Meet the 6 good pets for kids that are easy to care for:
Here's how much time and care you can expect to provide (financially and otherwise) when you adopt a pet, as well as the payback you can expect your child to receive from each:
Most types of fish (freshwater) are inexpensive to buy and maintain after the initial investment of a tank or bowl, and aquarium supplies.
However, some fish are hardier than others.
For younger children, go for inexpensive, durable fish, such as goldfish. You don't want floaters to start off your child's animal career. Begin with a solitary goldfish or beta in a simple bowl.
If that's a hit, you can move on to a fish aquarium. Lighted aquariums can even function as a nightlight in a child's room.
Maintenance will be simply feeding once or twice a day, and cleaning the
fishbowl or aquarium once a week. And if you keep the bowl or aquarium away from direct
sunlight, algae will grow more slowly and you can clean it less often.
Little boys - and some little girls - love exotic animals like lizards and snakes. A lot of moms don't.
If your child is going to have snakes or lizards, be sure there's an adult in the house who's willing to handle it. You've got to have that back up person with these critters.
Put the reptile in an aquarium with a locked top. You don't want your daughter taking it out without your supervision.
Avoid large predatory snakes, such as pythons. They're hard wired to put the squeeze on anything the same size or smaller than they are - including children.
Research the temperament of an animal and its living requirements before you give it a green light. Some require live (shudder) food. This might be a good time to consider ordering pet food online to minimize the ugh factor.)
If you're determined to bring a snake home, however, try to get one that has been trained to munch on frozen mice instead of the live, running-around kind.
Then all you have to do at feeding time is heat to room temperature - and serve the little carnivore.
Some reptiles, like iguanas, grow to 5 feet in length, at which point they can can become hazardous to other animals.
Others, such as pythons, can grow to a scary 13 feet in length, and then can become hazardous to everyone. Don't forget to ask how large the reptile will be at adulthood before you bring it home.
Although reptiles are generally sturdy creatures, they are still living creatures. And sturdy or not, young children shouldn't be allowed to handle them without a parent supervising the interaction. (Read more about pet safety for kids here.)
When shopping for lizards, choose one that is relatively tame and doesn't try to bite. Good lizard choices include a bearded dragon or a gecko.
Good snake choices include the corn snake, rat snake, or king snake.
While reptiles and snakes are relatively easy to care for, they do have needs you'll want to consider before bringing one home.
These include the following pet supplies to keep him comfortable:
Tropical or desert reptiles will also need a heat source. And this will not be cheap.
The bearded dragon, for example, requires a 10-gallon terrarium with a screen top for the first year. And a 40-gallon terrarium as he grows (very, very fast) up to 18 inches in length.
Many reptiles are omnivores, which means they not only eat fruit and vegetables, but steak and mice as well. This is not a simple matter of dropping in some pellets daily.
Reptile pets don't need a lot of exercise (though if you released one near me, I would get a lot of exercise), and they don't need a lot of attention. Figure on about 15 to 30 minutes a day to feed them, and about an hour a week to clean the tank.
Tortoises and turtles are other good reptile choices. Turtles are amphibians; tortoises are land creatures. Make sure you provide the right environment for your species.
Turtles can be affectionate, and are quite long-lived: 30 to 40 years for the box turtle alone. This is one animal it will likely pay to consider having pet insurance for.
Even though they look sturdy, be sure the kids are careful not to drop them. It could injure their shells, or their internal organs. Tortoises, in particular, shouldn't be handled often.
Rats and mice are two different species with two different personalities.
Rats are especially intelligent and friendly, despite their nasty looking tails. Mice are cute and fun to watch in the cages, but are too squirmy and nippy for much holding and loving.
If you want a love bucket - get a rat. Hold them at the store and if the rat is a nipper, request another one Also, the younger you get them, the easier they are to tame and bond with.
Good question. Male rat urine can be a bit smelly. And males like to mark their territory with a drop or three of urine - a drawback if you let him out.
On the other hand, males are a lot calmer and more loving. If you change the litter at least once a week, smell should not be an issue.
You'll need a special place for a rat cage, because the shavings or litter can be messy. And the cages take up a lot of room: Each rat needs a minimum of two cubic feet of living space. So if you have a rat couple, that means you'll need a cage of 2 feet by 2 feet.
Rats also need to be let out to run around at least a few minutes each day. You or your child will need to supervise this outing, as they like to nibble through electrical cords and other wires. And of course you don't want them getting lost in your closets or walls, either.
Rats live 2 to 4 years; mice 1 to 3.
Hamsters. They can bite; they're also more vocal than most rodents. They're best kept alone. They're also nocturnal, so expect them to be a bit sleepy during the day, and more active than you would like at night. They live 2 to 3 years.
Gerbils. These are small but fun pets for kids. Not as intelligent or cuddly as rats, however. They are happier in pairs - so get a couple. They live 2 to 3 years.
Guinea pigs. These chubby little rodents make sweet, gentle pets. Get a pair. They need a large cage, and a special diet of hay, vegetables, and vitamin C. They live 5 to 7 years.
Birds aren't good pets for kids under the age of 8. Younger children generally aren't gentle enough with them to properly care for them. And young children dart around, and alarm birds.
Small birds, however, make excellent pets for kids aged 8 and older.
If you buy a bird that has been hand-raised, it should bond readily with its new owner and be quite tame - as long as you handle it regularly and gently.
Small birds are easy pets because they are generally confined to the cage and cannot wreak too much havoc.
You'll need to change the papers in the cage daily, and replenish its food and water.
You'll need to do a more thorough cleaning about one a week. Cockatiels and parakeets are particularly good choices for kids.
Smaller birds, such as finches and canaries, are mainly for watching, not petting.
Cats and kittens are sweet and cuddly. They're definitely low maintenance: You can go away for a weekend and just leave food and water out for them.
They're not messy - in fact, they're fastidious - and will look at you in dismay if you neglect to clean their litter boxes regularly.
Of course, they have their drawbacks. They shed. A lot of people are allergic to them.
And, if you don't provide them with alternate places to scratch, such as a cardboard or carpeted scratching post, they can literally shred furniture and floor coverings in a matter of days.
Cats live about 15 to 20 years.
Don't get kittens for small children: Cats between age 1 and 3 years have all the playful kitten attributes, but are a bit hardier and can easily elude rough little hands.
Finally, be careful introducing a new cat into a home with another cat or dogs.
About the Author
Tara Aronson is a native Californian. Having grown up in San Diego, she studied journalism and Spanish to pursue a career in newspaper writing. Tara, whose three children - Chris, Lyndsay, and Payne - are the light of her life, now lives and writes in Los Angeles. She also regularly appears on television news programs throughout the U.S.