I would love to tell you that I often get the question, “What is the best pet to buy my child?” I rarely get asked. I do get many calls telling me that they purchased a pet that wasn’t a good fit for their child and ask me to help them find a home better suited. While I do appreciate being considered when searching for a good pet home, I could have saved the parents time and money had they just called me first. I’ve had plenty of animals in my care and let me tell you, some are not as glamorous as they look.
So here is my best advice, if your child is under 5, the best pet you can get them is a cactus. Wait, what? Yes, a cactus. I know, I’m the Creature Teacher, so I should be really in favor of all children having animals, but not ALL children are ready for a live animal.
If you want to give your young child a pet to build responsibility, then purchase a pet they can and will care for themselves. It’s tempting for you to take over the feeding and cleaning duties, but it doesn’t teach the child the traits you are hoping to instill. A child needs to prove that they can be responsible enough to feed and care for something before you buy them an actual animal. For that reason, I suggest that first pet be a cactus! If the cactus lives, they are ready for a living, breathing pet.
Maybe your child is a little older and has proven that they can do this pet thing. Wonderful! Let’s look at our options. Many people think a gerbil, hamster, or guinea pig might be the way to go. Unless you like cleaning cages often, and I mean REAL often, stay away from those guys. The chinchilla is a bit more pricey, but they don’t smell. They are nocturnal and will keep your child awake at night unless you can put them in another room. They are not recommended for small children because they are flighty and very fragile, but can be great for 7 and up. Hedgehogs are good for a hot minute, but because they are prickly and nocturnal, the new wears off real quick. The obvious dog and cat choices are good for this age.
My personal favorite pet for children are the reptiles. No, I don’t suggest going out and getting your child a Burmese python, but you just can’t beat a bearded dragon for a beginner pet. They are fun to watch when chasing crickets, not expensive to house or purchase, easy to care for, and they don’t smell as long as you scoop their substrate from time to time. Thinking about one of those adorable tiny red eared slider turtles? Well stop it. Turtles can be really stinky, will bite, and can be difficult to keep alive. The better choice is a tortoise. Some live over 100 years and can grow to be over 150 lbs, but other than that, they are awesome!
How about an exotic animal like a monkey or lemur? For that, I have three words: no, no, no!!! I will address this more in my next blog, but for now, trust me, visit those guys in the zoo and save yourself a lot of time, money and frustration. Again, buy your child a cactus and your life will be a whole lot simpler.
Live and learn!