23 answers

Great Pet for Small Kids?

My kids are 5 and 3, and we're itching to add a pet to our family. We have a small townhouse with hardwood floors, and our kids share a room. Our landlord won't allow us to get a cat or a dog, and I'm not interested in getting fish. We were looking at hamsters, mice, rats, and guinea pigs at the pet store this weekend, and I'm hoping for some experienced wisdom from other moms with small kids. Personally, I had hamsters and gerbils when I was a kid, and I loved them. But my kids seem really interested in the guinea pig, which to be honest, freaks me out a little, though I don't know why. In your experience, is one friendlier than the other? Bite less? Easier to care for? Smell? Did you find that kids this young aren't "ready" for a pet? I'd love to hear stories! Thanks in advance, ladies!

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What you really should be asking/thinking is "what pet am I o.k taking care of when the kids lose interest in it" which they will.....
I'm not being ugly, you just need to consider this because you will walk by the food dish a MILLION times and it will be empty and YOU will fill it up :)

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Guinea pigs make great pets usually. They are mellow and like to be petted. Rats are nice too but they are SO smart and really need companion rats as well as a large stimulating cage and they need to get out to play every day. Hamsters and gerbils tend to bite and can easily run away/escape.Guinea pigs are more mellow. We have 2 hamsters and my son loves them, but he is almost 8 and cares for them himself. All these pets require weekly cage cleanings which honestly gets to be a big pain in the butt!

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What you really should be asking/thinking is "what pet am I o.k taking care of when the kids lose interest in it" which they will.....
I'm not being ugly, you just need to consider this because you will walk by the food dish a MILLION times and it will be empty and YOU will fill it up :)

4 moms found this helpful

We were just in the same spot and decided to go with mice. They are not as cuddly and easy to handle by a small child as a bunny, guinea pig or even rats, but they are really easy to keep and take care of, which was important for me because I knew that that would be my job. They also don't require daily handling - which is great because often kids aren't really interested in daily play with their pets after the initial excitement wears off. If you keep females in a small group they don't smell bad (cleaning the cage weekly), entertain themselves and are cute to look at. I like to refer to them as our furry fish.
Bunnies or guinea pigs are sweet, I had them as a kid. You can even train them to use a litter box and you can play with them, but they do require daily social time, especially if you keep them alone. They also live longer so it's a bit more of a commitment.

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Guinea pigs make great pets usually. They are mellow and like to be petted. Rats are nice too but they are SO smart and really need companion rats as well as a large stimulating cage and they need to get out to play every day. Hamsters and gerbils tend to bite and can easily run away/escape.Guinea pigs are more mellow. We have 2 hamsters and my son loves them, but he is almost 8 and cares for them himself. All these pets require weekly cage cleanings which honestly gets to be a big pain in the butt!

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Go with the pig! They live longer than gerbils or hamsters and are generally more tolerant of handling than other rodents. But they are social so getting only one is unkind. Like any other caged beast...they will get stinky if their environment isn't cleaned. Guinea pigs are not nocturnal which is a plus in my book.

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When I was a kid, I had hamsters and quickly found they had to be kept far away from people at night- boy, are they loud!

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Honestly, I'd start them out with a goldfish. They can get in the habit of remembering to feed it, and helping you clean the tank. I think it'd be a good warm up for a higher maintenance pet, like a mammal.

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I'd re-think a goldfish or a few guppies.

Hermit crabs?

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At this age, if you're looking at getting a smaller pet and you're thinking of letting your 3 and 5 year old hold/pet it then be prepared for it getting lost!!! I don't have any experience with guinea pigs, but might lean more towards those just because the size and being easier to handle for a young child. But bigger size means bigger stink. They all will stink and you will have to clean out the cage at least once per week. Rats are smart and can often figure out how to get out of cages - well, so can hamsters and gerbils. It doesn't matter if the kids are "ready", it matters if you are ready for the new responsibility. :)

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They won't be able to "play" with hamsters or mice without careful supervision (or in a closed in area) or they might run away.They squeeze under radiators and between cracks and they are IMPOSSIBLE to find! We had a hamster get out of his cage and we didn't find him for two weeks. He just walked out of my daughter's closet one day. We assumed he was long gone. All of those animals are nocturnal, so you'll need to keep them on a different level than you sleep. They shouldn't be in the kids' rooms -- loud at night and stinky. Prepare to be freaked out when you go downstairs in the middle of the night and hear rustling! Cages need to be cleaned weekly to avoid smelliness.

Can you tell I am not a fan of small pets? We've been though a few of them and they are never as exciting as you think they're going to be. My kids basically abandoned them after a couple days.

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A cat, especially a Persian Cat like we have would be my first suggestion. My son adores her! But if cat is completely out then I would go with a bunny. If they are hand raised, they can be held just like a cat and can be trained to use a little box or similar potty. Some bunnies are skittish but I am pretty sure you can adopt one that you know it's personality already. Check Petfinder.com

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We have had our Guinea Pig (Smitty) since my daughters were ages 1 & 4. They have absolutely loved him since we got him. I had rats when I was a teenager and they are FABULOUS pets, but they only live about 3 yrs, and they are prone to fatal tumors, which can be a bit scary for kids that young. Guinea Pigs live a lot longer (8 yrs-ish from what I have read, ours is about 4 years old). They are lots of fun. Ours has tons of personality. The kids love to feed him different fruits and veggies (especially at dinner time if they don't like their veggies they will sneak them to Smitty!) and he likes to be held and stroked and scratched. We let him run around the house and he will often climb into the dog's water bowl for a swim. He squeaks, grunts & talks a lot, which makes us laugh a lot because he does it at funny times, like if the TV suddenly gets loud or someone pulls into the driveway.

As far as the smell & cleanliness, we only have to clean his cage 1 time every week. If we wait much longer than that it will start to get a urine/ammonia smell, but if we clean his cage once a week then there's no smell. He likes to fling his bedding, so I do have to sweep around his cage a lot, but I don't mind.

Anyway, I love the piggies, have fun with your new pet!

I had a guinea pig starting in 3rd grade and just loved it! It lived until I got into my sophmore year of HS. I do think that your kids are too young for it right now as it will bite if it feels frightened or hurt and they have 4 big teeth, but they are a fun, sweet pet to think about in about 4-5 yrs. :)

i had gerbils when i was little they were awesome.. my neighbors have guinea pigs that we feed when they go on vacation and those things are so messy its insane.. my neighbor put the cage on a tabel in the living room and then covers the floor underneath it with newspaper.. thos little things throw their food everywhere... the one cute thing tho.. they have little harnesses and leashes that the bring them outside with.. not something you can do with a gerbil or hamster

I always had female mice growing and in fact kept a pair through college. In groups they are super cute and fun to watch. I always had the elaborate tube house set up which added to the fun factor. It was a pain to clean once a week, though, since it was a lot of parts to pull apart and wash. It would probably be your job as the adult too. I let the mice out in small hamster balls for roaming around the house during clean up and just because. Being social animals they like companions but don't mix male/female or they will breed like crazy. Plus males do poorly with other males; they fight to the death which is bad. They are squirmy for handling but they are not biters so long as baby mice are not involved.

Rats are more work. In my experience rats can be biters if they are not hand raised. They are smart so they need more work there too. Ditto on being social creatures and enjoying other rats for company. Also ditto on not mixing male/female for the above reasons.

In my experience most pet stores can't tell the difference between male/female mice and rats. 9 times out of 10 they mix them and you wind up with babies shortly after your purchase OR you wind up with mixed male/female groups which leads to fights/babies later on. Males and females need to be separated early to avoid pregnancies.

Another note about mice and rates. They tend to be bred for snake food, lab purposes and other non-pet purposes. Be wary about where you purchase your rodents in general.

Rodents are nocturnal. Mine never kept me awake at night but they would undoubtedly bother small children. Rodents are busy at night so be warned since it will impact where you put them.

I also had a guinea pig which I loved but died shortly after getting. I can't comment much on them except to say they were better for holding but more mess/smell. I had both gerbil and hamsters which I hated. They were biters and hard to handle.

I think whatever you go with you will be doing the work and the novelty will wear off so be prepared for it to become yours.

I had a ground squirrel when I was a kid. It was legal then.

If I was in your situation, I'd wait until I moved and then get the kids a small dog.

Rabbits can be house broken and are friendly, soft and cuddly.

Good luck to you and yours.

We have a red footed tortoise. VERY easy pet!! It only eats fruits and veggies. Only poops when you put it in water(once a week) so the cage stays clean. The kids take him out and he walks,like a dinosaur,all over our wood floors. So, I never have to worry about him getting lost! Plus, in the summer they even take him outside. Everyone loves him. I have boys ages 4,5,7,10,& 13. The only problem is...he is going to outlive me :)

Guinea pigs are great, and I can see why kids would be attracted because they are bigger than the other animals you mentioned. They are messy, and they can live a pretty long time (which can be a positive or a negative).

I had a rat growing up, and that is what my kids will have. They are very affectionate pets, very smart, but they need a lot of human interaction (they aren't a pet you can get and then forget about except to feed and clean), and they don't live as long, only a couple of years.

Mice are more fun to watch than to handle, and less affectionate with people, but require very gentle handling because they are SO small. Hamsters sleep most of the day, so are great for kids who will be interested in a pet occasionally but don't want to spend daily bonding time. Actually, each animal has its own personality, so you need to be the judge of your kids and decide which fits their needs.

Guinea pigs are not great pets for kids if the adults aren't going to be primary. You must remember that they are exotics and as such, they need specialized vet care. I had pigs for years and I paid $600 once to try to save one through surgery after he got a bladder stone. Just being honest.

So...if you do go with guinea pigs, do a lot of research first and PLEASE use a rescue! Petfinder.com has a ton of guinea pigs. Don't support the breeders any more than you'd support a puppy mill. Small critters get dumped, too.

I've had guinea pigs since I was 5, but they were Mom's first and mine second til I was much older.

See http://www.guinealynx.info/healthycavy.html for some good info.

Hamsters are a bit high strung and definitely bite. Gerbils can bite too. If you get a pair you will become a gerbil factory. Guinea pigs are much friendlier and calmer. Honestly - I don't think it's fair to any of these animals to subject them to small children.

The number of pocket pets injured and unintentionally tortured by little kids is appalling. You (or DH) will need to be responsible for feeding and caring for any pet with kids this age. You should also be present when the kids interact with the pet - since you may not find it soon enough if it gets loose.

I know you don't want to hear it, but fish are better pets for little kids. My son had a Beta (named Alpha) who always swam to the front of the tank to see him, took food from his fingers and would let DS gently pet him (while in the tank of course, and he could swim away if he wanted to).

My daughter is 9 and I got her three pet female mice recently. I am the one cleaning the cage, and don't think once a week is enough. I am cleaning the cage every other day, minimum. We live in an apartment and so there is no "out of the way" place to keep them and so they need to smell OK. The good thing is the cages available now come apart easily and clean up easily.

They are definitely cute and are getting more friendly all the time. She has started taking them into our bathtub for playtime, since it is less likely they will be able to climb and get away. This is making them comfortable with us and they will take food from our hands and climb on our hands now. She has plastic tubes that she can rearrange to make changeable climbing structures for them.

I would be concerned that a 3 and 5 year-old wouldn't be able to handle a critter this small without the possibility of crushing it accidently. They also poop all.the.time. After she has been in the tub playing with them, I have to wash the tub and she takes a shower.

I suppose mice would be OK, if you plan to not take them out of their cage, maybe only into a roller ball, and plan to supervise at all times.

We also have hermit crabs. They are more like a science project than an actual "pet". My daughter enjoys having them because they are interesting, and she will take them out and have them climb on her. The downside is that they molt fairly often. When they molt, they bury themselves in the sand and stay there for about three weeks. Again, interesting creatures, but not really what I think of as a pet. Also, their environment needs to be kept in a temp and humidity range, they need food and water daily, but we do a complete clean of their terrarium only every few months (when we catch all three of them between moltings!).

We went through this last month. I refused to consider mice after we had a mouse infestation 3 yrs ago, and gerbils and hamsters just reminded me of the mice. Bunnies and Gunea pigs just seemed like more of a committment then I was ready for (I knew it would soon fall to me to care for these "pets"). Finally I agreed to 2 guppies. they are cute, but the only interest my kids still have in them is feeding them. I am the one that has to clean the tank. So be ready for it to fall to you. We had a gunea pig in nursery school and it was a nice class pet, so I am thinking that they probably would be your best choice.

My friend has two guinea pigs, very docile and easy with kids, they don't mind being held... same thing with chinchillas and sugar gliders (though those are more costly and time consuming pets.)

Rabbits tend to be more timid and skittish with kids. Gerbils, rats, mice too squirmy and not very cuddly, gerbils tend to bite. Ferrets, have razor sharp teeth...

I've had birds, snakes, iguanas, turtles, gerbils, mice, cats, dogs, fish a tarantula and even a pot bellied pig... so that is where my experience comes from.

We have a tiny sand boa and you onky have to clean the cage 4 times a year and it doesnt smell and they love to be held and are quiet and wow so easy, the only draw back is you have to feed it baby frozen mice once a week. You thaw the pinky (baby mouse) and hold it in tweezers as you shake it by dnake and then snake grabs it and squeezes it like he got his prey and then swallows it whole. I know it sounds kind of gross but when friends come over they love it and so do the parents! They think it is the coolest thing ever. We are so used it to now but funny all the things peope are like your the coolest mom and wow and they ar not scary. Guineea pigs shed bad and smell and hamsters are total biters like gerbils etc, This was a good fun choic for us, One of our daughtes was very scared at first and had nightmares and now she loves the snake "tiny" is her name. shows all er friends and feels so cool. it is so easy so I do not know how I could do anything else. Even hermit crabs smelled bad! We tried that one too!

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