Pets bring so much joy to our lives and growing up with one can create treasured memories for children. But they’re also a big commitment — an animal is no living toy! If you’re thinking about adding a pet to your family to teach your young ones responsibility, you’re probably wondering whether certain critters are better for kids than others. The answer is: it depends. There are many factors to consider, such as age and personality of your children, the size of your home, and the availability of adults to help take care of the new family member. With that in mind, StudyFinds researched which animals make the best first pets for kids.
Family pets not only teach children responsibility; they have other wholesome effects as well. An Australian study found that a pet dog, for instance, may improve the social and emotional well-being of children. The study concludes that young children living with at least one dog at home display far stronger emotional and social development than kids with no pups at home. And according to a Japanese study, having a family cat or dog protects young children against food allergies. Specifically, children exposed to dogs were less likely to experience egg, milk, and nut allergies. Cases of egg, wheat, and soybean allergies dropped among their peers who lived with a cat.
And don’t be surprised if your offspring ends up preferring their pet to their human siblings. The authors of a British study found that children experienced “more satisfaction and less conflict with their pets than with their siblings.” “Anyone who has loved a childhood pet knows that we turn to them for companionship and disclosure, just like relationships between people,” said lead author Matt Cassells of the University of Cambridge, UK, while co-author Dr. Nancy Gee added: “Evidence continues to grow showing that pets have positive benefits on human health and community cohesion.”
To help you find an animal that’s the right fit for your family, StudyFinds compared pet reviews from ten expert websites. We then created our top five list of the best first pets for kids based on the results. Do you have any critters you’d like to recommend? Please let us know in the comments.
The List: Best First Pets for Kids, According to Experts
1. Guinea Pig
There’s a clear number one among the experts: Ten out of ten recommend the guinea pig as a pet for children. These friendly squeakers are kid-safe and not too much work for their young owners (or their parents). “Guinea pigs can be excellent pets for young kids. They tend to be naturally friendly and social, and their size makes them easier for littler kids to pick up and interact with than smaller pets like hamsters and gerbils,” writes PawTracks. And unlike nocturnal hamsters, guinea pigs are active during the daytime, ready to play! Just make sure your kid handles them gently.
“Guinea pigs are easy to tame, easy to handle and rarely bite,” knows Pet Sitters International. Sounds like a good companion for your child or children. However, no matter how many kids you have, you’ll need to get more than one “pig.” “Guinea pigs are social creatures […]. They are happiest when in pairs.”
Pets Pyjamas adds a little background info about the friendly critter to their recommendation: “A descendant of the wild guinea pigs of South America, these cute little animals make the ideal low-maintenance pet for kids.” They also mention two things to keep in mind: “If your pair are of the opposite sex, it’s a good idea to get the male neutered – otherwise you going to have quite a crowd on your hand.” Also, “guinea pigs live for around 4-8 years on average, so make sure your children are ready for the commitment.”
Cats (along with dogs) are a popular choice for a pet and it’s therefore no surprise that they rank highly on this list. “Searching for the purr-fect companion?” asks Today’s Parent. “In contrast to other popular pets, cats are rather low maintenance […] They’re fun to play with, but they also don’t mind being alone.” Another advantage: “You don’t have to walk them, so you’ll be spared any empty promises from your kids. What’s more, a cat’s stay-at-home nature makes it less susceptible to outside harm and injury” — and your wallet less susceptible to “sky-high” vet bills.
A fragile kitten might however not be a great choice for very young children, who have a difficult time being gentle enough. Adopting an adult cat is probably a better option, given they have a patient disposition. “Cats can be good pets with young kids, but it’s important to find a cat who has the right temperament to be calm and happy around children. A cat who is laid-back and social will often be the best option for a home with young kids, but it’s also important to supervise kids and teach them about the cat’s boundaries,” explains PawTracks.
While a cat bite is not as serious an injury as a dog bite, like with any animal, parents need to teach their children how to safely handle a cat, states Care.com. “Cats can bite or scratch when they’re not enjoying certain situations, so it’s a good idea to give your child a crash course in ‘kitty etiquette.’ Teach them that not every cat likes to be held, pet or snuggled and that their quirks are what so many cat lovers grow to love.”
Of course man’s best friend is also a great companion for youngsters! But unlike cats, they can severely injure a small child, even if they don’t mean to. Not all types of dogs are therefore suitable for households with small children. “If you have your heart set on a dog, it’s best to remember that all breeds come with a different disposition,” cautions Today’s Parent. Their expert “McClelland notes that golden retrievers and labs (or lab crosses) tend to be great with children. ‘Goldies and lab crosses make excellent domestic pets,’ says McClelland. ‘They all have really wonderful temperaments and are pleasant with kids and other animals.’”
Are Goldens or Labs too big (or too active) for your family? “If you think a small dog would totally suit a small child, think again,” writes Care.com. Small kids and small dogs are actually not a good match. “Young children tend to think small dogs enjoy being picked up, carried, hugged, dressed up, etc. Children need to learn that dogs should not be treated like a toy or stuffed animal.”
“Before adopting a dog, ensure that the dog is well-socialized and comfortable around children,” advises Healthline. And keep in mind that “any breed will need a significant commitment of time and effort. Puppies must be housebroken and require daily exercise, regular veterinary checkups and immunizations, and plenty of love.”
If your kids are okay with not being able to cuddle their pet, (freshwater) fish are a great low-maintenance option. According to PawTracks, “fish are perhaps the best pet for toddlers and young kids. Kids can watch and feed their fish, and fish are relatively easy to care for. Because fish aren’t handled and played with like other pets, they can be perfect for young kids who are still learning how to interact with pets gently.”
If the phrase “low-maintenance” piqued your interest, be sure to opt for freshwater fish, Mommy Poppins recommends. “Freshwater aquariums tend to be much easier to maintain than saltwater aquariums, so new fish owners should probably opt for freshwater species. Even though fish require much less space than pretty much any mammalian pet, they still need room to swim! Be sure to get an appropriately sized tank for your fishy friends.”
Today’s Parent‘s “fish-pick is the betta: “While you may be drawn to the classic goldfish as a beginner pet, Calgary-based veterinarian Wendy McClelland advises against it. They require more space than many other fish, frequent water changes and regular filter cleaning. These responsibilities tend to fall less on the kids and more on the parents. McClelland recommends betta fish, as they require the least maintenance.” Per McClelland, bettas are “inexpensive and they don’t need any filters, chemicals or aeration in an aquarium.”
Fluffier than fish, but not for cuddles by small hands: Birds are fun but fragile and parents have to teach their children not to grab them. Then, “a bird can liven up a household and provide plenty of entertainment for young kids. Birds are available in many different sizes, so this type of pet may be a good fit no matter what size your home. Many birds have longer life spans, allowing your child to share many years with this type of pet,” writes PawTracks. Please note that most birds do better in pairs.
“If your kids are looking for an animal to bond with and care for, a bird could be the right match. They’re not necessarily as high-maintenance as dogs or cats, but birds still have big personalities and activity time,” according to Women’s Day. Because this species is highly intelligent, “it’s not only important to feed them properly, but give them an enriched environment by understanding their needs, which can mean human interaction, time outside of the cage, talking to them, and more.”
As for what kind of birds to get, Healthline states that “the relatively inexpensive parakeet may be a good starter for kids who haven’t raised birds before. More expensive (and more intelligent) birds like cockatiels and cockatoos also make great pets, but they may need more attention than parakeets or canaries.”
You might also like:
- Best Dog Breeds for Families
- Best Hypoallergenic Cat Breeds
- Best Hypoallergenic Dog Breeds
- Best Pet Insurance
- Today’s Parent
- Mommy Poppins
- Pets Pyjamas
- Woman’s Day
- Pet Sitters International
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This post may contain affiliate links.