Best Small Pets for Families

Pets of all shapes and sizes teach children about responsibility. Even the tiniest pet needs food, attention, and proper care. Families who are too busy to care for a cat or a dog might find one of these lower-maintenance pets a great addition to the family.

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Rabbits are affectionate and intelligent, and they can even be litter-box trained. "Socialized rabbits — ones from a rabbit rescue — make great pets," says Monica Mansfield, DVM, at Medway Animal Hospital in Medway, Massachusetts. They should be kept indoors, as opposed to outside in a hutch. Rabbits can live up to nine years.

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Guinea Pigs


If you own more than one, make sure they are the same sex, otherwise they will breed and you will have several in your care. Guinea pigs can weigh up to three pounds. They come in several colors and patterns, and they can have either long or short hair. They eat commercial pellets, prairie hay, fresh vegetables, and water. Guinea pigs can live up to 10 years.

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Betta Fish


It is important to note that you should only get one betta at a time. Bettas — also known as Siamese fighting fish — don't play nicely together, and pairing them can lead to serious fights and injuries. These fish are loved for their colorful scales, and they are easy to manage. All you need is a clean tank and fish food. The water should be around 78 degrees F. They can live up to three years.

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Gerbils need to be handled gently, so they make good pets for older children. While other rodents (such as hamsters) are nocturnal, gerbils are awake during the day, which makes them ideal to play with. If you purchase more than one gerbil, make sure they are of the same sex. Otherwise you'll have lots of babies to tend to. Gerbils can live up to four years.

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If you live on a farm or in a rural area, chickens make great pets. Some small towns and even some cities are now allowing people to own chickens, too. Check with your town officials to make sure it's okay before you purchase any. Chickens need a fair amount of yard space and shelter. They lay eggs and will keep your yard free of ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects. Plus, they have distinctive personalities and — drum roll! — are the closest living relative of the tyrannosaurus rex. Well cared for chickens can live up to 15 years.

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Also known as budgies, these birds can live up to nine years. Other types of birds, such as parrots and African grays, can live up to 80 years, which is a lifetime commitment. Parakeets grow to about eight inches in length. They are incredibly friendly birds that attach themselves to their human families. They can be delicate, which makes them a good pet for an older child. They need a diet of seeds, extruded pellets, fruits, and vegetables. They also need a good amount of exercise outside of their cage. Their cages should be large as well, with enough space for them to comfortably move about. Many parakeets have been taught to sing, whistle, and say a few words.

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If the hairless tail doesn't bother you, rats make great pets because of their intelligence. Children can handle them and teach them how to do some tricks such as come when called, fetch, stand, twirl, and run an obstacle course. Rats can live up to three years. Adopting two littermates at once is best, but be sure they're the same sex.

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These furry, big-eyed rodents are soft to touch. Their front legs are a lot shorter than their back legs. Chinchillas are delicate and should be handled with care, so they're best for kids over age 10. They eat commercial pellets and require fresh water, a clean cage, and a room temperature kept around 70 degrees F.

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If you think these critters are merely cute, read on. They are incredibly smart, too. Owners of mice believe that mice are smarter than rats, but that is debatable. Mice are easy to care for and can live almost three years. And you can train them the same way you'd train a rat!

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Miniature Horses


Okay, they are tiny in the world of horses — reaching up to 34 inches in height. Miniatures are not meant for riding, but they can teach a child how to care for animals. Miniatures can learn how to run obstacle courses, need a fair amount of exercise, and can live up to 30 years.

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

Pet News and Views