Need Help Choosing the Right Small Pet

Updated on September 20, 2009
A.M. asks from Webster, NY
20 answers

I need help choosing the right small pet for our family. I have a 6 yr old daughter and a 2 yr old son. My daughter really wants a pet. She is pretty responsible and the neighbor even allows her to walk her dog daily. We live in an apartment so need something small. No cats because my DH is allergic to them. I guess I'm looking for any experiences with the pros and cons of hampsters, gerbils, guinea pigs that might help us make our decision. I want my kids to have the experience of loving and caring for a pet without us being overwhelmed in our small apartment, or with the extra cost and work. Thanks everyone!

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answers from New York on

Don't freak, but do consider a fancy rat. Rats can be trained and tend to be very neat animals. Twice now I have had rats as pets and if I wanted another small pet I would do it again.

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answers from Rochester on

Some of the kids in my family have had a lot of fun with guinea pigs. They are small but not so small that you can't hold them. They have had some that even respond to them. (Make noises when they see their favorite people) My sister-in-law had a mating pair for a while & they loved giving the babies out to friends & knowing that they were related. Best of luck!

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answers from New York on

A FISH! :)

This was our first pet. It doesn't smell or bite and is a great starter.

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answers from New York on

Hi A.,

Growing up I had all sorts of little critters: teddy bear hamsters, dwarf russian hamsters, parakeets, and guinea pigs. I'd chose a guinea pig for my own child hands down over the hamster. They are much more interactive (the do this very gute whiste- type sounde) they're not nocturnal like hansters are, and they don't stink as much! I also think, since they're bigger they're a little more user-friendly. The parakeets were alot of fun too... though that didn't seem to be on your list of possibilies. Good luck choosing- I am sure whichever new addition you choose, it will delight your children!

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answers from New York on

Like others responding to your request I have had many many pets. I agree that rats can make great pets, just be very careful where you get them from. If they have just been hanging out in a cage with little human interaction you will need to work with them and get them used to being handled before letting your children hold them.

Guinea pigs are great. They make really nice calming sounds and are large enough for small hands.

Rabbits are wonderful pets. You want to get a large breed rabbit, the drawfs are a little more skittish. There are rabbit rescue groups you can find online - NJ has the House Rabbit Society. Rabbits are very playful and can be litter box trained.

Ferrets are wonderful but like to nibble on feet. I personally don't think that they stink - kind of musky.

If you are considering a dog look into the breeds that are best around children (there are websites that can help you with this). I have 5 dogs and the only 2 that are great around out 22 month old are my standard Poodle and my Shih-tzu. My other dogs are a teacup Poodle, toy Poodle and Maltese and while they don't go out of their way to bother our daughter they do not like to be handled by her.

I would stay away from the smaller pets such as hamsters and gerbils. They are too small for little hands.

Fish are nice pets but do not just put them in a bowl. You can buy small tanks that have filters, your fish will live longer in this type of setup. My daughter helps feed our fish every day. She hands me the different foods and I put them in the tank. The only drawback is you can't hold and cuddle them.

Good luck finding your pet!

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answers from New York on

First of all, I would definitely NOT recommend a guinea pig for your daughter. While they are extremely friendly, and easy to care for, they are the one pet that is most likely to cause an allergy to anyone who is allergic to pet dander,and since you have someone in your household who is allergic to cats, the odds are that he would be allergic to a guinea pig as well. It would be very heartbreaking to get one, have your daughter grow attached to it, and then have to rehome it because of allergy problems.

As far as hamsters and gerbils are concerned, they really aren't very good pets, as some of them can be extremely nasty and can give a nasty bite to a young child. Also, their cages can get very nasty and smelly very quickly, so you would probably have to clean and disinfect the cage quite frequently.

Believe it or not, domestic rats can be an excellent pet for a small child. They are very friendly, when raised from a baby, and also are extremely intelligent. They also rarely bite and are very affectionate with their owners. However, they are also very messy, much like hamsters and gerbils, and their cages must be cleaned frequently, although not as often as a hamster's or gerbil's, simply because they must be kept in a larger cage or tank.

If I had to recommend something for your daughter (and believe me I've had every pet known to mankind in the last 20 years, since I'm a real animal nut), I would recommend either a rabbit or a ferret. Both are very intelligent and have very lovable and affectionate dispositions. Either of them rarely bite, and both can wear harnesses so that your daughter can walk them or carry them around. Also both can be litter trained, like a cat, if you get a baby and teach it where it needs to go.

I have had both, over the years, and either would make a good pet for a young child. I prefer ferrets myself, as they are easier to litter train, and very entertaining just to watch, as they are mischievous and love to play. However, they do have a habit of getting into places that they shouldn't, such as under things, or up inside your couch, if you let them run loose without a harness. Also, they arent't still for a minute, so if you daughter wants something that she can hold and lug around, a rabbit would be a better choice.

I would suggest that you get some books from your local library and research both, so that you are well informed before making your decision. Either would make an equally good small pet for your daughter, but since most of the work will fall on you, you should know beforehand what is required to keep them healthy and happy.

I hope this information helps!


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answers from New York on

Have you considered fish? Not the tank, but just a fish bowl and fish food and a little net to scoop them out when you're cleaning or changing water. We once asked for a pregnant fish at the pet shop so our son could experience the excitement of the birth of all the babies.

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answers from New York on

I have always been a fan of guinea pigs. Had them as a kid, now my kid has one. If handled gently and often, they are sweet, easy pets. They are not super fast and super tiny like hamsters and gerbils and have a somewhat longer life expectancy. They are also less troublesome than rabbits and not as inquisitive as rats. Also, they are inexpensive. They are nocturnal though and do make noise at night, but it is a noise you can get used to. Here are a few tips to keeping them healthy and inexpensively:

1. ONLY bed them in Cedar or Pine bedding. Do not get any of the fancy bedding, I find that is makes them sick. Cedar is foolproof and smells good unto itself and masks urine smells.

2. Clean the tank about once a week. A clean tank will never get bugs. An old fish tank will do, no need to buy a fancy tank. Just make sure it is large enough for the piggy to grow. Dont use any harsh chemicals or soaps. Make sure that the tank is also big enough for a "house" or other small structure that the piggy can go into to sleep or feel safe. It doesnt have to be a large structure, just big enough to lie down in. We made our own, but pet stores sell plastic ones too.

3. I buy all of the piggy supplies at WalMart. MUCH cheaper and they have a selection.

4. Dont bother with fancy products. A good food, fresh water daily, clean bedding and plenty of fresh raw veggies daily should be sufficient.

5. When you make a salad or veggies for the meals, save the "ends" and scraps to feed the piggy. Environmental and cost saving! Just make sure they are washed well. You can also buy lettuce, baby carrots, etc. They all have preferences, some like fruit, others dont. A variety is good.

6. Make sure piggy is in a draft free area. You can bathe the pig in warm water if she gets dirty, just make sure that there are no drafts.

7. Always handle piggy gently. A great lesson for kids! A towel can be used to hold them if you are sensitive to nails, or afraid of accidental peeing! It happens!

8. Get a baby pig at the petstore, or see if any friends have a litter. I find that is almost always best to get them from a home breeding.

Good luck, I hope this helps! Feel free to contact me for other tips.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

Hello A.,
I have had some experience with small animals. I also have 4 children, ages 18, 16, 8, and almost 3 (in October). My 2 oldest girls loved animals so we have been through a few different species.
Our first experience with different small animals occured in a pet store. My oldest daughter, then only 2, was watching the small animals in their cages while another man was purchasing a rat for snake food. The attendant saw my daughter looking, and asked her if she would like to hold one. I was too late, and she had it in her hand. She wouldn't let it go, I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to try to take it from her, I was afraid it would bite her, and the grip she had on this thing was amazing.

We were told that rats are really good pets, they don't bite as quickly as a hamster would, (with rough handling) and are actually very clean. I asked if I could bring it back once I got it out of her hands, I was told yes, so we bought it. She loved it! I learned to like it. We had Wilbur as a cool pet for about 6 months before he died.

About a month later, we decided it was time to try another one. We bought another one and named him Mickey. But my sister's bf and mine decided we should breed them and brought home a female. She was mean from day 1, but we kept her for about a year. We bred them, took them into the pet store for store credit. We got bedding for the cage, dog food (which they are regularly along with cat food), small animal vitimins, and toys.

I am not advising anyone to do this, they very easily get out of hand! But rats are great pets, we have had rats again since, and this was about 4 years ago. We had them this time for about 2 years.

Now, we have, and have had for about a year, russian dwarf hamsters. They are smaller than hamsters, friendly if you can get them from a good pet shop and as babies.

My son, 8 yo, was given hamsters a couple months ago also. We currently have 2 hamster cages (we keep the breeds seperated), 3 very nice hamsters, and for the summer, no kids around to love them and take care of them, so it's up to me!!

Besides the rats and hamsters, we have always had cats, we've had parakeets, and a hedgehog (which was friendly, but hard to pet, lol). I have had ferrets as a teenager, but not since my kids were born. They are great, but they smell. If you keep their cage/litter box clean every day and bath them often, they don't smell that bad.
We had 4 at one time, I used to shower with them (weekly) and wash them with shampoo, then my dad put cologne on them, usually old spice! very high energy and spunky.

If you have friends or neighbors with animals, or other kids at school, ask if you can meet their pets. I know, an unusual request, but worth it, so you can get a good look at the pet and how they interact with other kids and with yours.
good luck choosing one for your family.



answers from New York on

I definitely recommend guina pigs! They're not as small and squirmy as hamsters, and are pretty gentle. I do recommend a male though, since our last one was a girl and she wasn't as friendly as the males I have had in the past. Good luck!



answers from New York on

I have had many small animals and my vote would be gerbils or rats.

Stay away from chinchillas for small children. They are very delicate creatures. The kids across the street squished theirs by hugging it too hard. Yes, it died.

I had chinchillas years ago but I was already an adult so they were safe with me.

My favorite small pet was my pet rat I had when I was a teenager. He used to ride on my shoulders everywhere I went. When I started driving he would go for rides in the car, right there on my shoulder!

Unfortunately most small pets don't live very long, but you'll also have the opportunity to teach about the cycle of life as well.



answers from Rochester on

My daughter wanted her "own" pet at one point and so we got her a hamster. Apparently I did not do enough research into it and found out on night #1 that they are nocturnal. The hamster then got taken out of her room and put into the family room. When we could still hear all night from there it eventually went to the basement playroom. There it was rarely played with and ended up getting wet tail. When they get that they are very bad tempered and eventually die. I would check on the others and make sure that they are not also nocturnal. It was the pet that she wanted when it burrowed all day long and we could barely coax it out to roll around in the plastic ball that the kids were so anxious to use.



answers from New York on

We have had guinea pigs for years, both male and female, and they have been great pets. Our children have even taken care of them! I prefer them to hamsters and gerbils. We have also had dogs, cats, rabbits, fish, and hermit crabs. If your husband is allergic to cats, then please send him to the allergist to check for guinea pigs and rabbits. Our daughter was allergic to the rabbits, but none of the other pets. Fish are nice but you can't hold them and they do require more work than you'd think. Good luck to you. You will need to keep an eye on your toddler, too. Make sure he can't open the cage. Guinea pigs do like to nibble on fingers.



answers from New York on

If your husband is allergic to cats there is a very good chance that he will be allergic to all things hairy as well as birds.

Before you buy something, become attached and have to give it up, have your husband get tested or borrow a pet from a friend for a week as a trial run.

I know lots of people that thought they were only allergic to cats (or dogs) only to find out that living with other hairy creatures made them feel sick, too.

Good luck and have fun!



answers from New York on

Hi A.. Have you given any thought to a parakeet or maybe a small dog like a Yorkshire Terrier or a Shih Tzu? Either breed of these dogs are very friendly with young children. Anyway, good luck with your pet hunting.



answers from New York on

If your daughter is allergic to cats, then a bird might not be a good idea. They can get rather smelly. If you do opt for a bird, then go for the ones that are easy to clean up after like parakeets or lovebirds that go in one corner of the cage. Finches are messy, but quiet.

A ferret or miniature rabbit might be a good idea. A chamileon or land turtle is good too, just make sure she washes her hands a lot. If you're allowed dogs, mixed breeds are the best. We've got a laid back pomeagle and he's the best dog ever, except he has to have a lot of baths due to oily skin.


answers from New York on

I know this sounds CRAZY, but we have two pet rats. Yes, rats. When our dog died last October, she was almost 16, the kids really wanted another pet. And my son is allergic to both cat and dogs. Hamsters and Guinea Pigs arent very interactive. And there was NO WAY we were getting a snake.

After much research online, we opted for a rat. And yes, my husband had to do A LOT of convincing.

We learned they are very social animals, and its cruel to have just one, so we picked up another one. Now we have two! Nuttygoose and Picklegroven.

You can actually see them here: (2nd photo down)

They are super easy to care for. We bought them a two story cage, think ferret cage. And that sits inside a big tupperware container. So when they kick any of their bedding around, it stays in the big tupperware container, and not on my floor.

They are the sweetest animals. They have never ever ever bit any of us. They love riding on your shoulders, and when my husband has a hooded sweatshirt on they will hang out in his hood and take a nap.

After you get over the fact they are RATS, they are great little pets. They eat all sorts of fresh produce, nuts, seeds, pasta or anything else you want to give them.

There are no-no foods. You can find the list online.

They are inexpensive. And they live for about 4-5 years. Just do a little research online so you know what you are looking for when you go to the petstore.

Good Luck in your decision!



answers from New York on

Hi Mom,

Gerbils, and hamsters , mice and rats etc

Are fairly easy to maintain however they do bite occasionally, and have a tendency to reproduce. They need tight lids so as not to escape, the can be smelly if you dont clean out the cage atleast once a week.
And sad to say if they do reproduce they will eat their young.

Fish are very easy to care for and are cheap to replace.
and can be used as a reward gift for good behavior and such.

Turtles are very fun pets and sturdy. Only thing is they need to be cleaned or bathed for handling as the have salmonella.

Lizards and snakes are not as easy to care for since they tend to die unless you feed them live bait such as crickets, or mice; They also get lice. that looks like black dust.these also carry Salmonella.

Snails are actually kinda fun, and eat lettuce.
they don't make much of a mess,

Crabs usually die pretty quickly but can be fun if you vigilant about caring for them, If you start out with a smal one and then buy larger shells for them to move into
this can be an interesting pet for both a boy and a girl

Birds such as a quaker bird, are fun they need to have their cages cleaned Daily, with fresh water.
BUT they can learn to talk using and playing a CD for them daily. This can be an interesting pet.

Dogs are fun but alot of work, litterally like having achild, only you can't bring them with you when going on vacation, or to the store, or a party, or a day drive to some where. You need ot set up babysitting, train them to poop outside, and not to destroy your stuff.

If it were me I would start out with the smaller easy pets, and then move up the ladder as they pass on to the afterlife LOL.

Good luck




answers from New York on

Hi A.,
We've had all types of pets. Guinea pigs are wonderful! They don't bite and they love to be handled, a better choice than gerbils and hamsters. They really have very sweet personalities, they make happy noises and they are good for the environment - they'll eat your fruit and veggie peelings :) We had several over the years. We don't have anymore now, but rabbits, but in a small apartment, the guinea pig would be easier. While those types of animals can be a little smelly, just scoop out and change his litter daily and it should be fine.



answers from New York on

I agree with everyone who has suggested rats. Make sure you buy them from a REPUTABLE BREEDER and not a pet store. You wants rats that have been handled and socialized since birth - not snake food.

Most small animals don't like to be picked up and carried around - rabbits and guinea pigs. Rats love to be held. They are extremely smart and you can teach them tricks. They are also very clean animals. Most can be litter trained. Females are best for this as they do not have a tendency to mark as males do, though males tend to be friendlier.

Always get at least two rats (same sex) :). They are very social and will not thrive without the companioonship of other rats.

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