Small Pets

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Choosing a small pet

My daughter wants a pet for her sixth birthday. Having downsized her request from a pony to a dog to something smaller than a breadbox, I'm now wondering what's best: a rabbit, a guinnea pig, a turtle, or other sort of reptile (eg., geko). Any thoughts/suggestions/warnings? Linda

My children have a guinea pig, a foster rabbit, geckos, fish, birds... No tortoise though! Do you want a pet that can be touched? Then your options are limited to the tortoise and the guinea pig. If you just want something to look at, then some kind of day gecko might do (the most common 'petable' varieties like the leopard gecko are active at night, and really shouldn't be handled by young kids), though I would actually recommend a fish tank.

Of the 'petable' animals you listed, I would go for the guinea pig if your daughter is old enough to understand the rules about handling these little guys. (Buy a book.) They are quite social and if held a lot and hand-fed when young will grow up quite cuddly. Try and get a short haired female; females are more easily socialized and short hairs are MUCH easier to keep clean. (We currently have an angora-type fluffball so I speak from experience!) Of course, you have to recognize that you will be providing the actual care and that after the initial glow wears off you may have to make sure the gp continues to get consistent social interaction.

Tortoises, I imagine, don't care much about social interaction but present some concerns w/r/t picking the right species and care. I've also heard of them as being suspected carriers of Salmonella strains that can make people pretty sick. If you go this route, I strongly recommend you talk to and buy from a reputable dealer who can provide great advice: East Bay Vivarium. Good luck! Chris

The choice of pet for a child is highly dependent on the interests of the child and her/his parents. If anyone in the household has allergies to animals, a reptile (or fish) is a good choice.

Hamsters are a good low maintenance pet (low odor, minimal care) but will not be very cuddly. The same is true of mice, but they smell more. Guinea pigs may, with more luck than I had, become cuddly; but they are very messy and require a lot of cleaning up. Rats are cuddly, but tend to smell, so you have to clean their cage frequently. Rabbits can be friendly, or not, depending on how well socialized they have been. They can be housetrained, but they are fairly messy animals and require more care. Also, people with allergies tend to have strong allergic responses to rabbits.

Birds make nice pets (of you don't also have a cat!), but require a lot of adult supervision and care to socialize and handle safely.

Dogs are great if you have a yard and adult(S) prepared to care for them. Cats are lower-maintenance, but still require more adult supervision than the smaller, caged, animals.

I think the choice of pet really comes down to: What animal are mom and dad willing to care for? I don't think it's realistic to expect a child to care for an animal well and consistently without at least some supervision. The adults in the household are ultimately responsible for the welfare of any pets, so only adopt an animal you are willing to care for yourself, if necessary. Louise