Family life

5 best pets for kids (and 3 to avoid!)

Which pets are the easiest to raise? Here’s a look at animals that are reasonably low-maintenance (and three you should steer clear of).

By Farhana Uddin

5 best pets for kids (and 3 to avoid!)

Photo: iStockphoto

Best pets for kids

Are your kids ready for a pet?

All animals need attention, grooming and care, but compared to their counterparts, the following creatures require relatively minimal work.

Young family petting golden retrieverPhoto: iStockphoto

Betta fish

While you may be drawn to the classic goldfish as a beginner pet, Calgary-based veterinarian Wendy McClelland advises against it. They require more space than many other fish, frequent water changes and regular filter cleaning. These responsibilities tend to fall less on the kids and more on the parents.  McClelland recommends betta fish, as they require the least maintenance. "They’re inexpensive and they don’t need any filters, chemicals or aeration in an aquarium.”

Forget dealing with frequent meals—bettas only require feeding once or twice a day. Just drop a beautiful betta in a 9.5 litre tank of water and you’re all set. But keep in mind that they’re solitary creatures. “Betta fish have the tendency to fight with other fish,” says McClelland, “so it’s important they are housed alone.” 

5 best pets for kids (and 3 to avoid!)Photo: iStockphoto


Leaning towards a more exotic pet? You might dig a degu. A tad larger than your traditional hamster, these delightful rodents are enjoyable, good-natured and easy to look after. “They’re amusing and interactive with kids,” says McClelland. “And unlike a hamster, degus are not nocturnal.” Since they have the same sleep patterns as people, you won’t have to deal with squeaking noises keeping everyone up at obscure hours of the night. Nutrition-wise, degus are designed to eat a diet high in fibre and low in carbs. “High-quality chinchilla or guinea pig food with rodent blocks is a good place to start,” suggests McClelland.

Bonus tip: They love to be held, but never pick one up by its tail.

5 best pets for kids (and 3 to avoid!)Photo: iStockphoto


Searching for the purr-fect companion? “In contrast to other popular pets, cats are rather low maintenance,” says McClelland. “They’re fun to play with, but they also don’t mind being alone.” Plus, you don’t have to walk them, so you’ll be spared any empty promises from your kids.

What’s more, a cat’s stay-at-home nature makes it less susceptible to outside harm and injury. “That certainly helps for parents trying to avoid sky-high vet bills.”  

5 best pets for kids (and 3 to avoid!)Photo: iStockphoto

Guinea pigs

Another cuddly critter of the rodent family, guinea pigs are social and generally kind in nature, making them great with kids. But, despite their nice demeanour, they require more upkeep than degus. For starters, while they share a similar diet to degus, most guinea pigs are at least 400 grams heavier, which means they’re likely to eat a lot more than their fellow rodents. “Guinea pigs also like to kick shavings and make a bigger mess than other rodent pets, so there’s a little more cleaning involved,” says McClelland. “But kids really seem to love them.”

5 best pets for kids (and 3 to avoid!)Photo: iStockphoto

Golden retrievers and labradors

If you have your heart set on a dog, it’s best to remember that all breeds come with a different disposition. McClelland notes that golden retrievers and labs (or lab crosses) tend to be great with children. “Goldies and lab crosses make excellent domestic pets,” says McClelland. “They all have really wonderful temperaments and are pleasant with kids and other animals.”

5 best pets for kids (and 3 to avoid!)Photo: iStockphoto

Three pets to avoid

While there are many more animals that make awesome additions to the family household, here’s a rundown of a few you should probably avoid:

Bunnies As cute as they are, bunnies aren’t necessarily kid-friendly. “They’re prey animals,” McClelland explains. “If toddlers try to pick them up and snuggle them too hard, they can easily get scared and bite or scratch in response.” This often leads to children dropping them. “It isn’t uncommon for a bunny to get a broken back from a plummet to the ground.”

Shar-Peis This dog breed comes with a strong and sometimes aggressive personality that can be difficult to train. “They’re really fuzzy and adorable to look at," says McClelland, "but their temperaments are a lot more challenging.”

Chinchillas One of the most high-maintenance rodent pets, McClelland notes that they require regular dust baths, special cages and aren’t very amicable towards young children.

5 best pets for kids (and 3 to avoid!)Photo: iStockphoto

Read more: 4 things to consider before getting a family pet The debate: Is getting a dog a good idea when you have little kids? Another reason to get that cute puppy: Pets make for healthier babies