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Are Exotic Pets Good for Kids?

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Ventura, Loki and Ace - Our Family's Pet Rats

Ventura, Loki and Ace

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Question: Are Exotic Pets Good for Kids?
Many parents consider getting exotic pets such as rabbits, hamsters, guinea pig, lizards, and turtles for their kids. But are exotic pets a good choice for children?
Answer: The short answer: it depends. While there are definitely benefits to pet ownership for kids, parents of younger kids (e.g. preschoolers) may want to think twice about getting an exotic pet for their kids, simply because it may be hard to find a pet that is a good match for young kids. Even with older kids, it can be a challenge to find the right kind of pet. Whether an exotic pet of any sort is a good choice as a pet for your kids depends on several things:
  • maturity level of the children
  • the type of exotic pet
  • expectations for interacting with the pet
  • how much parents are willing to take on for basic care and supervision
  • concerns over diseases

Handling Pets can be a Challenge for Young Kids
Young kids tend to want to hold pets, and a lot of pets will resist this -- and unfortunately they sometimes bite or scratch in an attempt to get away. Young kids may also accidentally hurt small pets with inadvertent rough handling; preschoolers may not have the fine motor skills needed to handle small squirmy animals. And of course, any child needs to be supervised when handling any sort of pet.

Choosing Exotic Pets for Kids
There are some pets that are good for kids, and some that are not as suitable. Rabbits, for example, are often considered kids' pets, but they often do not like to be held and can kick and scratch in protest. My picks for the best pets for kids can be found in 7 Exotic Pets for Kids, but even these may not be good choices for very young kids.

Expectations for the Pet
Whenever a pet is chosen, it is important to make sure the pet is likely to match up with your expectations, and this is a very important with kids. Do you want a pet to cuddle? Or a pet to simply watch and observe? If you are looking for a pet to handle, consider if your kids may be frustrated if it takes some time to tame your pet.

Expectations for Care
Find out what care a potential pet is going to need, and be sure you can meet their needs over their lifespan. As parents, be prepared to take responsibility for the primary care needs of the pet, especially for younger kids. Even for older kids, you may need to check in daily on pet care tasks. Also think ahead: for pets with longer lifespans, parents may also end up as primary caretaker for pets as kids move away for college or jobs.

Disease Concerns
Exotic pets, like any pet, can carry diseases transmissible to humans. Because young kids have developing immune systems and a tendency to put their hands in their mouths often, they are more susceptible to picking up germs from exotic pets. Good hygiene practices generally prevent diseases from pets, but are harder to manage with very young kids. You might want to consult with your pediatrician to discuss the risks (the American Academy of Pediatrics has made a recommendation that families with children under 5 avoid reptiles, amphibians, chicks and ducklings, rodents and ferrets).

Basic Rules for Pets and Children
Ultimately, the decision to get an exotic pet is up to each family. No matter what pet you choose, there are some basic rules for keeping kids and pets safe:

  • children should always be supervised when interacting with pets
  • hands should always be washed well after handling pets (or their equipment) - parents should help or supervise children under 6
  • do not kiss pets
  • make sure kids do not put their hands in their mouths after handling pets
  • keep pets away from food preparation and eating areas
  • keep pets healthy
  • keep cages clean
  • do not bring wild animals home as pets

Recommended Reading

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