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Top 7 Pets for Kids

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If you have kids and have carefully decided that an exotic pet is the right fit (see Are Exotic Pets Good For Kids?), you'll want to choose a pet that is likely to be gentle and easy to handle. Pets for kids should also be able to handle the sometimes noisy and rambunctious nature of kids.

As for any pet, adults must supervise interactions between children and exotic pets, and be prepared to take over primary care of the pet. It's also very important to teach kids to always wash their hands after handling pets of any kind to prevent disease.

1. Guinea Pigs

guinea pigs
Photo © Lianne McLeod
Pros: generally quite tame, easy to handle and rarely bite. They also get to know your routines and become quite responsive, which keeps kids interested. They also tend to be active throughout the day and night, so are more likely to be awake some of the same hours as children.
Cons: though fairly sturdy, they do require gentle handling. Should be kept in pairs and need a large living space, and need to be fed fresh healthy foods to help meet their vitamin C needs.

2. Rats

Ventura, Loki and Ace
Photo © Lianne McLeod
Pros: this often overlooked pet is very social and intelligent. They are generally quite easy to tame and do not bite readily. Larger, less skittish and easier to handle than many other rodents. Though they are nocturnal they tend to adapt a bit to your schedule.
Cons: though easy to handle, they still need a gentle touch. They may also urine mark when wandering about, including on your hands (minor, but might bother kids). They should also be kept in pairs and need a large cage.

3. Hamster (Syrian/Golden)

Peanut - Golden Hamster Picture
Photo © Danielle
Pros: don't require much space and should be kept singly. Hamsters generally get quite tame with patient handling and will interact a bit with kids.
Cons: nocturnal and do not adapt much to your schedule, so they might be very sleepy when kids want to play. Unfortunately, a sleepy hamster seems more inclined to bite in self defense. Note: dwarf hamsters have become increasingly available, although their small size makes them less amenable to handling than Syrian hamsters.

4. Gerbils

Darcy - Gerbil
Photo © Kendyl Reis
Pros: can become quite tame with regular handling. They are social so should be kept in pairs/groups, but even if they are not handled much they like to play and interact so are fun to watch. They are also more active during the day than other rodents (go through several sleep wake cycles over 24 hours rather than sleeping all day or night).
Cons: they can take some patience to tame. Care must also be taken that a child never grabs a gerbil by the tail.

5. Mice

Maisy - Mouse Photo
Photo © 2006 Lianne McLeod
Pros: mice are quite easy to care for and do not need a large home. A group of female mice will usually live together quite happily and be quite entertaining with their play.
Cons: mice are very quick, agile and tend to be skittish, so are more difficult for kids to handle. For most kids, they are better as a "look, don't touch pet." Also most active a night.

6. Leopard Geckos

Leopard Geckos
Photo © Lianne McLeod
Pros: leopard geckos are readily available and among the easiest reptiles to look after properly. They are also quite docile, and can be handled with a gentle touch, and a couple can be kept in a fairly small tank.
Cons: although they don't need a special UV- producing light, they still require a fair investment in tank set up. While they can be held, they are not as responsive as mammalian pets. As with other small pets, good hygiene is essential when handling.

7. Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches

Hissing Cockroaches - Picture
Photo © 2006 Lianne McLeod, Licensed to About.com, Inc.
Pros: I consider these the ultimate in low maintenance pets, which makes them somewhat ideal for kids (if kids get bored with them, there is not a whole lot of work to take over!). They are large enough to be handled and are generally quite docile, yet are completely undemanding of attention.
Cons: they are cockroaches, so definitely not cute and cuddly! Not interactive or responsive like mammals, although they are interesting in their own way.
Related Video
Guinea Pigs as Pets
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