I grew up with a lot of pets. I absolutely loved it and I think it was really good for me. I also have a bit of knowledge about all sorts of different animals. I’m going to help you decide if a pet is right for your family and if so, which kind to acquire. I am only a semi-pro about with this information, so please do more research after you have used this blog to hopefully narrow it down.
Let’s start with a few of the great things getting a pet for your kids will do for them. There is no particular order to these. Some kids need more of one quality than another needs. The first big one to me is responsibility. I hate to sound too old, but the responsibility children are given just keeps getting less and less. There will come a day when needing to responsible will come and smack them in the face and it will be good if they are somewhat prepared. The responsibility of keeping something alive, happy and healthy is like no other responsibility out there. Chores are important, homework is important too; but I don’t think one can beat keeping something alive. But even more important than teaching responsibility, it keeps kids healthy.
One would think that exposing young children (especially infants) to dirty, dander ridden animals would be terrible for their health. However, multiple studies have shown exactly the opposite. Time has a great article that gets into this more called Study: Why Dogs and Cats Make Babies Healthier that I suggest you read after this, if you want more detail. The summary is that having cats or dogs will considerably lower the risk of developing allergies and has shown to lower the risk of developing asthma. They don’t know the exact reason, but they hypothesize that it somehow kickstarts their immune system.
But the health benefits don’t end there. There is a lot of proof that shows any pet will help in child development. Scientific American Reports that owning any pet helps with “positive you development.” A recent paper by researcher Megan K. Mueller of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University was done with 7,000 children between fifth grade and post-high school.
She found that adolescents who had interactions with animals were more likely to see themselves as an important individual in their community. This didn’t necessarily have to be just owning an animal, it could also include things like horseback riding and other frequent interactions with animals. They were also more likely to take on leadership roles, such as organizing and community service in their community.
Children with frequent animal interactions also scored higher when it came to measurements of emotional connectedness in general. This means that they can connect with people easier and feel more connected to people that don’t grow up with animals. Megan Mueller says “If a connection exists between the skill sets required for these relationships, then it might be useful to capitalize on animal relationships as a way to promote the development of social skills,” I’ll be honest, I had no idea that I was being such a great parent by having our goofy bulldog, Athena. But I feel that it is important to point out that the study didn’t make an effort to find negative effects of any kind. She even admits that this is a limitation of the study.
Time’s article didn’t mention this, but there are other good things about having an animal that one can infer. It is a great way to teach kids about why it is important to listen to us as parents. You can use the animal’s mistakes as teachable moments for the kids. The dog doesn’t understand that something would hurt her and doesn’t even understand why she needs to listen. The same can go for kids, they don’t usually understand why they need to listen too. It doesn’t take a genius to work a lesson in there somewhere.
You can also teach them about basic biology. Lots of animals have ears and eyes, etc. I can remember when my son was learning eyes, ears and nose that he would run up to Athena and poke the poor girl right in the eye and yell “eye!” I used that as two teachable moments, and would tell him, “Yes, that is an eye but we don’t touch anything’s eye.”
But there is an inevitable sad part of biology that everyone has to learn about and experience – death. I hate to bring everyone down, but it is an important thing to learn about. It is much better to ease a child’s understanding of death with a goldfish than a grandparent. That is a much easier conversation to have if you are not hurting more than they are.
Let’s cover how to make the choice of what animal is right for your family. One thing that you, as a parent, need to remember is that you will be involved. Even if the deal is that they have to do all of the work, it is likely that you will be picking up the slack a lot.
You should also keep in mind the cost of the animal. The initial cost of getting an animal is usually pretty reasonable. But if it needs a cage or aquarium, things can get expensive quickly. And if the animal is not from your area, food can get expensive too. After that you will have Vet bill. I would suggest writing out the total cost with a list of equipment that is needed for the pet before continuing the conversation with your child.
One thing I have heard of people not taking into consideration is that some animals live a very long time. I was just offered a turtle by my mom’s friend because she bought this turtle for her son when he was 10. Well, he is thirty-five now and stopped caring about his turtle when he was fifteen. I didn’t take it because I know the turtle likely has another ten years to go. So please, if you get a turtle (even those cheap box turtles), remember that they will probably live roughly 35 years. If you track down one of the bigger ones, it will likely outlive you. So please, look up how long these animals live.
I think you should also look at the ethics of the animal you are keeping. If you have a back yard the size of a playpen, don’t get a goat. If pets don’t have adequate space, they get very miserable. Most animals need way more room than you think they do. Many times people see the cages at the store and assume they can mimic it. They fail to realize that those cages are supposed to only be temporary. But there is much more to the ethics topic. Can you provide a climate that the animal needs to be comfortable? Don’t get a penguin if you live in the desert. Is your house calm enough for a calm animal? Will a rowdy dog have an environment that it can release all of its energy? Read about the lifestyle of the animal and see if it matches yours.
Let’s cover some animals that I think are bad pets for kids. I personally don’t believe in owning a bird. In nature, birds fly miles and miles all day, every day. The smaller birds are more ok (but not great) in smaller areas, but are very fragile and need calm environments. Parrots are cool but live a REALLY long time and average 3-4 owners before they die. This is actually really hard on them and they bond a lot with their first owner. Really, just let birds fly. I know they are beautiful and fun, but they can be very intelligent and aware. Believe it or not, ravens are some of the smartest animals. Yes, it sounds strange, but that crow going through your garbage is way smarter than your dog. The crow’s intelligence is not close to your dog’s, it’s not a little above, it’s way smarter!
Besides that, I am going to say that there really isn’t such a thing as a bad pet. Every household is different and some can accommodate these difficult pets. But if you are an average family with an average home, I would suggest avoiding these animals.
Sugar gliders are definitely a pet that I would avoid. They are sure cute, but they take a ton of maintenance, require a lot of socialization, are delicate and can live up to 15 years. You need to make sure that you have at least two of them. They can actually be pretty cuddly but I’m not sure that is enough to deal with all of the complex maintenance. They have special food requirements and you need to prepare it yourself. They are expensive, and because they are nocturnal, they are high energy at night. I know some people say that you have to clip their nails but I don’t know how anyone can do that without missing or crushing the poor 5 oz marsupial. They can live up to 15 years. Man, they are really cute though and I know that the people who can keep them really like them. But for a kid, do something else. They are a great animal to watch on YouTube but I would keep it at that.
Chinchillas are ones I would avoid too. They are soft and cute, but other than that, they’re pretty anticlimactic. Chinchillas are pretty similar to other rodents except that they require way more maintenance. You have to make sure that they are always in cool conditions. Originally from the mountains of Argentina, they have 60 hairs per follicle, we only have one or two. I have been to the Andes mountains and trust me, they need it.
Chinchillas also need to have “dust baths.” You need to give them a box of dust (bought online) 3 times a week so that they can roll around in it. As a way to slip away from predators, they can release their hair in big clumps if they are not handled correctly or scared. This is the mammal equivalent of dropping your tail and growing it back later. So, you are stuck with a dusty shedding mess if they freak out on you. They too are nocturnal and are very energetic at night, and will do this for ten long years (up to 20). You need to make sure that they have a cage that is minimum of 4’x4’x3’. They need lots of room for all of that night-time energy.
Tea-cup, micro or mini pig. First of all, there seems to be a myth that these things are super small. Any pig under 300lbs can be sold as a mini pig. The smallest you will likely find will grow to be about 70lbs. Technically, 45lbs is the minimum healthy weight but they are not common. They tend to bite if they want something and will bully your kids around and try to assert their dominance over them.
Stay away from ferrets. People who love them, love them. They have some really good qualities for sure and are super entertaining if you put in the work. But I just don’t see them as good pets for kids. They require a lot of maintenance. Because they are part of the weasel family, they are well known for stealing anything that catches their eye. They will bite if you don’t handle them just right and I promise that a little kid will not handle them properly. Ferrets are curios little suckers and escape artists. This means if they see something, they will find a way to get out and go get it. This includes just wanting to go through an open door. And I promise you, it will be very hard to get them back They also really stink! Because they aren’t rodents, they don’t have that easy to clean rodent droppings. You need to purchase a litter box to go in their cage and they can miss. Did I mention that they stink? They can stink up a room so badly, it makes it hard for me to go inside.
You also need to remember that farm animals are called farm animals for a reason. There is no reason to put a farm animal in a residential area. The same goes for wild animals, keep them in the wild. I know that every now and again you will come across a deer that someone has, racoon or even a fox. But 99% of the time, that stuff doesn’t work out. Foxes are finally becoming a bit domesticated by some breeders, but they have only been domesticated for about 7 generations. There is still a lot of wild in them. Finding one of those wild animals that somehow makes it on the news is for one reason, it’s news worthy. It’s like getting an Einstein or Elon Musk as a kid – yeah, someone will get it but it won’t be you.
Now for the maybes: rodents and reptiles. Because there are so many rodents and reptiles, I obviously can’t go through the list. But they are all different and there is one coming up that is great. And as you may remember, there is one on the list that I don’t recommend (chinchillas). I don’t know if either of the studies I sited included rodents or other pets that are hard to bond with.
Both of my brothers had hamsters growing up and I never understood why. But if it is your thing, go for it. Besides the upcoming rodent on the list of suggested pets, they are a bit hard to bond with, especially for a kid. They generally don’t cuddle, they just kind of do their rodent thing, and would much rather stuff their cheeks with bedding than be held by you.
There is a little bit of an exception for guinea pigs and bunnies. They can be a bit cuddlier and some will follow you around. I have had terrible luck with bunnies. I have had two and both were very mean. They bit and kicked constantly but I have seen people have great success with them.
Reptiles are pretty much the same as rodents. They will lay down on you for your heat, but I don’t think that there is much of a capacity to communicate, bond or even think. But I had an old martial arts instructor that would beg to differ. However, we tend to project our feelings on our animals and I kind of think that because he liked them, he assumed them using him for heat was them liking him.
Finally, what you have all been waiting for; the great pets. Since I have kept you in such suspense, I will tell you the rodent that is an absolutely wonderful pet. Wait for it…RATS. Yes, rats are fantastic pets. They bond easily, love to cuddle and be tickled. They will even laugh. You can teach them tricks and play fetch. They will bring you gifts too. They require the basic rodent needs but nothing specific, difficult or expensive. My cousin had a rat that would even go swimming with him. Domesticated rats from a pet store are clean animals and clean themselves regularly. DO NOT get a wild one.
Cats are great too. I had quite a few cats growing up. They will cuddle, and have been domesticated for thousands of years. Cats are very clean, use a litter box and burry their poop if they go outside; so, there is no concern of stepping in it or cleaning it up. If you are going to get a cat, look into bangles. They have more doglike personalities. But, if you don’t declaw cats, they are pretty moody and may scratch a little one that is bothering them. But they are pretty self-sufficient and it’s totally fine to leave them for a few days as long as they have food, water and a clean litter box. They will also scratch up your furniture if you don’t remove their claws.
People can be a bit hesitant to take out the claws of a cat, but don’t worry. I have had multiple cats and all of the important stuff, they do with their mouth or back claws. They still climb trees, hunt and fight. The only difference is that they don’t scratch you if they are upset and don’t tear up your furniture. They fight and climb with their back paws and although their pray can get away a bit easier, they only use their claws to help pin them down before they bite. But trust me, they will still bring home birds and rodents. However, if your kids are little, any cat will probably avoid them until they stop tugging on its tail.
Fish can be kind of fun for kids and no matter how little they are, they can help feed the fish and clean the tank. Goldfish are very easy to take care of but you need to do a bit of reading about them. You have probably had a goldfish or a friend that had one that only lasted 6 months. But that’s because they didn’t read about them first. They should live 5-10 years but have been known to live up to 20.
Finally, of course, the dog. How could you not want man’s best friend? Most breeds will love and protect everyone in the family, including the baby. I will be doing a post soon about the benefits, breeds and choosing the right kind for your family and lifestyle very soon. They are loving, trainable and the longest domesticated animal.
I hope this helped some people out there. I encourage you to read a lot about whatever animal you intend to get to see if it is a good fit for your lifestyle and family. Whatever you do, don’t buy an animal on impulse. You will likely not be happy with your purchase. But I do hope for you and your childrens’ sake that you strongly consider getting something. It really is very good for them.