Pets can be a wonderful addition to any family and can teach children how to be responsible and compassionate human beings. They can also be a lot of work.
If your kids are begging you for a pet but you’re not ready to commit to a high-maintenance animal like a dog, we put together a list of 10 easy pets for kids to take care of, based on veterinarian recommendations.
Note that you should consult with a qualified veterinarian to discuss your pet’s specific dietary, environmental, and medical needs:
10 easy pets to take care of
If you’re searching for a low-maintenance pet, these are some great options:
1. Freshwater fish
Betta fish and goldfish are popular freshwater fish that require very little hands-on care.
“They’re fun to watch and a breeze to take care of, and one of the cleanest, easiest pets to own,” says Dr. Megan Conrad, a veterinarian who answers pet owner questions through the site Hello Ralphie.
- Food: Most freshwater fish require high-quality, nutrient-rich flakes, which should be given to them two to three times per day in the first year of their life and once per day thereafter. When you purchase your fish, ask the pet store for specific dietary needs/feeding instructions for your specific type of fish.
- Living space: If you have the space, Conrad suggests a 20-gallon tank over a smaller fish bowl. She says a confined space will not only stunt your pet’s growth but also cause them a lot of stress, which can shorten their lifespan.
- Cleaning: Clean the tank every 2 to 3 weeks, following any instructions the pet store suggests. That usually involves dumping out the water, scrubbing the tank, refilling it, and treating the water (fish can be temporarily placed in a smaller container of their old water).
- Life expectancy: This varies depending on the type of fish you buy, but Conrad says some fish can live 15 to 20 years with proper care.
- Other needs: Water should be treated before fish are introduced and a filter system installed. Conrad suggests setting up the tank as many as three weeks before purchasing/adding fish to give helpful bacteria a chance to colonize the tank.
No, rats aren’t just unwelcome visitors in New York City apartments. They can also make terrific pets, especially for children. Domesticated rats, also known as “fancy rats,” are typically smaller than “Norway rats” (the kind you might find running along the street) and come in a variety of colors.
Conrad says rats are “among the friendliest of pocket pets (pets that can literally fit in your pocket),” and, unlike fish, “they will bond with people and even cuddle.” Rats are also an excellent choice for living spaces that may be too small for a dog or cat.
- Food: As omnivores, rats enjoy a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as protein-rich commercial pellets specifically tailored to their dietary needs. They should be fed twice daily, and given adequate water — you can buy a water bottle that attaches to the side of the cage. Keep in mind that rats also eat their own feces, which aids in their absorption of nutrients. (Note: These foods are toxic to rats and other rodents on this list: chocolate, meat, grapes, rhubarb, eggs, and caffeine).
- Living space: Conrad recommends giving rats at least two cubic feet of cage space, with a bedding of non-toxic wood chips or paper-based bedding; you can add things like running wheels, climbing towers, and toys to the cage.
- Cleaning: Rat cages should be cleaned weekly.
- Life expectancy: 2 years on average
- Other needs: Rats require about an hour of playtime daily (plastic running balls are a safe way to provide your rat with fun and exercise).
Turtles sleep up to 12 hours per day, which means they’re a good choice for families and children who don’t have a great deal of time to dedicate to a pet.
However, turtles can live for many years, sometimes decades with the proper care. In other words, make sure you’re ready to commit to a long-term pet.
The FDA also reports that turtles commonly carry Salmonella bacteria on their outer skin and shell, so it’s important to clean surfaces and wash your hands thoroughly after handling a pet turtle.
- Food: The specific type and amount of food turtles should receive depends on their age and species. Generally, though, adolescent turtles should be fed a combination of fruits, vegetables, and animal-based foods (such as trout chew, worms, or small fish) once or twice a day. Adult turtles should be fed once every day or two.
- Living space: One caveat of owning a turtle is that they’ll need a fair amount of space to wander. A four-foot by 18-inch, 29-gallon aquarium is recommended for small turtles; larger (or older turtles) require more room, depending on the size they’re predicted to reach. Their aquarium must also be equipped with a water filtration system and a heat lamp.
- Cleaning: Turtles’ tanks should be cleaned at least once a month.
- Life expectancy: 15+ years (varies by species, with some living 100 years or more)
- Other needs: Turtles love to bask, so there should be ample space in their living quarters for them to get out of the water and warm up (like on a large rock).
Similar to rats, hamsters are one of the easiest pets to take care of, and Conrad says they make great first pets for kids.
However, hamsters are fragile and frighten easily, so younger children should only interact with them when an adult is around to supervise. This will also help ensure your child’s finger isn’t mistaken for a baby carrot.
- Food: Seeds, vegetables, fruits, grains, hamster pellets once a day
- Living space: Hamster cages need to be filled with enough bedding to allow them to burrow. Aspen is the preferred wood-based bedding for hamsters (you can likely find bags of it at your local pet store).
- Cleaning: Hamsters tend to only use a small area of their cage as a bathroom while keeping the rest of their cage fairly clean, says Dr. Courtnye Jackson, veterinarian and founder of The Pets Digest blog. Cages should be cleaned weekly.
- Life expectancy: 18 months to 3 years
- Other needs: Hamster teeth do not stop growing. This means they’ll need plenty to gnaw on to avoid overgrowth and dental problems.
Similar to hamsters, gerbils make great low-maintenance, pocket pets.
While they’re known for their curious and energetic personalities, they’re also rather quiet animals who enjoy running in wheels, playing with toys, burrowing, and climbing — which can be fascinating for kids to watch.
- Food: Gerbils pellets, seeds, fruits, veggies
- Living space: There are several viable options for gerbil enclosures, including fish tanks, plastic habitats, and cages with solid floors (so they can stand up on their hind legs). Whatever enclosure you choose, make sure it has a mesh top to allow for breathing and at least 5 gallons of space per gerbil. Their quarters should also be kept between 60 to 70 degrees.
- Cleaning: Their habitat should be cleaned once every 2 to 3 weeks.
- Life expectancy: 3 to 4 years
- Other needs: You may need to adopt more than one gerbil of the same sex to keep them stimulated and happy (and to prevent breeding). As social animals, they thrive in pairs.
6. Guinea pigs
“Guinea pigs are gentle in nature, mellow, and friendly, and make great pets for kids,” Conrad says.
There are several breeds of guinea pigs — long-haired, short-haired, and even hairless.
- Food: As herbivores, guinea pigs should be given unlimited hay to nibble on, which can either be set on the bottom of their cage or fed to them on a hayrack. It’s also crucial to make sure your pet guinea pig(s) get sufficient amounts of Vitamin C, which can be found in guinea pig-friendly produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots.
- Living space: Guinea pigs should be kept indoors in a large, secure enclosure with hard flooring and a temperature between 65 and 80 degrees.
- Cleaning: Your guinea pigs’ hutch or cage should be cleaned weekly.
- Life expectancy: 5 to 7 years
- Other needs: It’s best to adopt guinea pigs in same-sex pairs to avoid breeding and fights between males. The Merck Veterinary Manual also notes that solitary guinea pigs are generally nervous creatures.
Rabbits are relatively low-maintenance pets with affectionate and entertaining personalities.
However, Conrad says rabbits do have delicate spines, which means they’re a better pet for older children who can respectfully handle them. She says Rex and Harlequin rabbits are the gentlest and calmest breeds for children.
- Food: Similar to guinea pigs, rabbits require a combination of hay, vegetables, and pellets. VCA Animal Hospitals, which has veterinarian offices across the country, recommends a consistent diet to prevent potentially dangerous changes to a rabbit’s gut bacteria. If you introduce a new food to your pet rabbit, do so gradually.
- Living space: Rabbits require a large amount of space in secure, well-ventilated enclosures, preferably with plastic flooring and walls and ceilings made of wire. One corner of the cage should contain a litter box.
- Cleaning: If your pet rabbit is litter box trained, you may need to clean it once a week.
- Life expectancy: 5 to 8 years
- Other needs: Rabbits love to play and should be given an abundance of toys and activities to choose from, including tubes made out of paper, cardboard boxes, and non-toxic chewing blocks.
Cats have dynamic personalities, and their independent nature makes them a great, easy pet, especially for children, says Dr. Chyrle Bonk, veterinarian and contributor to the Excited Cats blog.
However, if you have young children, you should supervise their interactions to prevent tail pulling and other forms of rough-housing, which may lead cats to bite or scratch your child.
- Food: Cats are considered obligate carnivores, which means their diets must contain at least 70% meat for survival, says veterinarian Dr. Amanda Takiguchi of Trending Breeds, a blog that recommends pet products and resources. While vets and pet owners debate about whether cats should be given wet or dry food, the Cornell Feline Health Center says dry food is fine as long as the cat has constant access to clean, fresh water. Wet food can also be served in lieu of or in addition to dry food.
- Living space: Unlike many of the other pets mentioned on this list, cats usually roam freely around your home. Some cats are kept exclusively indoors, outdoors, or a combination of the two. Note however that outdoor cats are at greater risk of car accidents, animal attacks, and abuse from neighbors.
- Cleaning: Your cat’s litter box should be scooped for waste every day or two, and you should change out the litter every two to three weeks.
- Life expectancy: 10-15 years on average, though some may live into their 20s
- Other needs: Cats require standard immunizations and annual checkups with their vet. The ASPCA recommends spaying or neutering your cat at about eight weeks old to prevent breeding and urine spraying.
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Some birds that make great pets include finches, doves, parakeets, cockatiels, and lovebirds (a type of parrot). Several of these birds bond with their caretakers and enjoy interacting with them.
- Food: Pet birds should be fed specially formulated pellets (found at pet stores), as well as small portions of supplemental foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains.
- Living space: Your bird’s cage should be large enough for them to open their wings, leap between perches, play, and climb. For small to medium birds, cages that are between 1 and 1.5 square feet. Cages should also be lined for droppings (newspaper works).
- Cleaning: The cage should be cleaned 1 to 2 times per week, replacing the newspaper and scrubbing any droppings off the cage.
- Life expectancy: Most live 5+ years (varies by species)
- Other needs: Because birds are vulnerable to overheating and cooking fumes, the MSD Veterinarian Manual suggests keeping their cage out of the kitchen and away from windows that receive direct sunlight.
There’s a lot to love about lizards as pets: They’re easy to take care of and for the most part don’t mind being handled.
Some of the most popular pet lizards include bearded dragons, leopard geckos, blue-tongued skinks, and frill-necked lizards.
- Food: The diet for lizards depends on the species. Bearded dragons, for example, need a diet that combines animal-based foods, such as insects, with plant-based foods. Adult leopard geckos should be fed live insects, like silkworms and crickets, two to three times per week. Be sure to consult with your vet on your lizard’s unique dietary needs.
- Living space: Lizards require aquariums with mesh tops and temperature control. Some lizard species also require ultraviolet light.
- Cleaning: Lizard’s homes should be cleaned and disinfected once a week.
- Life expectancy: 10 to 20 years (varies by species)
- Other needs: The health of many lizards is contingent upon the amount of humidity they’re exposed to. Depending on the type of lizard you adopt, you may need to invest in a hygrometer (which measures the amount of moisture in the air) and a dehumidifier to ensure they’re receiving the right amount. Check out this dehumidifier from Amazon that includes a hygrometer to track and regulate moisture levels.
5 easy pets to take care of that are good pets for kids
These are five of the best pets for kids, according to the veterinarians we interviewed:
- Goldfish – Because they take up very little space, these fish can live in a small tank on a child’s nightstand or dresser. Responsible kids will have no issues feeding these fish themselves, since they require only a couple of small pinches of flakes a day. Kids can also help mom and dad with tank cleaning. “Not only are fish easy to care for, but younger children can have some sense of responsibility with a low risk of harming the pet if handled too harshly, as some children tend to do,” Jackson says.
- Cats – Cats are ideal for school-age children (and older) who want a pet they can form a genuine bond with. Cats also groom themselves and can be potty-trained without much prompting. “As long as you feed them, give them water, and give them lots of love, they’re usually pretty easy to care for,” Jackson says.
- Hamsters – Bonk says hamsters are one of the best pets for kids because they’re generally clean and fun for kids to interact with. “They’re easily held, don’t take up a lot of space, and are easy to take care of with the proper set-up.”
- Birds – Birds are also an excellent choice for children, Takiguchi says, because they can learn to interact with people — some of them can even mimic human speech. Their cages are also easy to clean if you want your child to take on that responsibility.
- Guinea pigs – With their docile nature and a life expectancy of about 5 to 7 years, Conrad recommends guinea pigs for children who want an affectionate pet. Guinea pigs can even be trained to rest on your child’s lap while they’re watching television or doing homework.
What are the benefits of kids having a pet?
According to a review of 22 studies published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, pet ownership has been shown to positively impact children’s:
- Intellectual development
- Ability to consider the perspective of others
- Social competence, networks, and interaction
- Play behavior
Takiguchi says pets also “provide lessons about life, including reproduction, birth, illnesses, accidents, death, and bereavement.”
These are some potential health benefits of kids having a pet:
- Reduces the risk of asthma and eczema
- Decreases the risk of developing allergies later in life
- Alleviates stress
- Calms ADHD
What are good starter pets for kids who never owned one?
Jackson recommends “pocket pets.”
“Small ‘pocket pets’ like mice, gerbils, and guinea pigs don’t require a ton of care and are fairly low maintenance,” she says.
Of the 10 pets easy for kids to take care of, which are the best pets?
“The decision is going to vary from child to child and family to family,” says Dr. Louis A. DelGiudice of Amerivet Veterinary Services.
You have to consider your child’s temperament and responsibility level, then do research on what level of care different pets require.
Keep reading for some age-appropriate suggestions:
What are the best pets for young kids?
These are some of the best pets for introducing young kids to pet ownership:
- Fish – Super low-maintenance and a pleasure to watch, fish are great for young kids, in part because you don’t have to worry about your child getting bitten or scratched. Just keep the tank in a place your child can easily see their fish but not knock it over.
- Pocket pets – Hamsters, domesticated rats, and guinea pigs make great first pets for young kids, who can watch them play in their cages or run around your home in a plastic ball. They can also be held with adult supervision.
- Birds – Small birds, such as parakeets, may be ideal for preschool-age children, who can help refill their water and food bowls, Dr. Takiguchi says. Their cages are also easy to clean.
What are the best pets for teens?
Teens can typically take on more responsibility when it comes to pets. Here are some terrific pets for teens:
- Dogs – “Since most dogs are very interactive creatures that enjoy company, and most are truly people pleasers, dogs and kids can develop great bonds with each other,” veterinarian Paola Cuevas says. He says both kids and dogs can develop social skills by learning how to care for each other, and to respect each other’s space and boundaries.
- Cats – Bonk suggests cats, in part because they provide “companionship and responsibility.” Veterinarian Dr. Melissa Brock of Pango Pets agrees. She recommends cats because of their autonomous, quiet nature and tidiness. Also, they’re less likely than dogs to carry parasites that can be passed on to your teens and other family members and can be left alone for longer periods.
- Lizards – Bearded dragons, chameleons, and leopard geckos can be surprisingly affectionate pets but require teens to take on a higher level of responsibility, including feeding them live insects and regularly cleaning/preparing their environments, which may include things like rocks, branches, and water features.
What are the best pets for kids with allergies?
- Sphinx Cats – While technically not hypoallergenic, sphinx cats (which are hairless) are a better choice for kids with allergies because they don’t spread Fel D1 protein via shedding around your house — it remains on their skin.
- Parakeets, Canaries, and Finches – Their smallness, combined with the fact that they produce less dander, makes these birds top choices for sensitive children.
- Turtles and Tortoises – Because they don’t have fur, turtles and tortoises are also great options for kids with allergies, though these pets can carry diseases like salmonella, so following proper hygiene habits is important after handling them.
- Portuguese Water Dogs – Indiana University’s Riley Children’s Health recommends Portuguese Water Dogs for children with allergies: Not only are they devoted and intelligent pets, but their waterproof coats don’t trigger symptoms normally associated with pet hair dander.
What are the best places to get a pet?
Once you and your family decide on the type of animal to get, these are some places you can find them:
- Animal shelters/rescues – Adopting an animal from a shelter or animal rescue frees up space for other displaced animals and potentially saves them from euthanization. There are lots of local rescues for dogs, cats, and other small animals like rabbits all over the country, as well as larger shelters run by organizations like the Humane Society of the United States. Pet Finder can help you find available pets at local shelters.
- Pet stores – Pet stores are often the best place to find fish, birds, reptiles, and pet rodents.
- NextDoor/Craigslist – You can search community forums like NextDoor and Craigslist to find adoptable pets. Just be aware of potential scams and don’t submit any type of payment before meeting in person in a public place.
Bottom line: Discover the good pets for kids
If your kids are asking you for a pet — or you want to introduce a pet to teach your kids about responsibility — you should choose one based on your child’s age, your living environment, and how much or how little time you can dedicate to caring for a pet.
If you’re still not sure which pet is right for your family, get advice from a local veterinarian, pet store, or even family members and friends who own pets.
Most importantly, remember that a pet is a serious commitment. If you don’t believe you or your children are fully prepared to take on the responsibility of a pet — even one that doesn’t require a lot of care — you should put your pet plans on hold.
According to a review of 22 studies published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, pet ownership has been shown to positively impact children’s: self-esteem, loneliness, intellectual development, ability to consider the perspective of others, social competence, networks, and interaction, and play behavior.
“Small ‘pocket pets’ like mice, gerbils, and guinea pigs don’t require a ton of care and are fairly low maintenance,” Dr. Courtnye Jackson, veterinarian and founder of The Pets Digest blog, says.
– Animal shelters/rescues
– Pet stores