Menu

Best Pets for Kids

Reviewed by Vanessa Farner, DVM on June 29, 2021

Pets can play an important role in improving health, including for your kids. Owning a pet for the first time can be an exciting part of growing up. Pets can serve many purposes in your child’s life, like helping them process emotions. Owning a pet can also help kids practice caring for others, having patience, and feeling empathy.  

Having an open conversation about the right pet for your child is key. By setting honest expectations upfront and helping them along the way, you can help make pet ownership an enjoyable experience for your child. 

Choosing a Pet

Choosing the right pet will help you and your child have a positive pet ownership experience. These eight pets are known for being kid-friendly.

Dogs. Dogs are well known as classic family pets. Dogs are highly trainable, and children can benefit from the training process, too. Parents can help kids learn to set routines for feeding the dog, taking them out for bathroom breaks, and exercising.

Playing with dogs is a great way for kids to keep active, and dogs can help children learn about compassion and socialization, too. Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, beagles, and collies are all popular choices for family dogs. Young children may need supervision, especially with large dogs. Dogs’ lifespans vary, with small dogs living longer than very large dogs. Dogs are a long-term commitment, with an average age of about 11 years.

Cats. Cats are another popular family pet, known for their relative ease of care. Learning to feed and groom cats and clean their litter box can help teach kids responsible pet ownership. Cats are soft and often low-energy and can be good companions for smaller children. Having a furry pet in the home may even boost kids’ immune systems, making them less likely to develop allergies as they grow. Cats live about 15 years, or sometimes longer, which makes them a long-term commitment.

Hamsters. Hamsters are a common pet for kids because they are easy to take care of. They may bite occasionally, so keep an eye on them with smaller children. Larger breed hamsters like Syrian hamsters are less aggressive. Hamsters typically live for about three years. 

Rabbits. Rabbits are popular pets for young children. They’re very soft and cute, and they’re fairly calm and easy-going — and less likely to nip or bite — compared to some other small pets. Your child will need adult supervision when caring for these animals to make sure no one plays too aggressively. Having rabbits spayed and neutered can help limit aggression, especially if you have two or more rabbits together. They can live eight to 12 years and require an easy diet of rabbit pellets, grass hay, and vegetables. 

Hedgehogs. Hedgehogs can be fun pets for your kid. If handled while young, hedgehogs can learn to be social with your child. They are more prone to health problems than some other pets, but they have a lifespan of about five to seven years. Not all states allow owning a hedgehog, so check your local guidelines to be sure this pet is an option for you.

Bearded Dragons. Bearded dragons are great for older kids. They are hardy creatures and are good for kids because they don’t bite. They typically live for five to eight years but can live up to 10 years with proper care. The housing needs of a bearded dragon are a bit complex, because they need special temperatures and access to water, but your older child can take an active role in maintaining their aquarium and feeding them. 

Rats. Rats are very loving and can bond well with their owners. Rats are great for children over the age of eight. Rats love interacting with their owners and live for about three years. Rats will need a balance of exercise and diet, because they aren’t good at regulating their own food intake, which could cause obesity and health issues. Rats are trainable and like doing tricks, so teaching them to play is a great way to be sure they get enough exercise.

Corn snakes. Corn snakes are great pets for more adventurous older children and parents. They are easy to handle and relatively low-maintenance. They do need freshly deceased or frozen rodents as food, which makes them more suitable for older children. They live to be about five to 10 years and will need a special temperature-controlled environment.

Lifestyle Considerations

Caring for a small animal can be a big responsibility. When choosing a pet for your child, make sure you will be able to help them when needed. 

Is your child interested? Finding a pet that your child wants to play with and take care of will make pet ownership feel less like a chore and more like a privilege. It’s okay for you to need to step in occasionally, but pets can be a great way to teach your child responsibility. 

How old is your child? Choose a pet that is easy for your child to take care of but is still fun and holds their interest. Also, make sure your child is old enough to use safety precautions. Some small animals can carry bacteria or viruses like Salmonella and require proper cleaning and handling. 

Can you help them? Owning a pet is a great way for kids to learn responsibility. A pet can hold your child accountable. But your child will need some help at times, such as when they’re away at a sleepover or simply forget to feed the animal. Keeping an eye on the situation will help you teach your child how to care for animals and ensure your pet stays safe. When choosing the right pet for your family, be sure to choose one that fits your child’s interests and you’re prepared to help teach them to care for.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: “Pets and Children.”

American Humane: “Benefits of Cats for Children.”

American Kennel Club: “10 Best Family Dogs.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Small Mammals.”

Children’s MD: “A kid’s best friend: 5 reasons why dogs are good for kids.”

PetMD: “How Long Do Dogs Live?”

Michigan Health: “Is Your Child Ready for a Pet? 6 Questions to Ask.”

Parents: “6 Best Small Pets to Consider for Your Child.”

PetMD: “These Are the Best Pets for Kids at Each Age.”

The Spruce Pets: “The Average Cat Lifespan.”

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info