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The best small pets for kids (that they can actually handle)

What are the best small pets for kids to add to your family? Find out here

Adorable kitten sleeping on a bed
Alena Ozerova / Shutterstock

What parent hasn’t heard the lament, “Why can’t we have a puppy?” Most kiddos want a puppy, and most parents hesitate. Not because they don’t like dogs, but because puppies are high-maintenance and time-consuming animals. It can be a bit of a conundrum since having a pet is a wonderful experience for kids with a lot of benefits. Before jumping into the deep end with a puppy, why not try a small pet first? Small pets can be super fun, too, and they go a long way in teaching children the responsibility of being a pet owner. So, what are the best small pets for kids?

Best small pets for kids

If you’re considering adding a pet to your family, but aren’t ready for the commitment of a puppy, try one of these smaller pets. The best small pet for kids is one that has an agreeable nature and is a hands-on animal.

Cute Guinea pig

Guinea pigs

Unlike hamsters and gerbils, guinea pigs are gentle and enjoy being handled since they are sociable. Guinea pigs are also relatively easy to care for and they can live from five to seven years. They do have a bit of an appetite, though. So, a guinea pig will need a steady supply of fresh veggies and hay. The cages can get messy, which means the kids will need to learn how to clean them on a regular basis. Guinea pigs do like a buddy. So, if you’re going to get a guinea pig, consider a pair. They will be much happier, and your kiddos will have two to cuddle.


Now, don’t cringle or run screaming from the room. A rat can actually be a cool small pet for kids. Rats don’t tend to be nippy and have a relatively mild temperament. They’re pretty smart, too, and can be taught to do tricks and enjoy figuring out mazes. Rats also aren’t high maintenance. They eat mostly lab blocks, which you can get from the pet store, and do need a variety of toys or toilet paper rolls to keep them busy. The only drawback is that rats don’t have a long life span. If you can get past the rat factor, a rat is a great small pet for kids.

Child with bunny


Another cute and cuddly small pet for the family is a bunny. Like guinea pigs, rabbits are mellow, can be litter-trained, and have a long life expectancy. The downside to bunnies is that rabbits are fragile and need more adult supervision than other small pets. Rabbits also require space. So, if you get a bunny, you’ll need a decently sized hutch either inside or outside. To stay healthy, rabbits need a consistent diet of veggies, hay, and pellets.


A parakeet is an ideal small pet for kids. Parakeets are pretty low maintenance and don’t require much space. The small bird is affectionate and doesn’t mind gentle handling. You can also teach a parakeet to respond to words with training.


Not a cat person? That’s OK, but you may be pleasantly surprised when it comes to bringing a kitty into the family. Cats are not as high maintenance as a dog but can be just as much fun. Kitties love to play and cuddle. Yet, they’re also independent and curious. Drawbacks to cats can be their penchant for walking on counters and tabletops. Changing the litter weekly can be annoying, but using a liner makes the chore easier and quicker.

Why a small pet?

There are quite a few pluses to adding a pet to the household and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a dog. Owning even a small pet teaches children responsibility and encourages nurturing. Pets provide comfort and help relieve stress. Having a pet is great for self-esteem and loneliness. Pets, even something small like fish, have health benefits, too. Ever notice how watching fish swim is relaxing? Bringing a small pet into the household can have the same perks as a puppy.

Other small pets

  • Chinchilla
  • Greek tortoise
  • Finch
  • Bearded dragon
  • Fish

Deciding on a small pet for kids

A small pet can bring just as much joy as a dog. Pets are a wonderful addition to a household and are great for kids. There are a lot of benefits to pet ownership, even small ones. When picking a small pet, keep in mind your kids’ ages and personalities as well as the pet’s life expectancy. Also, bring the kiddos into the decision-making process. Of course, parents have the final say, but a small pet is a family decision.

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Dawn Miller
Dawn Miller began her professional life as an elementary school teacher before returning to her first love, writing. In…
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