Whether you’ve had a pet before as a child or are interested in bringing one into your family for the first time, animals can be wonderful companions for your home, as they can teach valuable lessons about responsibility, reliability, and empathy to your children.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, “Developing positive feelings about pets can contribute to a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence. Positive relationships with pets can aid in the development of trusting relationships with others. A good relationship with a pet can also help in developing non-verbal communication, compassion, and empathy.”
In this list, we’ll cover ten outstanding pet options, starting with several of the most common domesticated pets before moving to slightly more “exotic” animals as we get further down the list.
Keep on reading to find out the perfect pet for your home!
As the most popular pet option in the U.S. behind dogs, cats are a great furry friend for children who would otherwise be startled by loud barks or an overly-friendly animal.
While certain cat breeds are more vocal than others, and some cats will have friendlier personalities than others, they are generally great pets for children who prefer a quiet, independent animal, or in areas where outdoor space is limited.
If your child is going to be responsible for the primary care needs of the animal, it is best to ensure they have demonstrated the ability to clean up after their pet, the consistency to feed the animal on a schedule, as well as a basic understanding of how to treat another living being.
This can be done best by providing your child with a smaller, lower-maintenance pet first, such as a rat, fish, or guinea pig.
Introducing yourself and your family to a cat will require a bit of deliberate planning, as these animals are highly sensitive to vibrations, noise, and sudden movements.
We recommend creating a safe area for the cat to escape to if they feel overwhelmed/overstimulated, otherwise, they may respond to stress (especially stress caused by loud, young children) by hissing or, in the worst case, scratching, which should be avoided if possible.
There are also hypoallergenic cat breeds for households with animal fur sensitivities.
Dogs are the most popular pet in the U.S, with nearly 20 million more cases of ownership than cats (45.3 million compared to 69 million).
Dogs are amazing companions, with a variety of breeds for every climate and aesthetic preference, with hypoallergenic options as well.
One important factor to be aware of is the importance of teaching your dog proper behaviors as a puppy, as it can be difficult to reteach these later in life.
For example, housebreaking, while difficult and time-consuming, is crucial if you plan on keeping your dog as a long-term pet.
Be sure to do your research on temperaments as well, as your preferred home environment and lifestyle may not be ideal for every dog breed.
Fish are a great low-maintenance option for teaching your children about the value of responsibility and consistency.
While they may need your assistance to clean the tank, and a bit of oversight to ensure they don’t overfeed the fish, children of almost any age can effectively care for a fish.
Goldfish are one of the most common starter species as they are easy to manage and come in a variety of beautiful color combinations, although inquiring with a local aquarium specialist may prove useful during your search for the right fish for your child.
The abundance of pet fish also allows for more forgiveness when it comes to making an error in pet care, as it is much more affordable to get a new fish than it would be to purchase a brand-new dog every time your child forgot to feed it.
Tortoises and other reptiles are fantastic choices for children’s pets due to their resilience and longevity.
Some species can live for up to 25-50 years, which gives parents plenty of time to model the skills their children need to care for other, higher-maintenance animals.
In addition, most species are hypoallergenic, making it a great option for children with fur sensitivities.
Reptiles can transmit certain bacterial infections, so be sure to teach your child the proper pet-handling procedures such as wearing gloves, washing hands after contact, etc.
Birds are best for older children who have already shown some degree of responsibility, as birds can be loud, and messy, and are susceptible to a unique set of pathogens and parasites.
These animals are great companions for children with personalities that lean towards the quieter/introverted side as they are highly intelligent, social, and willing to learn.
Guinea pigs are a fantastic alternative to other small mammals like rats or hedgehogs, as these pets love attention and are big fans of cuddling.
While many other small mammals are nocturnal, guinea pigs are diurnal and very social.
One of the most adorable behaviors of the guinea pig occurs when it sees its owner, as it will happily whistle to greet your child.
We recommend giving these animals to children no younger than 7-8 years old, or at the age of about first grade.
Guinea pigs can act as a loving friends for your child to talk to and cuddle with, enabling them to better deal with the stresses of their daily life.
Hedgehogs are great for children with the patience and willingness to develop a deep bond with their pets, as these animals are very shy.
These are NOT a good idea for a first pet, as caring for a hedgehog takes time, care, and attention to detail.
They require a specialized live-insect diet, frequent attention, and an ideal environment to be satisfied.
If your child has demonstrated effective care skills with smaller mammals such as rats or guinea pigs, a hedgehog could be a great step up in responsibility if they are interested.
Rats are nocturnal rodents that can make wonderful companions for your child with the proper preparation and care.
We recommend researching rat handling and feeding weeks or months in advance to ensure you have all the proper care knowledge at your disposal.
For example, rats don’t like living alone, so you’ll need to get at least two to keep each other company when your child is away.
They don’t bite often, but they are susceptible to viral diseases like rabies, which is why proper handling is crucial.
Arguably one of the most unique choices on this list, potbellied pigs are a great option for homes where you have enough space for a medium to large dog, but may not necessarily want a canine.
These animals are highly affectionate, easy to housebreak, and very unlikely to bite.
They also get along great with other pets, so you don’t have to worry about them fighting with the pets you may already have.
We recommend waiting until your child is older, around fourth to fifth grade before bringing a potbellied pig into your home, as they will need to understand basic animal care skills.
Chinchillas are an adorable option for homes interested in a unique and lovable exotic pet.
They are a delicate, medium-high maintenance animal with a shy nature, so you’ll need to raise a baby chinchilla to give it enough time to acclimate to humans.
Chinchillas need to eat special pellets or hay, and cannot live in cold temperatures.
We recommend this animal for children who have prior experience with a small mammal like a rat, guinea pig, or hedgehog.