Choosing Your Child’s First Pet

Having a pet gives children the opportunity to learn about responsibility and other life lessons. As parents, we want our children to have these valuable experiences, but we also know that caring for a pet is a big responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Here are the most important things to consider when choosing your child’s first pet.

First, consider the needs of the pet and your child’s ability to provide for those needs. Some pets are incredibly social, while others, like reptiles and fish, will mainly just be fun to look at. Some small pets like guinea pigs are very active during the day, while others, like hamsters, are nocturnal. And, of course, the diet and exercise requirements will vary significantly from one species to another, so you’ll need to research that as well.

Housing requirements will also vary for each pet type. Some will need a UV light and supplemental heat, while others do fine as long as they’re kept out of drafts. Some aquatic pets, like turtles, can be carriers of Salmonella, so they’re not recommended for children at all.

Although your goal will be to have your child be the new pet’s primary caregiver, you should be realistic about how much of the responsibility will actually fall on your shoulders. At a minimum, you will need to supervise the animal’s care to ensure that it stays healthy and all its needs are met. So, when you are considering your options, you should also consider how much time you can personally commit as well.

Small Animals

Small animals like ferrets, hamsters, guinea pigs, rats, and rabbits often make a good first pet for kids. They are usually relatively easy to care for and don’t require a lot of space. They’re also cute, active, social and friendly. Of all the small pets, guinea pigs are the top choice for kids because they’re the most active during the day, they don’t get sick often, and they have sweet temperaments. Rabbits are also adorable, but they also require more maintenance than other small pets, so that’s something to consider.

Reptiles and Crustaceans

Reptiles and crustaceans make for interesting pets that don’t occupy a lot of space, but they also tend to be more fragile than other pets. They usually require humid environments with special UV lights, supplemental heat, and most of them are nocturnal. On the other hand, they’re not as messy, and they don’t need much in the way of attention or exercise.


Freshwater fish are relatively easy to care for. Watching fish swim in a tank has been shown to be calming and soothing. You’ll have to help your child do a partial water change every couple of weeks, but other than that your child should be able to handle the minimal feeding requirements needed to keep the fish healthy and happy.

Of course, your child’s first pet could be a dog or cat, as well. But, if your child is very young, the bulk of the responsibility will probably fall on mom or dad. Be sure to talk openly with your child before you get them a pet to make sure they understand the responsibility. Never surprise a child with a pet as a gift; they should always be thoroughly on board and educated about the care and responsibilities first.