Ideal Pets For Children
A list of ideal first pets for children, ranked by their sociability, easy maintenance and demeanor around children.
There are few memories more cherished than a beloved childhood pet. No matter if they were furred or finned, four-legged or flippered, our first pets were our best friends when no one else seemed to understand us. They allowed us to dress them up, throw frisbees at them, humiliate them for cheap entertainment, and in return they gave us unconditional loyalty and love. There can be no doubt that the bond between a young child and his or her pet can be nearly unbreakable.
But which pets are suitable for younger, less experienced would-be owners? Not all pets are suited for the experimental ways of a three year old child, and proper maintenance may be a bit 'hit or miss' without parental supervision. Here is a list of 10 pets suited for younger owners, with a few notes on what parents should realize about the care and maintenance of these animals.
1. Cats Why not begin with one of the longest-lasting relationships in history, that of the human and cat? Cats make wonderful pets for younger children because they are highly tolerant of the occasional awkward grab or contorted holds that young children may place on them. Kittens may be adorable, but are still extremely fragile. Parents should either purchase a more mature cat that can withstand the rough treatment of a child, or keep the kittens under close scrutiny until they have reached maturity. Cats should also be declawed to prevent scratches on sensitive young skin. Litter box training or housebreaking is essential. A small child may not understand the true nature of animal feces, and the results can be less than pretty. Children should also be warned about older cats who may bite when their personal space is invaded.
2. Dogs A child's first dog can become the stuff of legend. Dogs make great pets because of their natural bonding with humans and their affinity for children. While small puppies may be somewhat fragile, most dog breeds are hearty enough to interact with children at a very early age. Dogs also tolerate young experimenters very well, allowing children to find new and interesting games to play with their loyal friend. Certain dogs who are bred to be aggressive may pose a threat to a small child, but such occurrances are still rare. If considering a dog for a small child, gauge the pet to the future 'owner'. A rambunctious young boy may take well to a large breed dog, such as a golden retriever or German Shepherd, while a smaller breed may be suitable for a quieter child. Again, housebreaking is essential if small children are present. Feeding a dog is an easy process, but one that must be maintained regularly. A hungry dog can become a ill-tempered dog quickly. Emphasize a dog's need for water, so children won't force a dog to play past the point of dehydration and exhaustion.
3. Fish Perhaps Mother Nature's most popular non-contact pet, but still one that can give a child a sense of responsibility and a respect for another form of life. Saltwater fish may be beautiful, but the maintenance required may be too much for a young tankmaster. Stick with freshwater fish, and make sure you understand the relative sociability of each fish breed you bring home from the pet store. Certain fish are docile enough around smaller cousins, but others react aggressively towards the more defenseless varieties. Ask the pet salesman to explain which fish can safely go into which tank situation. Also, make sure your child knows how to perform all the proper maintenance checks, from changing the water filter to checking the water heater temperature.
4. Birds Birds are good pets for smaller apartments and cramped living quarters. Most breeds are relatively inexpensive, unless you want a large parrot or cockatiel. These birds may be too high-maintenance for a small child, and the risk of accidental mishandling is quite high with inexperienced owners. Keep a few small birds in a well-ventilated cage, with an easily removed bottom tray and easily refilled food bowls. Small birds are extremely susceptible to communicable diseases, so keep contact with sick children to a minimum. Birds also catch colds easily, so avoid drafts or intentional puffs of air blown in their faces by curious children.
5. Guinea pigs These furry creatures have been cherished as household pets for a very long time. Because of their non-aggressive nature and social adaptability, they make ideal first pets for young children. Although they are most comfortable around other guinea pigs, they will also adapt readily to the confines of a cage, if space in the home is at a premium. Since a guinea pig comes in a variety of color schemes and fur textures, your child may enjoy the selection process at the pet store as well. Some diligence is required with replacing the bedding and maintaining the food bowl, but guinea pigs are otherwise very self-contained. They are a little heartier than the smaller cage animals (hamsters, gerbils, mice) and not quite as likely to run away from their owner's grasp. However, guinea pigs do not take well to other aggressive animals, primarily cats and dogs. If raised together from birth, then guineas may lose their natural fear of a dog, but cats are rarely tolerated well. Guinea pigs are prone to stress-related problems if their environment is too frenetic.
6. Hamsters Perhaps the very definition of a child's pet, a hamster can provide many hours of entertainment for young owners. Hamsters tend to do better in a crowd, so you may have to consider getting at least two hamsters for your child. Large aquarium tanks provide adequate shelter and protection, although any other small animal cage will suffice if you are concerned about breakage. Make sure you have a good supply of fresh bedding, and have instructed your child on the importance of a clean animal bed. You may allow the child to add the appropriate amount of fresh bedding, then perform the weekly clean-out yourself. Hamsters also enjoy a good exercise wheel or ball, so either one of those items would be a good investment. Hamsters who become sick or overstressed may bite, so be prepared for the occasional broken skin and slight bleeding your child might experience. Hamsters enjoy being handled by the smallest of hands, and have an amazing ability to become comfortable in the strangest positions and hiding places.
7. Gerbils Gerbils and hamsters are sometimes placed in the same category of small caged animals, but they do have some fundamental differences. Gerbils have long tails, which allows them to be picked up by careful owners. Children should be taught to pick up gerbils near the BASE of the tail, not near the more delicate end. Gerbils also tend to thrive in packs, so it may be advisable to buy more than one at a time. Unlike hamsters, which tend to sit placidly in an owner's grasp, gerbils are more frenetic and prefer to explore their environment. They enjoy a good exercise wheel, and also enjoy crawling into dark crevices- sofa cushions, backs of appliances, pant legs, etc. Supervision and damage control efforts are essential. Encourage your child to play with a gerbil in a room free of excess power cords, heavy furniture with gaping holes and quick exits to the outside world.
8. Mice Very similar premise to owning hamsters and gerbils, with an added twist- rampant reproduction. Domesticated mice are not expensive to obtain and are relatively docile, but they will breed you out of house and home if not careful. If you are fully prepared for a large family of mice living in your home, then start your child off with a mating pair and be prepared to answer a few questions. If you do not want a litter of new mice every few weeks, then either get a single mouse or two female mice from the same litter. Mice may be a little more aggressive with their biting habits, but should become much more owner-friendly after a period of adjustment.
9. Rabbits Much like guinea pig ownership, but with a little more maintenance. Rabbits function best with other rabbits, and tend to need more room than a similar sized guinea pig. You might consider constructing an outside rabbit hutch, or at least an penned area for exercise purposes. Rabbits are very docile, and can withstand some fairly rough handling by a new owner. They are vegetarians, so they rarely develop a taste for owner finger. However, they do leave a substantial amount of feces throughout the day, and cleanup is a daily concern. Children may enjoy rabbits as playmates, but the main caretaker should probably be a responsible adult.
10. Turtles Great introduction to the reptilian pet world, without the stigma sometimes ascribed to snakes and iguanas by non-owners. Turtles can be kept in small terrariums or fishtanks, and are very self-sufficient. A small child can safely pick a turtle up by its shell without fear of biting or scratching. As long as parents establish firm ground rules on the proper handling of a turtle, children should have few problems enjoying their exotic new pet. Maintenance is fairly easy, albeit a little messy, and turtle food is obtainable at any good pet store.