10 Best Small Pets for Kids and Busy Families

Should we get a pet? Which is the best first pet? What are the best low maintenance pets for your young kids and busy family? There comes a time in a parent’s life where they need to decide whether or not they’re going to give in to their child’s obsession with getting a pet. I’m certain I wasn’t the only child that begged and begged for all kinds of pets growing up. In fact, as I got older, my demands grew. I went from fish to hamsters, to practically harassing my grandparents for a dog.

I did things like make booklets on why we should get a dog, how I would take care of it, and how awesome they are. I went for it, and I went for it hard. Eventually, my hard work paid off and we did indeed adopt a dog. One I loved, cared for, one that taught me lessons, and was always there when I needed to be comforted.

The choice isn’t an easy one to make though. If you’re going to get a pet then which one is right for your little ones and your family? There is a lot to consider. The first pets I had often weren’t the right pets for me at the time. This is why I’ve compiled this comprehensive list to help you make the best choice for your family.


Small pets for kids under 7
Small pets for kids 8-12
Good pets for kids 13+
Benefits of kids having pets
The worst pets for kids & how to pick the right one


Small pets for kids under 7 

Younger kids need some special attention paid to what animals you may allow them to be around or take care of. Small pets are great starters, especially for young children. On one hand, you don’t want something that needs too much work because obviously, you will be the one making sure everything is being done and being done properly. On the other hand, you don’t want anything that doesn’t take well to young children; something that you might worry would be aggressive towards them if handled too much or could do damage. Like any pet, it is important to remember for both yourself and to instill in your kids that they are living things and deserve to be taken care of with love and respect.

In no particular order here are the 5 best pets for kids under 7 and busy families:

Mom looking at fish in a bowl

1. Fish 

Fish make an awesome pet for young children. Even more so they are the perfect starter pet. They are beautiful, stress-relieving to watch, don’t require much maintenance, and you don’t have to worry about either your kids or the pet being too aggressive. If taken care of properly fish can live for years depending on the type. They’re fairly “hands-off” pets which is a major plus for a busy family.

● Lifespan 

The life span of your fish is going to depend on the type of fish you get and how well it is taken care of. We all know goldfish have a bad rap for not having the longest lifespan but it turns out that doesn’t have to be the case, if cared for correctly you may be able to hold off toilet funerals for a while. According to PetMD, even in-home aquarium goldfish have been able to live for 10 or more years.

● Care tips 

Ensure that you look up specific tips for the type of fish you decide to get. A good resource for this would be the place you buy them from. Petsmart suggests you take steps to monitor the water for things like Ph Balance and temperature.

You’re also going to want to ensure if you’re getting more than one fish, that they can cohabitate with the other fish in the tank. This is certainly a mistake many people have made when buying fish like betas.

● Equipment required 

Fish are fairly basic in the things required to care for them. Again, the specific type of and how many fish will determine specific equipment. Generally you need a spacious tank, some functional and decorative things for the tank, and food.

2. Rats

The jury is out on whether or not these long-tailed rodents are cute or terrifying. Whichever side of the fence you fall on there is one thing that people seem to agree with; they make great pets! They are friendly, social, make life-long bonds with their caregivers, and they’re quite smart, even trainable says Vet Street. The truth is I debated where to put rats on this list. They’re a pretty great addition to any part of this list. The fact that they’re also trainable and fairly easily cared for also makes them a good pet for an older child looking for more responsibility.

● Lifespan 

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, rats have a lifespan of 18- 36 months. Which is a fairly decent amount of time for a small rodent.

● Care tips 

Because these cuddly little guys are sociable they do better with others of their kind and a decent amount of attention. The Merck Veterinary Manual has a ton of great information for you to consider before you get some rats. One thing they do point out is that you should keep the same species together and house different species separately to decrease the transmission of any diseases. It’s also worth it to note that we all know how tiny rats are created so be cautious of breeding if that isn’t something you want to happen. Although rats have the reputation of being dirty they are actually avid cleaners and even like to keep themselves organized. That means you should also be checking their environment daily for clean water, food, and cleaning regularly. Keep in mind that rats are nocturnal and do require plenty of exercise both in and out of their cage.

● Equipment required 

Rats require the same basic things many rodents do; a cage that isn’t an aquarium style, bedding, food, clean water, and the ability to exercise.

3. Gecko

Geckos are actually pretty fascinating little dudes, and not just because they occasionally make an appearance as an insurance mascot.  As LiveScience points out their tails are full of all kinds of tricks. For example, according to a study published in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and LiveScience and a gecko uses its sticky feet to climb and uses its tail to prevent falling. If it does end up falling it twists its tail in such a way that it allows it to land on its feet. Their tails also fall off if scared or to prevent being grabbed by a predator. I don’t know about you but I think that’s kind of awesome. If you have a kid that loves science and animals, they will likely love a little lizard friend.

● Lifespan 

Geckos can have a great life span if properly cared for. They can be around for 6-10 years according to The Spruce Pets.

● Care tips 

One thing that you’ll find is geckos are fairly relaxed pets. Their temperament is typically good but be warned about having two males together, The Spruce Pets caution. They also suggest keeping, depending on the type of gecko you get, keeping a proper temperature gradient. The exact temperatures for these interesting creatures will depend on the type. These guys are a bit more involved when it comes to ensuring their environment is just right.

● Equipment required 

This, again, will vary a bit depending on the type of gecko you get but you will be looking at things like a terrarium, heating pads, lights, food, something for them to hide under, climb on, appropriate padding for them to walk on, the ability to control and check the humidity. It’s best to consult with the place you get them from and do research on the specific kind of gecko you get. Petsmart notes that leopard geckos need UVB bulbs and has some great notes on caring for a leopard gecko.

Kid pointing at guinea pig yelling that it isnt a pig

Small Pets for kids 8-12 years old 

As your kiddos get a little older, how do you know what pet is right for your family? Well, the truth is it’s going to depend on what you expect to be doing. Kids 8-12 are certainly more mature but are they truly ready for the responsibility of taking care of a pet on their own? I’m going to go ahead and say not likely, even if your child is responsible. Kids at this age range can do a lot, if not most things for their pets but you do need to still ensure it’s being done, and being done properly. The good news is at this age they can be gentle and have better control which opens up a lot more possibilities to the types of pets you can consider.

4. Hamster 

Small, fluffy, incredibly adorable, and they have awesome mouth pouches. What’s not to love about hamsters? These tiny rodents are cute and fun starter pets for children that can be more on the gentle side.

● Lifespan 

Hamsters tend to have a life span around a few years if they are properly cared for.

● Care tips 

Hamsters are nocturnal so that is certainly something for you and your family to keep in mind. They love to be active on their exercise wheels at night and that may be something that keeps people up. It would be a good idea to keep the cage somewhere that it won’t be as disturbing for anyone while they sleep. It is also a good thing to know in case that schedule just doesn’t work for your family. According to the Humane Society hamsters can be generally friendly but will bite if scared or woken up during the day. My own experience with them has been great and I thoroughly enjoyed having these cute little guys as a pet growing up. They do love to burrow, exercise, and snack. They also need to wear down their teeth often as they continuously grow and can be an issue for them if they don’t. Hamsters will even gnaw on the bars of their cage to do this if nothing else is available.

● Equipment required 

Hamsters’ basic needs include a cage, bedding, food, water, wheel, and somewhere to put them when you’re cleaning their cage like a ball or smaller cage. They also love to burrow and travel so having addons to the cage is certainly a fun idea for your new little friend.

5. Guinea Pig 

Like hamsters guinea pigs do well with children that are a little older can do have a gentle touch. They are adorable and social creatures that just might be the perfect addition to your home.

● Lifespan 

The Humane Society states that a guinea pig’s life span is somewhere around 5 to 7 years.

● Care tips 

Guinea pigs are social and need to be entertained. They love attention and are the kind of pet that will cuddle up to you. They do well with a companion and need daily time outside of their cage to excercise and have fun. The Humane Society suggests a regular grooming schedule that does depend on the type of guinea pig you add into your family. Their cage also needs to be cleaned often.

● Equipment required 

Petsmart suggests some great basic needs for your guinea pig: a decent sized cage, food bowl, food, water, somewhere to hide, bedding that isn’t cedar (it’s toxic), timothy hay, and lots of toys!

6. Parakeet  

These fine feathered friends are sociable and adorable. The tiny parrots will even sing you a song and mimic sounds they often hear! Talk about a cool pet to have around.

● Lifespan 

Parakeets, if properly taken care of, can live for 5+ years according to The Nest.

● Care tips 

Parakeets are social and do well with a friend. Although if you go this route you may find that they aren’t as open to mimic sounds and may be a little more apprehensive to handling says The Spruce Pets. They love to play so having toys for them is a must, also another good tip from Spruce Pets is to rotate their toys so they don’t get bored with them. Might also be something I should consider for the kids.

● EQUIPMENT REQUIRED

Your new parakeet friends need the basics, food, water, toys, and a spacious cage. Although, like all pets be sure to know what a healthy diet looks like for them. World Bird warns that some food can be toxic, like chocolate, to your fine feathered friends and that a healthy diet consists of seeds, pellets, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and even treats.

7. Dogs

Take this one with a grain of salt. Dogs aren’t low maintenance and they do require a lot of attention and care. With that said they’re also amazing pets. Chances are they’re the animal you think of when you hear the word pet. I’m definitely a dog person myself and have had wonderful experiences with my own dogs growing up. If you’re truly too busy or not up to it than this isn’t the pet for you but these trainable, cuddly, loyal pets deserved a spot on the list.

● Lifespan

Depending on the type of dog, typically if they’re cared for properly you’re looking to spend a good 10+ years with your lovable new friend.

● CARE TIPS 

Dogs require training, excercise, and attention. Make sure you take them for walks and include them in activities when you can.

● EQUIPMENT REQUIRED

Food, water, leash, treats, toys, a little bed are your basics. Your furry friends don’t need a lot to be happy!

Mom staring at snake asking what she has to feed it

Good pets for 13-year-olds and older 

When your babies aren’t so much babies anymore they can take on a lot more responsibility if you feel they are ready for it. There are some great benefits to allowing your teens to care for a pet, as long as you’re also still willing to oversee and step in if need be.

8. Snake 

Snakes have a bit of a bad reputation among… well, people. Contrary to popular belief they aren’t slimy and make decent pets. They’re interesting to watch and they will delight many-a-teenager.  There are many breeds to choose from so to know what the specific breed you decide on needs you’ll have to look into that specifically. Reptiles Magazine suggests these for beginner snake owners: rosy boa, California kingsnake, ball python, and corn snake to name a few.

● Lifespan

Their lifespan will depend on their type and how well they are taken care of. It looks like snakes in captivity can live a decently long life, some living well over 10 years.  

● Care tips 

Reptile Knowledge recommends a UVB light for your slithering new friend. You should also be cautious about what type of snake you get, obviously, one that is venomous isn’t a good choice but you’ll likely also want to avoid one that gets too large. Apparently, these noodle-shaped pets are great escape artists, warns Spruce Pets so you want to ensure their home is secure.

● Equipment required 

A large terrarium built for reptiles is a must along with your basics: food, water. Because they are reptiles snakes also require heating, lights, a substrate to climb on, and hiding spots says Reptile Knowledge. Be warned snakes need to be fed and they like to eat rodents. You can buy frozen pray for them.

9. Cat 

I know, I know. Cats are probably one of, if not the first animal, you think of when someone mentions the topic of pets. Hear me out though, they’re actually pretty low maintenance and come with the benefits of being able to pet and cuddle. They’re pretty great pets for a teen to care for and they certainly become a part of your family. Is someone in your home allergic to cats? This might not be the right pet for your family then. I’m not biased, in fact, I’m much more a dog person than a cat person, but we do have a friendly lovable cat named Fraser that I adopted a few years ago. My kids absolutely adore him. Adoption is a great option to give your next pet a forever home.

● Lifespan 

The vet on 4th says that your cute furry little friend can be with you for roughly 13- 15 years if properly cared for and kept indoors.

● Care tips 

Cats aren’t always the most active pets on their own and do require some motivation to play and exercise. This can be easily done with some toys and attention. Cats also love to scratch and claw things so you’re going to want to have something around that your cat has something they can do that too. A scratch post works great, they also like to play with and scratch dartboard boxes if you’re willing to keep one around for them every now and then. You can also trim your cats nails if they become too sharp but please do be careful doing this, you don’t want to cut the quick, warns the ASPCA. The quick is the pink part of the nail that contains the nerves and blood vessels, you only want to cut the white claw nail part. If you aren’t comfortable doing it then please let a professional do it.

Equipment required 

Cats are pretty simple creatures, they need food, water, toys, treats, and you can throw in something like a tower for them to climb, sleep, and play with as your basics.

10. Turtle 

When you think of cute pets or animals turtles likely aren’t the ones that pop into your head but they should! These cute and sweet hiding reptiles will warm your heart. They’re more friendly and interactive than the other aquatic animals on this list, yes, I’m looking at you fish.

● Lifespan 

Some turtles can live for decades if properly cared for. Sometimes they outlive their owners says Phys. Petsmart says you’re looking at about 15- 25 years.

● Care tips 

Turtles do need room to grow, you will need to allow for that. A large living space is good for them, they also like to roam. The Humane Society does warn to be careful about salmonella, many reptiles carry it so you do need to wash your hands after being around your hard-shelled companion. They also warn that salmonella lives on surfaces so that is something to watch out for as well to keep everyone healthy.

● Equipment required 

Turtles can live in semi-aquatic environments so you will need to figure out the setup you’d like for your new family member. They do need UVB lighting for 12 hours a day if they’re kept out of the sun and also need 2 thermometers ( one for the water and one for the tank) says Petsmart. The type of food you feed your turtle will depend on the type of turtle you get explains PetMD.

kid hugging cat

The worst pets for kids 

It’s important to note here that the worst pets for some may not be for others. It’s especially important to do a little more research on your own to ensure the pet you’re getting is one you want, can handle, and can care for properly. You certainly want to get a pet for you and your children that will fit into your family and your lifestyle. Adding someone into your family, yes pets are a part of your family, is a big deal. It is always a big responsibility to care for a living being.

With that said, obviously if you or your loved ones have allergies that will rule out specific pets for you. You’ll also want to rule out anything that takes a lot of specialized care and extra time you won’t have to devote to them. If you don’t have the space for a large terrarium or for your pet to roam then a turtle won’t be a good fit for you. If you don’t want a 10+ year commitment that will rule out things like cats, birds, reptiles.

Moral of the story is to take the time to consider where and how a pet will fit into your life and be honest about what you and your kids can handle. Also consider the compatibility of the pet to your child; for example you don’t want a pet that needs to be handled delicately if your tiny human isn’t able to be gentle enough for that.

Benefits of kids having pets 

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry very much agrees that pets, as long as they are well cared for, are beneficial for children. Among many benefits, the AACAP lists that kids having pets is a great way to learn compassion, responsibility, to care for things, and are even a companion for kids to talk and tell secrets to. Having a pet can teach valuable life lessons like nurturing, affection, and death. Having pets can also promote healthy activities such as cleanliness and exercise. Pets are also an excellent opportunity for kids to learn more about animals, do research, and make comparisons between other animals and even their own lives.

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