The Best Pets for Kids (and the Worst Ones, Too!)

A kitty can really be a girl's best friend. Photo by Donnie Ray Jones, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
A kitty can really be a girl's best friend. Photo by Donnie Ray Jones, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
4/13/23 - By Amelia Eigerman

Choosing the best pets for kids is no easy task, because every animal—and every child and family—is different. But if your kids are anything like ours, then you’re more than familiar with the constant stream of requests (OK, demands) for a new pet. Still, the idea of adding a new furry, scaly, or feathered friend to your home may feel overwhelming and spark a slew of questions: What is the most kid-friendly pet? What is the easiest pet to take care of? Which animals will be a good fit for your home?

Whether you already have a menagerie or you’re looking to get your child's first pet, we’ve got expert answers to your biggest questions about the best pets for kids. Whichever pet you choose, caring for it will likely give your child a new sense of responsibility. Learn even more important skills to teach your children in our list of 65 life skills to teach kids at any age and 70 life skills your kid needs before college.


Best Pets for Kids: Dogs
Dogs can offer both playtime and cuddles. Photo courtesy of Wayne Silver, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

What should I consider when choosing a family pet?

Getting a pet is a huge undertaking and definitely not something to take lightly. Pets can be amazing learning experiences for kids, teaching them about emotional relationships and about responsibility. However, getting a pet for your kids is as much about the animal as it is about your family. When you adopt a new pet, you become responsible for the care and happiness of another life. Make sure that you have a serious (but age-appropriate) conversation with your kids about what this means.

Depending on how old your children are, they may be ready for a more active role in the pet’s care. Kids can be in charge of feedings, cleaning, enrichment, and more. However, we recommend choosing a pet that you as a parent will enjoy and be happy taking care of. That way a child’s short attention span or forgetfulness won’t accidentally lead to neglect. Some pets can live for decades, so be sure to have a long-term care plan in mind.

It's also important to remember that pets of all species can be expensive—some surprisingly so. Even pocket pets require some investment, from housing to toys to food. Be sure to also look into veterinary care before making a commitment. Most animals need some routine care, and all species can have medical emergencies. If you plan to get an exotic pet (basically anything that isn’t a cat or dog), be sure to find out if there are veterinarians near you who will treat it.

What is the most kid-friendly pet?

Most kids want a pet they can play with—and maybe give a snuggle or two. Cats and dogs are just about the most fun pets you can have, and they often love to show affection. But if allergies, space constraints, or any other factors prevent you from getting a cat or dog, rats—yes, rats—also make fun and lovable companions for kids.

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Best Pets for Kids: Cats 
Cats can make the perfect snuggle buddies. Photo by Shakilo Shantanique Ross, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Cats and Dogs

There’s a reason cats and dogs have been such popular pets for thousands of years, and two of the best pets for kids. They are fun, easy to socialize, often cuddly, and really bond with their owners. If you’re looking for a pet your kiddo can play with, cats and dogs are kind of a no-brainer. That being said, they do have unique needs and require a lot of care and investment.

Good to Know: Cats and dogs are huge commitments that will likely be with you for 10 to 20 years. Just like any other pet, they require veterinary care and can quickly run up some steep bills. It’s always a good idea to research breed-specific issues before adopting a cat or dog so you can be prepared for the medical care your new friend might need. You should also research other factors unique to each breed, such as how much space and exercise they require. Keep in mind that some breeds do better with kids than others.


Don't let your preconceived notions fool you—rats are actually one of the most underrated pets around! They bond very easily with owners who spend time and attention on them, and they love to be held and to cuddle. But rats do need socialization, so they should be housed with at least one other (same-sex!) rat.

Good to Know: Rats have relatively short life spans, typically living for two to three years. That makes getting a rat a smaller commitment than some other species, but it can be upsetting for your child to say goodbye when the time comes. Like all small pets, rats need to be handled carefully and gently. Young children should be supervised to make sure they do not squeeze or drop their rodent friend.

What is the easiest pet to take care of?

While no pets are truly easy, there are some animals that require a little less time, energy, and cleanup than others. These pets are great for families looking for an animal that doesn’t require multiple walks a day or hours of playtime, but still want to be involved in the care of a little creature.

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Best Pets for Kids: Bearded Dragons ​
Bearded dragons are some of the best pets for kids who love reptiles. Photo by Kelley Verdeck, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Bearded Dragons

If your child is hankering for a reptile, a bearded dragon is your best bet. These easygoing lizards are relatively low-maintenance and stay fairly small as they age. Like other pets, the initial setup can be a little expensive, as beardies require a tank with enrichment items, heat support, and specific food. That said, these scaly friends are fairly clean, quiet, and easy to care for, and will definitely be loved by any young reptile enthusiasts in your home.

Good to Know: Beardies have specific health needs including UV lights and a strict diet of insects, fresh vegetables, and reptile-specific dietary calcium supplements. There is a low risk of disease transmission from any reptile or amphibian species, and there have been cases of children contracting salmonella from pet reptiles. However, this risk is easily managed by practicing good hygiene and hand-washing before and after handling your bearded dragon.


While not necessarily the most exciting animals, tortoises can make amazing pets for the right kid. If your child is interested in creating a routine for their pet and carefully maintaining a diet and enclosure, a tortoise is a low-energy and relatively inexpensive pet that might work for your family. Tortoises need an enclosure that meets their temperature and enrichment needs. This will usually include a small bathing area, a heat lamp, and monitors like a thermometer.

Good to Know: Like other reptiles, tortoises may carry diseases like salmonella. Good hygiene and hand-washing after handling is essential for preventing illness. However, children under 5 should not be allowed to handle tortoises. Note that tortoises live a long time—up to 30 years, with some species reaching 50. That makes a tortoise a huge commitment, so make sure you have a plan for your tortoise’s whole life and not just the next few years.

Freshwater Fish

They may not be warm and fuzzy or particularly huggable, but fish can be some of the best pets for kids looking for a low-maintenance companion. Fish tanks have been shown to reduce stress and improve mood, making them a welcome addition in the home. Even very young children can be involved in the care of fish by helping out with daily feedings, and older children can learn about animal care by helping to clean the fish tank.

Good to Know: Freshwater aquariums tend to be much easier to maintain than saltwater aquariums, so new fish owners should probably opt for freshwater species. Even though fish require much less space than pretty much any mammalian pet, they still need room to swim! Be sure to get an appropriately sized tank for your fishy friends.

What are the coolest pets for kids?

Some kids want something a little more unique than a cat or dog. These edgy pets will make the best friends for even the coolest kid.

Corn Snakes

Corn snakes are one of the best pets for kids who love all things scaly because they are non-venomous and unlikely to bite. Like other snakes, corn snakes can be perfectly happy living in a large tank (known as a vivarium), so they are fairly space-efficient pets. But unlike some slithering species, corn snakes stay fairly small for their entire lives, so they won’t outgrow your kids or your home.

Good to Know: Corn snakes require a specific habitat, and it can be expensive to get their enclosures set up. From heat sources to hiding places, new snake owners may find themselves with quite the shopping list. Corn snakes also need to be fed a carnivorous diet of thawed mice. If that sort of thing grosses you out, a corn snake is not the pet for you. And because corn snakes can live for 15 to 20 years, they are a big commitment. Make sure you’d be happy having this creature in your home for its whole life span, even if your kids lose interest.

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Best Pets for Kids: Guinea Pigs
Teach kids to handle guinea pigs gently and they'll become fast friends! Photo courtesy of

Guinea Pigs

These sweet little rodents make complex and interesting pets. While guinea pigs do need a sizable area to live in and explore, they take up less space than a dog or a cat, which makes them great for a lower-investment companion. These rodents are small and delicate, but if handled gently and frequently they can be very affectionate and sweet. They are tons of fun to watch as they explore, socialize, and eat. Some owners even train their piggies to do tricks!

Good to Know: Guinea pigs need a friend! These animals are social and do best in groups of at least two. Make sure you’re getting animals of the same sex so you don’t end up with any unwanted buddies. Also, diet is key with guinea pigs. They need a balanced diet of fruits and veggies to be happy and healthy. And while not as delicate as some smaller rodents like hamsters and gerbils, guinea pigs still require gentle handling, so they may not be a good match for the youngest kids.

Insects and Invertebrates

If your kid wants a truly creepy-crawly pet, there are so many amazing options in the invertebrate world. Invertebrates are typically very low-cost to house and feed and take up very little space, making them great pets. Many beginner invertebrate owners have success with hissing cockroaches, as their large size makes them easy to gently handle and they are not typically biters. Stick insects are another low-maintenance option, although they are quite delicate and should not be handled without adult supervision. If your family is ready for a bit more of a commitment, look into options like praying mantises and tarantulas.

​Good to Know: Do your research! Every species has its own specific dietary and environmental needs. Life spans also vary greatly across invertebrate species. For example, tarantulas can live up to 25 years! Smaller size does not always mean a shorter commitment when it comes to pets.

What are the worst pets for kids?

Every home is different, and even difficult pets can be great fits for the right people. However, there are definitely some pets that wouldn't be our first choice for kids. These pets typically do better with experienced owners and/or quiet homes, and some of them require more time and energy than busy families can provide.


While tortoises can make great pets for the right kids, turtles aren’t going to top our list of family-friendly companions. Like other reptiles, turtles can carry salmonella. However, their aquatic environments make it much easier for them to transmit the disease. Turtle tanks also require more intense cleaning that your kids may not be able to handle. And, just like tortoises, turtles are a decades-long commitment, with their life spans reaching 30 years and beyond. Abandoned pet turtles are an ecological disaster in many regions, as they outcompete with native species and harm the ecosystem.


While our feathered friends are beautiful, they aren’t always the best choice for a home with little kids. Birds are very delicate and require a gentle, hands-off approach. They are also high-stress animals, making homes with loud noises and a lot of energy less than ideal. And birds can be quite messy, which may not complement a home with kids. If you are interested in getting a bird, be sure to research each species. There’s a big difference between getting a few finches and getting a parrot that may outlive you.

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Worst Pets for Kids: Rabbits 
While cute, rabbits require a lot of care, space, and socialization. Photo by TJ Flex, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


Rabbits may be adorable and fluffy, but don’t confuse them for a cat or dog. Rabbits require a lot of species-specific care and attention that may overwhelm families who aren’t prepared for them. Rabbits need a significant amount of space to thrive, and they do well with a lot of socialization. That means they should ideally be owned in pairs, doubling the care and expense. While many rabbits do become comfortable with their owners, they are prey animals and may find houses with loud or high-energy kids overwhelming.

Hamsters and Gerbils

Just like rabbits, small rodents like hamsters and gerbils are prey animals. While many pet owners love these little furballs, they aren’t always the best pets for little kids. They are quite delicate and need to be handled with great care, and they get scared very easily. Hamsters and gerbils frequently bite when not handled appropriately, and they really prefer to be left alone most of the time. If you’re looking for a pet your kids can really love on, these pocket pets are probably not the best choice.