Over the years a lot of readers have asked me, “What are good pets for kids?” The answer, like all things, depends on the kid in question. But it also depends a good deal on what you want your kid to get out of the whole experience.
If companionship is all you think your child needs, then dogs will always top the list. Puppies are always fun, but beware of the amount of care and attention they require while growing up. Older shelter dogs make fantastic additions to households with children, since they are generally calmer, gentler, and often come with some amount of training already.
If responsibility is the lesson of the day, a dog may not be the best first pet, even a more mature one. Fish are a popular choice, since the day to day requirements are minimal, yet essential. Kids can learn to feed them at regular times, not too much and not too little, while tank cleanings and maintenance can be handled primarily by adults (maybe assisted by little hands).
But why settle for the usual suspects? Some of the very best small pets for kids are ones you might never have dreamed of. Rats, for instance, might make you cringe upon first consideration, but pet store rats (also called fancy rats) make absolutely fabulous pets. They groom themselves, rarely bite, and are very intelligent and loyal.
Not freaked out enough by rats? How about snakes, then? Corn snakes are a hugely popular breed to keep as pets. They are non venomous, friendly, and surprisingly low maintenance. All they need is a constant temperature, some water, a ridiculously escape proof enclosure (they are masters of the jailbreak), and a mouse a week. Corn snakes rarely grow longer then five feet, with many of them hovering comfortably around the four foot range.
What about ant farms? Or hermit crabs? Birds? Geckos? Tarantulas? All of these pets and more can be great first pets for kids, but no matter what you decide on, do your research. Every pet has different needs, different activity levels, and different compatibility issues with people and other pets. Learn all you can before you bring anything home, both for your benefit and the benefit of your pet.
What are good pets for kids? The ones they learn to care for, respect, and love. Start with that in mind, and the rest is easy.