Kids and Pets: Beyond Cats and Dogs

By Christina Elston

Stories abound of being able to adopt a tiger cub, hedgehog or even a scorpion over the Internet. But animal experts remind us that a wild creature available for pet ownership doesn't mean it will make a great pet. Indeed, some may not even be legal as pets in your community. Research the animal, experts say, and don't be swayed simply by the novelty of owning an unusual pet. Here's what experts say about some of the more common non-canine and non-feline alternatives.

Learn More about Kids and Pets

Bringing a New Pet into the Family
Making introductions
Beyond Cats and Dogs
Dealing with Death

  • Fish - Ken Goff, of aquarium fish food-maker Tetra, says starter aquariums cost $40 to $100, and require just 20 minutes per week in upkeep. Fish are great for very young children, since they cannot be handled, are fascinating to watch and teach early lessons about pet care.

  • Reptiles - Snakes, lizards and the like are not recommended for children under age 12, primarily because they could carry the salmonella bacteria, which could be life threatening for very young children. Reptiles also have very specific dietary requirements; not following these requirements can result in physical deformities, particularly for turtles, and other serious problems.

  • Pocket Pets - Mice and other rodents have shorter life spans, but do make good pets. Contrary to popular belief, in fact, rats are "very clean and very smart," says Nancy Peterson, an issues specialist with The Humane Society of the United States.

  • Birds - Birds are pleasant to have around and do not require high levels of interaction; they don't need to be walked. Birds bred in captivity, however, are preferred over exotics.

  • Livestock - Bonnie Beaver, M.S., D.V.M., president-elect of the American Veterinary Medical Association, cites horses, pigs and sheep as some of the more overlooked categories of suitable pets. The biggest drawback may be not having the space to house these animals.

  • Rabbits - Some think of rabbits as the ultimate Easter gift. But the House Rabbit Society, an adoption and rescue organization, notes that rabbits are delicate, easily stressed and only recommended for calm, gentle kids.

  • Related Reading:

  • Choosing a Dog: The Best Breeds for Families

  • How to Prevent Dog Bites

  • Quick Tips for Introducing Your Baby to the Family Pet

    Christina Elston is a freelance writer, published author and former editor for United Parenting Publications.

    From United Parenting Publications, December, 2003.

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