How to Choose Your Child’s First Pet (with suggestions)

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Choosing the first pet for your child is exciting. But you need to make sure to select the right kind of pet that is safe, as well as age-appropriate.

When a child first hints for a dog or cat, parents often worry about safety. What kind of pet is best for a young child? Unfortunately, not all animals are appropriate for young children. Before dashing to the pet store, be sure you do your homework on which pets are safest for children, as well as low maintenance.

What’s a good first pet for a kid?

Until your children are old enough to take on total responsibility for the care of a pet, it’s advisable to choose an animal that doesn’t require that much care.

Consider small animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, or turtles, those pets you usually find in their nursery school or kindergarten classrooms.

As these small animals are contained in cages, they’re more economical. Besides costing less to feed, vet bills are not as high as larger animals. About all you need (besides food) is bedding, and if you have a paper shredder, you can make your own.

How to use a snuffle mat by Ruffle ...
How to use a snuffle mat by Ruffle Snuffle

What are good tempered dogs for kids?

If possible, put off getting a dog until your child is at least four or five years old, as you still need to supervise them. Check with the breeder or pet store regarding the temperament of a particular dog before making a selection. Ask how large the dog will be when full-grown, as well as research the temperaments of various breeds.

A few of the safer breeds include Boston terriers, bulldogs, pugs, boxers, and mastiffs. As you can see from the list, a good-tempered dog is not always a small dog.

Some larger breeds are just as safe with children as toy dogs. On the other hand, some small breeds, such as poodles or Chihuahuas, often display a nasty temper, as well as bite.

Dalmatians are another breed to avoid if you have small children because they don’t have the calmest of dispositions.

Are cats and kittens safe for young children?

Do not give a kitten to children under age five, as overly affectionate preschoolers can unintentionally smother them with their hugs. What’s more, a kitten’s claws can hurt a child.

READ NEXT: 7 Tips on bringing home a new kitten >

However, older cats are fine, although you still have to monitor your child’s time with the new pet. Also, be aware that a cat can smother a baby. Never leave a cat with a child under the age of three.

If you do adopt a cat, always close your children’s bedroom doors at night so they won’t have midnight “guests.”

Before you bring the pet home

Caution your child that his new pet may not enjoy the same things that he does, stressing how rough play and loud noises will alienate his new friend. Also, make sure your children understand the dangers of feeding their pet food from the table, noting how foods such as chocolate can even be fatal to dogs.

After the new pet arrives, always make sure that all toys are far from your pet’s toilet area and always keep everything thoroughly disinfected. Also, make sure your new pet has been tested for worms, as well as set up an appointment for shots (if it hasn’t already received them).

Most importantly, use the new pet to teach your child responsibility. Of course, a small child can’t take total care of his (or her) new pet. But start out gradually, such as having the child feed the pet and help clean out its cage or crate. As your child matures, you can hand over total care, making him feel confident that he’s a good owner.

How to find the perfect first pet

Having decided to get your child a pet, and which kind of pet, the next crucial stage is acquiring the ideal animal.

In this brief article, we will discuss the process of finding the perfect pet for the child and how to complete this important activity smoothly, getting the best possible outcome for everyone involved.

Should I let my child choose their first pet?

The choice is a big deal for your child. Children will like to be involved with picking out their pets if they can. Each person may be attracted to different things about a pet, and the most appealing to one may not be equally appealing to another.

The ideal scenario is to take your child to make a choice for themselves, but if this is not possible for any reason, make sure you know what they would like.

Discuss what they are hoping for from the pet before you go to buy it and perhaps ask them to show you which of the animals in the pet book they like best; you could try to get one with similar markings.

At least ask if they would prefer a boy or a girl – this can really matter to children and can help avoid disappointment!

Should I buy a baby or an adult as a first pet?

Baby small animals are adorable, but as they are so small, they can be harder to handle, not only because of their size but because the limited experience of people may make them flighty or nervous. They are often much faster and agile than their older counterparts. They may need to be tamed to be suitable for your child to hold.

Adult small animals, being bigger, are often easier to handle, but if they have grown up with the limited experience of people, they may still be nervous and difficult to hold.

At a more advanced age, they can find it harder to adjust to new experiences like being picked up. You will need to talk to the person you get the animal form to see if it is used for regular handling. If the exact age of the animal is not known, it may not live for much longer, which could upset its young owner.

A big plus of your child taking on an adult animal is that they are attracted to the pet for the way it looks now, and this will not change. The cuteness factor of baby animals wears off as they grow, and for some young people, they may then lose their appeal and no longer be of interest.

Should I have one or more first pets?

Syrian Hamsters are one of the few small animals which actually prefer to live alone. Dwarf hamsters, as well as mice, rats, gerbils, guinea pigs, rabbits, chinchillas, and ferrets really need company.

A lonely animal will be stressed, more susceptible to illness, and likely to live a shorter life.

Single-sex pairs introduced as youngsters tend to live quite happily, though some animals cannot be maintained together as adult males. Consult a good book on your chosen pet for advice on this.

How to prepare for your first pet

Children are often impatient and will find it hard to wait for something as exciting as getting their new animal (or animals). The best way to avoid disappointment and ensure the whole experience is a good one is to prepare as much as possible before it’s time to go and get the pet itself.

Having established a definite interest, researched the animals that have been discussed, and agreed on a suitable species, involve the child in the important preparation.

The housing is very important, so discuss the pet’s home together. Explain that it is vital that is it is large and comfortable before showing them the options. Let them choose the home as much as possible, but remember that the animal’s welfare is paramount. Your child may be attracted to a cage that is too small if it is brightly coloured.

Make up a shopping list together and ensure that you have everything you need, or know where to go to get it if it is perishable, like some foods. The home should be set up with appropriate bedding before you go to get the pet, and as long as the food is not put in to get stale, this can and should be done well in advance.

Impulse buying the actual pet itself is best avoided. To ensure that the pet is healthy, happy, and suitable for your child, it’s probably best to avoid situations where your child might see and want an animal before you have had a chance to learn more about that individual and whether it is right for the purpose, like visiting a pet shop with livestock.

There are many internet sites that offer pet supplies, so you can view these with your child and even make your purchases for home delivery without fear of the child falling in love with a small furry before you are ready for it.

Before going to get the pet itself, know where you are going, and call ahead or even visit in advance to see if what you are looking for is available. Your child could be unnecessarily upset if they are told ‘today’s the day’ only to arrive and find the local pet store is out of hamsters.

Which pets are suitable for a child’s first pet?

The list is far from exhaustive as new small animals seem to become available all the time, such as pygmy hedgehogs, which can now be purchased from many specialist suppliers.

Younger children often want physical contact with their pets, so the more flighty animals may not be particularly suitable, and this is accounted for in the article.

Remember to do your research before you make a commitment; always read a detailed book on pet care for the specific species when considering taking on a pet.


Appeal: Cute and very cuddly looking with a beautifully textured fluffy coat, large eyes, and long whiskers

Reality: Very fast, overheat easily because of their coats, and so mostly dislike being handled extensively. Inquisitive, nocturnal, and remarkably destructive if they can reach anything outside their cage. Best suited to those who are content to observe them going about their business and wait for them to come and feed on their hand.

Suitability: Older teenager- adult.

chinchilla for children
Pet Chinchilla


Appeal: Cute, Inquisitive, and interested in their surroundings.

Reality: When tamed as youngsters rarely bite but have powerful teeth and can inflict damage if they do so. Rarely still and unless they choose to sleep in someone’s lap resent restraint. Prefer company. Endearingly interested in their owners. Have a distinctive smell which is not necessarily unpleasant but can become overpowering if they are not cleaned regularly. Easily litter trained and made a popular alternative to a cat in smaller homes as they play like kittens.

Suitability: Young teen upwards.

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Pet Ferret


Appeal: Cute behavior and appearance, active, stand on hind legs.

Reality: Active at random periods day and night, need company, tend not to bite but not cuddly and fast if they get loose. Very clean and do not smell. Easily acquired.

Suitability: Young teen upwards.

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Pet Gerbil

Guinea Pig

Appeal: Sweet appearance, vocal, and good-natured in a range of coat colours and textures. Of an ideal size to be handled.

Reality: Skittish when young or not used to being handled, but very rarely bite. Gentle, placid natures; females can live as a group very happily. A tame guinea pig is a wonderful child’s pet, responsive and docile to the point that they may need protection, as they tend not to bite even if accidentally being hurt e.g., by being held too tightly. Their squeaks of joy when they hear their owner coming with food are a delight to hear.

Suitability: All except the very young.

guinea pig enrichment
Pet Guinea Pig


Appeal: Almost traditional first pet, without the ‘off-putting’ scaly tail. Chunky, cuddly ‘teddy-bear’ appearance, in a range of colours. Prefer to live alone.

Reality: Very nocturnal, most active very late at night when children are asleep, and they are at their nosiest! Irritable if woken up. Will bite if disturbed at such times or when not tame—often housed in accommodation that is far too small. Suited to those who have the patience to wait for them to wake up, and the generosity to provide suitably luxurious accommodation for a pet they may rarely see!

Suitability: Older teenager upwards.

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Pet Hamster


Appeal: Common, cheap, tiny, multiple colours, easy to acquire, cute, and apparently easy to handle.

Reality: Flighty and fast when not tame and will bite if frightened. Heartbreakingly short-lived- less than two years. Require company of own kind, but if incorrectly sexed, can breed out of control at an alarming speed. Probably one of the more difficult pets for children to handle safely- for the mouse and the child!

Suitability: Older teenager upwards.

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Pet Mouse


Appeal: Attractive animals of apparently ideal size for cuddling, large ears, and eyes. Adorable and instantly desirable babies.

Reality: Strong and often too big for children to handle. Rabbits have powerful hind legs- can hurt and scratch by kicking out. Will bite if not tame or when annoyed. Most prefer to keep their feet on their ground and be stroked by people who will sit beside them and allow them to move away when they please. Require company of their own kind and a large amount of space. Best suited to those who will respect their often strong personalities.

Suitability: Older teenager upwards.

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Appeal: Often, the shock value can be disliked by many! Come in a variety of attractive colours and coat patterns. Other people’s tame rats often spark an initial interest in their friends.

Reality: Intelligent, gentle, rarely bite. Learn fast and respond to their owners. Unfairly maligned, very clean, a good size to handle when adult. Rats make very rewarding pets for youngsters as they react positively to handling, can be taught tricks such as coming when called, and genuinely seem to enjoy human contact in a way that many other small and furry pets don’t.

Suitability: All except the very young.

Life with Pets rat enrichment ideas
Pet Rat

I hope that you and your family enjoy finding your perfect pet.

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