Domesticated animals first developed out of the promise of mutual survival. The African wildcat moved into human settlements during the rise of the Agricultural Revolution and evolved as mousers and ratters on the path to modern domesticity. Dogs have a longer and more varied history that covers everything from protecting the herd and the hearth to hunting down dinner. Today’s pets are more likely to be our companions than our co-workers, but the roles they can play in our mental health and emotional development can be every bit as valuable. That’s especially true of children. Pet ownership can teach responsibility and instill a sense of empathy and social intelligence in younger children, and animals of varying stripes can help boost moods and self-esteem. But the responsibility of a pet is no joke, and that means it’s important to find the right pet for your specific child’s needs. Here are 10 of the best animals for kids.
#1. Budgie: The Quintessential Good Starter Pet
This species of parakeet is a smart, sweet, and gentle bird that loves to vocalize. Their chipper tones and lively sense of play have made them a popular choice for younger children for years. They’re also low-maintenance, inexpensive to adopt and feed, and robust and healthy on the whole. It’s also a pet that can grow with your child.
Budgies are talkative birds who can be taught a surprisingly broad vocabulary. And with a possible lifespan of over a decade, this is a bird that can grow up with your child as well. Just bear in mind that they require gentle care. Making sure to properly teach the etiquette for handling the parakeet is important for any new parakeet owner, but parents of younger kids might want to “co-parent” the bird for a while.
Learn more about the responsibilities that come with parakeet ownership here.
#2. Leopard Gecko: A Low-Maintenance, Long-Lived Choice For Beginners
You couldn’t find a more stark contrast to the gregarious parakeet than the leopard gecko, but these low-maintenance pets are a great choice for kids who have expressed a fascination for reptiles. Leopard geckos can occupy a small terrarium and is adaptable to a range of conditions and habitats. Nor is it a picky eater, and the leopard gecko is a meticulous creature that sets a designated bathroom.
Clean-up and maintenance is easy and infrequent, and the process of setting up the habitat can be a learning process in its own right. Fortunately, leopard geckos aren’t difficult to maintain even in the long run since they can live up to 20 years in captivity. A child’s relationship with a gecko will be more of observation than play, but it’s a good way to teach the fundamentals of the natural order in a relatively gentle manner.
Leopard geckos come in a gorgeous array of colors and patterns, which you can learn more about here.
#3. Hamster: Cheap Pets and Great For Beginners
In some ways, the hamster is like the fuzzy equivalent of the leopard gecko. These are harmless and quiet little critters may be soft and fluffy, but they don’t like to be held and are most active in the evening. For younger kids, hamsters can teach some fundamental caregiver responsibilities without being overwhelmed and also give them a pet they can enjoy for a set interval before bedtime. A hamster can get by in a cage as small as two by one foot, although more space is obviously going to result in a happier pet. Hamsters are cheap pets that can offer a good transition into a more challenging pet, but they only tend to live between two and four years.
Discover more about the habits and care of hamsters here.
#4. Cat: Perfect For Cuddling or For a Child With Anxiety
Anxiety can make it difficult for a kid to be happy and healthy in the way they deserve, but a pet can serve as a great means of therapy and a good source of social comfort. And while most cat breeds are independent creatures that don’t require a lot of care, the sense of structure can help establish safe boundaries and tools for managing anxiety or depression. For a child with anxiety, friendly cats for cuddling are a natural choice. The medium-sized Persian cat and absolute enormous Maine coon are calm and loving cats with a lot of fluff for cuddling. But playful short-haired breeds like the Bengal and Siamese can offer a whole sense of vibrant and calm energy for a child with anxiety as well.
If you’re ready to learn more about the different types of cats, check here.
#5. Rat: A Lesson in Responsibility Tailored For a Teenager
Cats and dogs offer great ways to teach older kids the responsibility of caring for an animal, but their long lifespans mean they’re a responsibility that will last until well after they leave high school. A rat has all the intelligence, personality, and energy of a cat or dog, but they tend to only live for two or three years. And for a teenager or older kid able to understand that, rats can be a wonderful companion. Unlike hamsters, these rodents love to be handled and are both clever and playful. Those quick minds require quite a bit of stimulation, so their caretakers need to be able to consistently make time for them. For a teenager, that can be a good way to maintain strong habits while going through the chaos of high school.
Read more about these personable but cheap pets here.
#6. Rabbit: A Good Starter Pet For the Whole Family
The cute and cuddly rabbit may seem like a good pet for kids — and they can be under the right circumstances — but their relatively demanding natures mean they may be better suited as a lesson in sharing responsibilities as a whole family. Highly sociable, bunnies thrive when they get to play and have company a few hours every day. Adding other rabbits to the habitat can help keep them occupied, but that brings with it its own responsibilities. But these pets are calm, quiet, and smart enough to be taught a range of different tricks. But they also require relatively complicated diets and regular vet care. But if everyone is willing to pitch in, raising a rabbit can be a rewarding and bonding experience.
Figure out if a rabbit is a good starter pet for your family here.
#7. Turtle: An Introduction to Aquarium Life
Turtles require little care and little space and are happy to keep to themselves most of the time. They’re a good starter pet, and that’s especially true for busy families that might not have a lot of time for looking after the emotional needs of a pet. Popular pet species range from the red-eared slider to the Mississippi map turtle to the wood turtle.
Maintenance is routine but undemanding. The family can set up the temperature and habitat together, and then the routine of daily care can help instill responsibility in younger pet owners. Bear in mind that many turtles grow prodigiously over the course of their life, so it benefits you to invest in an aquarium much larger than you might initially imagine.
You can uncover more facts about keeping pet turtles here.
#8. Corn Snake: A Fascinating But Harmless Lesson in the Natural Order
Humans share with their primate ancestors a natural aversion to snakes because they were one of our most deadly and competent predators throughout the evolutionary process — but most snake species are completely harmless to us. Some kids have a natural fascination with slithering serpents, and those that don’t mind find an introduction to snakes sparks an interest in the larger role these animals play in the ecosystem. While ball pythons are a good choice for adult beginners, the harmless and quiet corn snake is the ideal choice of a snake for a child. Age and sensitivity are important when considering this option, as coming to terms with the live feeding habits of the snake — which feeds on rodents — can be challenging for some children.
You can weigh the strengths and weaknesses of having a snake as a pet here.
#9. Fish: A Pet Project For Beginners That Can Grow With Your Child
Learning how to manage an aquarium can be an object lesson in the importance of doing your research even with creative projects. Fish in freshwater tanks tend to be hardier, cheaper, and in need of less maintenance. Saltwater tanks tend to consist of the vibrant fish found in coral reef ecosystems, but they can also be quite delicate and far more picky eaters. This sort of challenge can serve as an exceptional project for a teenager or for younger kids to learn alongside the supervision of their parents. But you can also start simply with a simple guppy or goldfish and let the aquarium grow in time with your child’s vision and interest.
You can learn about the fundamentals of pet fish care here.
#10. Labrador Retriever: A Promising Starter Pet For an ADHD Child
For an ADHD child, simple tasks can sometimes seem like herculean responsibilities. These neurological differences can further create social complications for an ADHD child. Over one in 20 kids is diagnosed with ADHD, but a dog can actually play an important role in management. A study at UCI found that kids with ADHD saw improvements in their attention span, social skills, and self-esteem when they engaged in routine activities with dogs. Large and gentle breeds like Labradors and golden retrievers are especially great choices because they can help an ADHD kid channel their energy into physical activity.
Getting a dog is a very big responsibility, but you can help weigh the options with your family here.