Once you've decided to adopt an exotic pet for your child, you'll want to choose one that is likely to be both gentle and easy to handle. Likewise, pets for kids should also be able to deal with a child's sometimes noisy and rambunctious nature. Here is a look at eight of the most popular pets for kids including some basics about what they require from their caretakers.
As with any pet, adults must supervise interactions between children and exotic pets. It's important to teach kids to always wash their hands both before and after handling pets of any kind to prevent disease transmission in both directions. Also, be prepared to take over the primary care of the pet.
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Larger, less skittish, longer-lived, and easier to handle than many other rodents, this often overlooked pet is extremely intelligent. Rats have unique personalities and love to play with toys and puzzles. They don’t have a reputation for biting, which is an additional pro. Rats should be kept in pairs, and they need a large cage. Though they are nocturnal, they tend to adapt somewhat to your schedule.
The only challenge with rats can be the unfair stigma associated with uncleanliness; like cats, they may urine mark when wandering, including on your hands. But rats are actually clean pets that groom themselves several times a day. If you like hairless tails, you'll love them—and so will your kids.
Length: 15 to 19 inches
Weight: 14 to 25 ounces
Physical Characteristics: Short hair on body, hairless pink long tail; coat color can be white, cinnamon, blue or black
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Generally quite tame and easy to handle gently, guinea pigs rarely bite. They get to know your routines and are quite responsive, which keeps kids interested. They also tend to be active throughout the day and night, so they are more likely to be awake alongside children.
Kept in pairs, guinea pigs need a large living space. They are endearing and affectionate—they love to be pet and scratched. Guinea pigs are quite energetic and even enjoy running around in a large hamster ball to get exercise. For a long healthy life of five to eight years, feed fresh foods to meet their vitamin C needs.
Length: 8 to 10 inches
Weight: 25 to 42 ounces
Physical Characteristics: Round body, large head, fluffy coat, no tail, floppy "petal" ears; solid or patches, coat color from white to gold to lilac to black
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Gerbils can require some patience when attempting to tame them, but they can become quite friendly with regular handling. They are social so they should be kept in pairs or better yet, small groups. Even if they are not handled much, their play is fun to watch. Gerbils go through several sleep/wake cycles over 24 hours rather than sleeping all day or all night.
Alert: Care must be taken that a child never grabs a gerbil by the tail; dislocation and broken tails are very painful and permanent injuries for gerbils.
Length: 4-inch body, 4-inch tail
Weight: 2 to 4 ounces
Physical Characteristics: Long tail with tuft, pointed ears; solid or patches coat color from golden to white, blue, lilac, and gray
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"Beardies" are gentle reptiles. Hardier than the soft-skinned geckos, bearded dragons don’t typically bite and are the perfect size for small hands. These lizards enjoy eating a wide range of insects, worms, leafy vegetables, and the occasional piece of fruit. A bearded dragon loves to hang out on a child’s shoulder while homework is being completed. They are very quiet, have no smell, and live up to 20 years. Once you have their enclosure set up appropriately, they don't require much management.
Length: 18 to 22 inches
Weight: 10 to 18 ounces
Physical Characteristics: Flattened body, tan to yellow; throat skin flaresContinue to 5 of 8 below.
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Mice are quite easy to care for and do not need a large home. A group of female mice will usually live together happily and be quite entertaining with their play. Mice are very quick and agile; they also tend to be skittish, so they are more difficult for kids to handle. For most kids, they are better as a "look but don't touch" pet. Mice are most active at night.
Length: 1 to 7 inches
Weight: 1 to 1.5 ounces
Physical Characteristics: Long tail; coat color white, brown, and gray
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Leopard geckos are among the easiest reptiles to look after properly, but they must eat live insects; they do not eat vegetables or other plants. They are quite docile and allow children to handle them with a gentle touch. They don’t have the tendency to bite, especially when raised from a several-week-old hatchling. While they can be held, they are not as responsive as mammalian pets.
These little lizards don’t smell and are very quiet. Two leopard geckos can be kept in a fairly small tank. Though they do not need a special UV-producing light, they still require an investment in a tank set up.
Length: 12 inches
Weight: 5 ounces
Physical Characteristics: Bumpy skin, smooth belly, leopard spots
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Hamsters do not require much space, and they should be kept singly. Hamsters generally become quite tame with patient handling, and will even interact a bit with kids. All hamsters are nocturnal so will not adapt to your schedule; they might be very sleepy when kids want to play. Unfortunately, a sleepy hamster seems more inclined to bite, but only in self-defense. Dwarf hamsters have become increasingly available, although their small size makes them less amenable to handling than Syrian hamsters.
Length: 5 to 7 inches
Weight: 4 to 7 ounces
Physical Characteristics: Stout with short legs and wide feet; long or short coat, colored black, grey, honey, white, brown, yellow, or red
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Cockroaches are not cute or cuddly, and they are not interactive or responsive like mammals. And yet insects are fascinating nonetheless. These are the ultimate in low maintenance pets, which makes them somewhat ideal for kids. They are large enough to be handled and are generally quite docile, yet they are completely undemanding of attention. If kids get bored with them, there is not much work to take over!
Length: 2 to 3 inches
Weight: Up to 1 ounce
Physical Characteristics: Shiny brown oval-shaped body; no wings; a single pair of antennae; males sport large horns
Large birds like parrots are too much work and pose a potential hazard to kids as they use strong, sharp beaks to explore. Pets with sharp quills, like hedgehogs, will also pose a threat. Whichever pet you choose, make sure to get it from a reputable source that can attest to its health. Any animal that is in pain is more likely to bite a child or act out in self-defense.