Best Pets for Kids

What kind of pet is right for your family? Read our expert’s top 10 pets for families.

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Cats and Kittens


A cat with a proper temperament can be a wonderful and loving companion for a child. Pick a gentle cat that won't be easily frightened. "Children can learn to feed, groom, and play with their cat and they will often form a mutually loving relationship, especially if children are taught to move tenderly and softly around the cat," says Dr. Mansfield.

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Shelter Dogs


"Proper temperament selection is essential, and certain breed types or mixes are much better with children than others. Your veterinarian or shelter/rescue worker can help you there," explains Dr. Mansfield. A dog can give a lot of affection and makes a tremendous companion, but requires daily work and care. Shared responsibility among family members for the dog's care may help with bonding, but parents should be prepared to be the main caretakers when school or activities interfere.

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Rabbits should be housed indoors as opposed to outside in a hutch. Once socialized, rabbits can be quite affectionate and intelligent. They can be litter-box trained and can learn to play with and respond to their owners. They are sociable creatures and will thrive when cared for as a family member. It is important to learn the proper way to pick up or hold a rabbit so as not to hurt its back. Rabbits can be adopted from shelters and rabbit rescue organizations. They live about seven to nine years.

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Guinea Pigs


Caring for an adorable guinea pig is a fun way for kids to learn to be responsible. Once socialized, guinea pigs are comfortable with their caretakers and reward them with endearing squeals that seem to mean they are happy. If you own more than one guinea pig, make sure they are the same sex so they don't breed and produce more guinea pigs!

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Small, inexpensive fish like a couple of goldfish or a pretty betta can be a lower maintenance pet to care for and observe. Learn how to care for these fish before purchasing them. They require clean aquariums, and they can be particular about their feeding. If you get a betta, make sure you only purchase one. Two betta fish will fight and be injured — another name for them is Siamese fighting fish.

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Gerbils have spunk and can be a lot of fun. They need to be handled gently, and young children should be supervised. Gerbils are more awake during the day than at night. They require bedding, a good cage, an exercise wheel, and special food. Owning two instead of one may be better for the gerbils, but make sure they are the same sex so they do not breed. They live about three to four years.

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Under the right circumstances and with a big enough yard for a coop, chickens can be fun and easy to care for. They have personality and can be handled. Chickens earn their keep by providing fresh eggs and keeping the yard free of ticks and insects. Kids can learn a lot by taking care of chickens.

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Ant Farms


Owning an ant farm can be a wonderful way to learn about nature and the work ethic of these incredible insects. Ant farms make it easy to observe and feed the ants. Encourage your child to keep daily drawings of the trails — it may lead to interesting discoveries!

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Bird Watching


Consider adopting the wildlife bird population in your own backyard. Get good bird feeders and supply the proper food to attract local songbirds, and your family can observe birds in their natural habitat through the window. This will help everyone learn the different types of birds and their preferred foods. Teach your kids how to use binoculars for a closer view without disturbing the birds. They can also learn how to keep an observation log and give individual names to the birds they start recognizing.

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Rats are highly intelligent and social animals. They can be taught to do tricks and can be exercised with interesting and elaborate PVC tubing and exercise wheel. They should be handled gently and will respond to their human caretakers. Young children should be supervised. Adopting two littermates at once is best, but be sure they are of the same sex. Rats will live up to three years.

Michele C. Hollow writes the family-friendly pet blog "Pet News and Views."

Pet News and Views