If you’re a parent, and your child is old enough to talk, chances are you’ve heard the phrase “Can we get a pet?Please, please, pretty please?” In general, this request inspires a sense of impending doom. No matter what kind of pet you have, it’s going to be a lot of work. And, no matter how much your kid tries to convince you that they’ll do everything, you’ll have to shoulder a certain amount of responsibility. Pet ownership means adoption fees, vet bills, food, toys, grooming, cleanup — and who knows what else. It’s not something to take lightly.
But the right child paired with the right pet can actually mean great things for everybody. Taking on the care of an animal can teach your child how to be responsible and aware of the needs of others. A pet is a live-in nature lesson. The bond with a pet can provide immeasurable fulfillment for everyone in your family, not just your child.
But how to pick the right pet? Check out our picks for best 5 best first pets for your kids.
An Older Dog or Cat
Though you might be tempted by the overwhelming cuteness of puppies and kittens, young animals usually don’t make great starter pets. They require a lot of patience and training in order to grow into well-adjusted pets, and kids generally don’t have the experience to pull that off. Instead, adopt an adult dog or cat from an animal shelter. On the whole, older animals will be much more tolerant with kids, and pets that are already trained will make it easier for your child to learn what it takes to care for them. But even the gentlest of dogs and cats require a lot of work, so be sure to help your child understand what the animal needs.
A fish is another classic first pet, provided you pick the right one. Goldfish are the archetypal choice, but they’re notoriously fragile and require a fairly elaborate tank-and-filter setup.
Betta fish, however, are happiest in smaller bowls, no filter necessary. Bettas are beautiful fish, often jewel-toned, with long flowing fins. The bowl will need regular cleaning and water changes; consider adding an aquatic snail to your bowl, which will help keep the algae at bay. (They’re fun to watch, too.) Your child can have fun decorating the bowl with gravel, plants and other accessories. A word to the wise: This is one pet that’s best purchased singly, because two bettas in the same bowl will fight to the death. But a healthy, well-tended betta can live for two or three years.
Often overlooked in favor of their smaller cousins, these gentle rodents actually make great pets for kids. They rarely bite, they love to play hide and seek, and they’ll squeak with excitement when their humans put in an appearance.
Since they prefer to live in groups, consider adopting two female guinea pigs. (Two males will be prone to fighting, unless they come from the same litter, and a male/female pair will result in lots of tiny guinea pigs.)
Guinea pigs also provide good practice for responsible pet ownership. If you’re thinking about getting a bigger pet somewhere down the road, for example, longer-haired varieties are good preview for dog or cat ownership, since they need to be groomed daily in order to prevent tangles.
There are a few types of small birds that can make for a good introduction to the world of pet care. Canaries, for example, don’t require a lot of one-on-one time, and a pair of society finches will happily keep one another entertained.
All birds require regular cage cleaning and fresh food and water, along with a cage roomy enough for a bit of flying and some toys for amusement. Small birds don’t like sudden movements or unexpected noises, so they’re best cared for by older, calmer children.
Small lizards can make for very interesting pets. But not every kind of lizard will work well for the novice pet owner. Iguanas and Savannah monitors start out cute and small, but they grow into lizards several feet in length — and they’re also capable of inflicting nasty bites.
Instead, consider a leopard gecko or bearded dragon. These reptiles are good starter pets due to their docile nature, low-maintenance lifestyle and small size. Though delicate in their infancy, once they reach adulthood, they’re resilient and hardy creatures.
Which do you feel would make a great first pet for your kids? – Cute Beltz