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The Best Pets for Kids — and Tips On Choosing The Right One For Your Family

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By Jackie Frere, Woman's Day

Congratulations! You’ve decided to grow your family and welcome a pet into the fold. Before you head over to the pet store (or, better yet, adoption center), there are a ton of things to consider. And the most important thing to determine is what type of animal you’ll be getting. If there are children involved, that means figuring out the best pets for kids, because it isn't always as copasetic as TV makes it out to be.

While there’s no guarantee that a certain type of animal is the perfect fit for your child, it’s important to consider the personality traits of your kid first. Are they active, homebodies, intelligent, quiet, or playful children? By matching the character of your child to similar traits of the type of animal you’ll be getting, the two should get along quite nicely.

"To really create the human-animal bond, [the fulfillment] has to be mutual," veterinarian Dr. Liz Bales says tells Woman's Day. "They will best fulfill your needs when you fulfill their needs, then the magic happens with a lifelong bond.”

But that’s not the only thing you need to consider as a parent. Each type of animal has a different cost and commitment, and it’s important to understand the needs and life expectancy of your new pet. Once you’ve chosen the best pet for your kid, it will be one of the most fulfilling and valuable life lessons they will ever have. They’ll learn responsibility, patience, care, and most importantly, love.


Birds

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If your kids are looking for an animal to bond with and care for, a bird could be the right match. They're not necessarily as high-maintenance as dogs or cats, but birds still have big personalities and activity time.

"Birds are relatively intelligent creatures and need stimulation," Bales says. It's not only important to feed them properly, but give them an enriched environment by understanding their needs, which can mean human interaction, time outside of the cage, talking to them, and more. Birds can also live up to 20 years and more, giving your child a lifelong friend.


Turtles

© Alen Scot - Getty Images

Reptiles, like turtles, snakes, or lizards, are great starter pets for kids to have. They're quiet, low maintenance, and nonallergenic. But, it's key to get as much information on your new animal before buying (did you know that turtles could be linked to salmonella?). You'll also want to make sure there's a vet in your area that can take care of your pet in case anything were to happen in the future.


Cat

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Cats are playful animals that require less maintenance than dogs (no walking or baths required), but can still hold their own when interacting with small children. They're not as energetic as a typical pup and won't be able to keep up for a few hours of playtime, so if you're child is looking for a lively friend to play with everyday, cats may not be the right choice.

That said, they need a space to roam. Bales recommends giving cats a large space for them to hide, wander, and climb throughout the day, and they need human playtime at least twice a day. She also says you should consider taking two cats from the same litter so they can play with each other. .


Dog

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Dogs are the classic first pet for kids for a reason. They're playful, loving, and hard to push around. Bales' biggest piece of advice is to look into the behaviors of the breeds. It's easy to fall in love with a cute puppy, but a guard dog wants something to guard, a hearding dog wants to heard (possibly with his mouth), and smaller dogs need more exercise than you think. If you find a breed of dog that fits with the same behaviors of your child, it should be a pretty perfect match.


Fish

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Fish are the perfect starter pets for small children, because they can fit just about anywhere in their rooms, don't need much attention, and can teach them important skills outside of school.

"To properly care for a fish requires some chemistry knowledge to create the right water requirements and temperature for the needs of a fish," Bales says. So, if your children are interested in science, this might be the best pet for them! They'll have to do their research on what kind of water, food, and other types of fish can go in their tank, but it's a learning experience everyday.


Guinea Pig or Hamster

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If you're not sure if your child is ready for a cat or dog just yet, consider starting them out with a guinea pig or hamster first. They're smaller, and are pretty independent inside their cages with the help of toys. That said, they still have daily and weekly needs such as feedings, cleaning out cages, and human attention.


Rabbit

© Getty Images

In addition to being adorable, rabbits are smart creatures, too. And even though they may seem like small, low-maintenance animals, these pets need as much love and care as a cat or dog. So if your child is looking for a pet that needs exercise, can learn tricks or be trained, and has specific daily needs, a rabbit may be a great compromise. Bales stresses that it's important to find the right vet to care for them (someone who specializes in cats and dogs is not the right expert!), and to properly understand what kind of food diet they need. The Humane Society states that rabbits eat fresh veggies every day, so maybe this will encourage the kids to start eating healthy, too.

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