How do you choose the best pets for kids or your family? In this article, we’ll share our experiences and a list of 8 easy pets for kids and families. We’ll give you a realistic view of the cost to purchase and keep a pet. We’ll also talk about the time committment required for each one.
Pet ownership in America is huge: approximately 70 million dogs and 80 million cats. Of this number, about 7.6 million of these pets find their way to one of 13,600 community-based animal shelters each year, surrendered by their owners or lost as strays. Owning and caring for a pet is an important part of family life, and it should be a happy part. In this article, we want to help you evaluate and select the right kind of pet for your family so that you and the pet can enjoy a happy life together.
Pets for Kids Will Not Teach Responsibility
Pets are a great addition to a family. Experience with pets can help kids practice compassion and consistent care. But pets should never, ever be used to teach a child responsibility. It’s simply not fair to the pet. Teaching your child to do chores will teach them a strong work ethic and some responsibility skills.
If you have children who want a pet, please don’t buy one for them expecting that they will be fully responsible for it. Some children may well be nurturing and gentle enough, and also mature and responsible enough, to truly love and play with a pet. But it is unrealistic to expect most children to be fully responsible for feeding, exercising, and cleaning. And to have enough experience to organize their schedule for pet care and to know when something is wrong with a pet, will require that mom or dad stay involved in the pet care too.
If your child or children really want a pet, please approach this with great amounts of evaluation and introspection. Why?
Why You Should Get a Pet for Kids
Parents should get a pet for their family because they have enough time, patience, and money to care for the animal. Over time, your kids can take on some of the tasks related to pet care and spend their money on pet toys or treats. But ultimately the responsibility falls on the parent’s shoulders. So before you make any decision about adding a living creature to your household, please consider the costs. There are financial, physical and emotional investments needed and required.
All this being said, we have absolutely loved having pets for our kids to interact with. Annette has always been very involved with keeping track of what’s going on, to make sure that our pets are well cared for, physically and emotionally.
A Possible Pet Progression of Different Choices
If your child is ready to help care for a pet, we’re proposing a progression from those that are less expensive and easier to care for, to those that take more time and money.
These are various pets that we’ve had. We’ve written this as a guide to help determine what type of pet is right for your family:
Fish and Reptiles
We did have goldfish for a while, but our kids eventually became bored with them. Kids can feed fish with supervision, but cleaning the bowl or tank takes adult involvement until the kids reach the ten or above. Most fish do not qualify as very exciting pets for kids.
The cost for fish varies greatly. The material costs range from an inexpensive fishbowl to a uber expensive custom saltwater aquarium. Guppies, Goldfish, and Tetras are “entry level” fish that don’t cost a lot. But if you move up to the more exotic and saltwater fish, your investment will skyrocket.
Then there’s the time commitment. Feeding is a chore the kids can do (with supervision), but maintaining the tank – keeping it clean and monitoring the water condition is going to require parental involvement.
We raised three-toed box turtles in an enclosed atrium in the middle of our house for more than 20 years. They are wonderfully low maintenance.
The kids would help make up a special food mixture every week. This mixture of dry dog food or cat food and fresh chopped vegetables would put it out a couple of times each week. Of course, when the turtles were hibernating in winter, no food was needed. The kids loved hunting for newly hatched babies once a year. When these were sold, that money was put toward our vacation fund.
When our youngest daughter got married a couple of years ago, we decided to sell off our breeding family of turtles to simplify our lives. It was definitely a sad day and the end of an era.
In 20 years we only took our turtles to the Vet once. We did join a turtle and tortoise society to learn about proper care, had acquired many books and even did internet research. We learned so much about turtles because they lived in the atrium in the middle of our house. And often we knew just as much, if not more, than some internet sources.
BIRDS We had parakeets for a while and they would chatter anytime we were near. They required daily checks for food and water and cleaning their cage every few weeks. The kids couldn’t interact much with them, so we sold them at a garage sale. We have friends who have an African Grey parrot and love to talk to their bird. Feed is inexpensive.
Parakeets and finches are relatively inexpensive birds, but if you have a child who wants a parrot, be ready to shell out $1000 or more. Parrots live for 40 to 60 years, so this is not a short-term commitment.
The cost for food for most birds is negligible.
MICE We had these for a while too. It’s a long story, but we’d never do it again. It might work for some families, but not for ours. They don’t require much more than food, water, and a clean cage (escape proof is always a good idea). Feed is inexpensive.
These furry little critters require regular food and water monitoring and cleaning the cage every few weeks. Our kids loved holding and playing with them. They’d build Lego or Lincoln Log forts for the hamsters to play in or let them run around the house in a plastic rolling exercise ball.
The hamsters broke out of their metal-barred cages regularly until we used metal twisty-ties to lock the cage doors. By the way, we did try those colored plastic tube cages. They look beautiful, but they are a nightmare to keep clean. Feed is relatively inexpensive.
The Teddy-Bear hamsters we owned live about 2 years. We think these rodents are one of the best pets for kids out there.
RATS A family friend of ours had a rat and loved it. We were told it was incredibly intelligent and very docile—maybe for some families, but not for ours.
CATS Steve is allergic to cats, so we haven’t had one, but they can be very independent and kids love interacting with them. Count on vet costs, food, water, and litter. Don’t expect your kids to be thrilled about cleaning the litter box.
Annette grew up with German Shepherds and we’ve had many sets of them. They are large dogs and require an experienced handler. If you have never owned a dog before, we do not recommend starting with this one. If you really like the idea of a German Shepherd but have no experience, try volunteering at a German Shepherd rescue group to become familiar with this breed of dog. Every large city has one or more rescue groups for each breed of dog. These rescue groups do a marvelous work for society.
If you are just starting out with owning dogs, pick one that is in the 25-40 pound range and perhaps the Terrier family. Whatever you choose, do your research first. The library is full of dog books with descriptions of breeds and wonderful “confirmation” pictures so you know what each breed looks like.
German Shepherds have been great pets for our family, but they do require a large amount of family involvement. Our kids have worked on exercising and training them, and we all scoop doggie doo. For our family, kids and dogs work well together.
Food and vet care are definitely something to calculate into your budget. To this day, we have a separate category for Pet Care in our budget and set aside a little money with each paycheck for this budget category.
Buying Supplies and Equipment Cheaper
Pets for kids will require purchasing supplies. When buying pet equipment: check thrift stores, Craigslist.org, garage sales, feed stores, online source and discount retailers. When buying pets, we search for rescue groups, visit the pound, and check the classified ads, or Craigslist.
Pets for kids can enrich your family’s life and teach your children many things. Just be sure you have the time, space, budget, and temperament to care for them well.
If you want to read some awesome tips for saving on cats and dogs, check out this super page.
If you’re looking for inexpensive pet toys, check out this super page.
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