re recommended for older children. They're happiest in pairs, but don't keep opposite sexes together or they’ll breed.
Lifespan: 3-5 years
Costs: As with most pets, the first year is the most expense, thanks to the initial veterinary visit and costs associated with a cage, bedding and toys. But after that, gerbils are fairly inexpensive to keep. They just require food, bedding and an annual visit to the vet.  
How your kid can help: Let kids handle the feeding; preparing leafy greens, lettuce, spinach and carrots; and cleaning the cage daily and washing it weekly.
 

Mice and Rats

Okay, we know what you’re thinking, Rats in my house? No way! But hear us out. Mice and rats are active, curious, charming pets. Since they require gentle handling, they’re not recommended for children under 4 without adult supervision. And be careful about which gender you buy. Females play nice together, but males, when introduced as adults, will fight. Also, avoid housing males and females together -- they’ll breed quickly.
Lifespan: Mice live 1-3 years, while rats live 2-3½ years
Costs: The first year, you’ll pay extra for a cage, toys, water bottle, food and bedding. But subsequent years are much cheaper -- you’re only buying food, bedding and chew sticks or dog biscuits to keep teeth filed down.
How your kid can help: Give kids hands-on tasks, like hand-taming, feeding, and cleaning the cage daily and washing it once a week.

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