These are low maintenance pets that don’t require a lot of nurturing or special care.
They don’t require grooming, walking or even petting. Just the basics: food, water, and shelter.
These are good, easy animals for kids to care for.
Most freshwater fish are inexpensive to buy and maintain after the initial investment of a tank or bowl and accessories. Some fish are hardier than others.
For small kids, go for inexpensive, durable fish, such as goldfish. You don’t want floaters to start off your pet career.
To start off, go for a solitary goldfish or beta in a simple bowl. If that’s a hit, you can move on to an aquarium. Lighted aquariums can even function as nightlights in a child’s bedroom.
Maintenance will be simply feeding once or twice a day and cleaning the bowl once a week. (And if you keep the aquarium away from direct sunlight, algae will grow more slowly.)
Little boys (and some little girls) love lizards and snakes. Most moms don’t.
If your kid is going to have a lizard or snake, be sure there’s and adult in the house who’s willing to handle it. You’ve got to have that backup person with pets.
In other words, Dad is probably the go-to guy on this one. Put the reptile in an aquarium with a locked top. You don’t want Timmy taking it out without your supervision.
Avoid large snakes, such as pythons, that might ingest small children.
Research reptiles and their living requirements. Some require live (shudder) food. If you are determined, however, at least get a snake that has been trained to accept frozen mice instead of the live, running-around variety. Then, all you have to do is heat (to room temperature) and serve.
Some reptiles, like iguanas, grow to five feet in length and can be hazardous to other pets. Some (such as pythons) can grow to 13 feet long and can be hazardous to everyone. Don’t forget to ask how large the reptile will be at adulthood. ‘Nuff said.
Even though reptiles are relatively sturdy, they are still living creatures. Never let young children handle them unsupervised.
Make sure you choose a reptile that is tame and does not try to bite. Good lizard choices are a bearded dragon or a gecko. Good snake choices include a corn snake, rat snake, or a king snake.
While reptiles and snakes are easy, they do have needs you’ll want to consider before bringing one home: a tank, lights, water, and food. Lizards need places to hide, things to perch on. Tropical or desert reptiles will also need a heat source. This will not be cheap.
The bearded dragon, for example, requires a 10-gallon terrarium with a screen top the first year, and a 40 gallon terrarium as he grows (very, very fast) up to 18 inches.
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 each day.
Reptiles 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 15-30 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 quite affectionate and are quite long-lived: 30 to 40 years for the box turtle.
Even though they look sturdy, take care not to drop them because that could injure their shells or internal organs. Tortoises in particular should not be handled often.
First, you should know that mice are not baby rats. Two different species. 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 they are a bit squirmy and nippy for holding and loving.
If you want a love bucket, get a rat. Hold them at the store and if the rat or mouse is a nipper, request another one. Also, the younger you get them, the easier they are to tame and bond with.
Male or female? Good question. Male rat urine can be a bit smelly, plus males will mark territory with a drop of urine – a drawback if you let him out a lot.
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 the rat cage. Shavings can be messy. And the cages take up a lot of room. Each rat needs a minimum of two cubic feet. So if you had a rat couple, that would mean a cage 2 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet.
Rats need to be let out to run around at least a few minutes each day. You (or the kid) will need to supervise this outing, as they like to nibble through telephone cords and electrical wires.
And of course you don’t want them getting lost in your walls or closets, either. Rats live two to four years; mice one to three.
Birds are usually not good pets for kids under the age of 8. Kids below this age simply aren’t gentle enough to properly care for them.
Young kids dart about and alarm birds. Small birds, however, make excellent pets for older children.
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 only need to change the papers in the cage each day and replenish its food and water.
You’ll need to do a more thorough cleaning about once a week. Cockatiels and parakeets are particularly good choices.
The smaller birds, such as finches and canaries, are mainly for watching, not petting.
In my prejudiced mind, cats are the perfect animals. They are sweet and cuddly. They’re definitely low maintenance – you can go away for a weekend and just leave out food and water for them.
They’re not messy – indeed, they are fastidious and will look at you in dismay if you neglect to regularly clean their litter boxes.
Of course, they have their drawbacks. They shed. A lot of people are allergic to them.
And if you don’t get provide alternate places to scratch, such as a cardboard or carpeted scratching post, they can literally shred furniture and floor coverings.
They are relatively long lived (about 15-20 years) and if you keep them indoors, they are usually healthy animals.
Don’t get kittens for small children. Cats between 1 and 3 have all the kitten attributes, but are a bit hardier and can easily get away from rough little hands.
Be careful introducing a new kitten into a house with another cat, or dogs.
If a new animal is coming home, here are a few products I've found to be especially useful and well-priced that you may want to consider.
What type of pet has been awesome with your family? Share your story!
Animal Best-Bets for Kids by Age
The Pros of Animal Ownership
The Cons of Animal Ownership
What to Know Before Choosing a High Maintenance (Exotic) Animal
6 Less-Toxic Ways To Get Rid of Fleas
Animal Chores for Kids by Age
9 Rules for Animal Safety Tips
Cleaning Up Animal Messes
Truth and Consequences for Kids
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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.