Family Pets


Small vs. large; feathers vs. fins; rodent vs. lizard: What kind of pet is best for your family?

Has your kid been pestering you about getting a pet? Even if you have always been a cat person, take a minute to think about the wide variety of options: time, space, cost, simple preference, and everyone’s personalities. Although some species of animals naturally live longer than others, the kids should understand that they are adding another living being to the mix—not a toy. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs are the most common American companion animal, followed closely by cats, then birds. Among cage animals, guinea pigs are very popular, and aquarium fish are often recommended as a pet that a child can care for independently. Read on to get ideas and learn more about some of the top pet picks for families. You may just surprise yourself!

Dogs and Cats

Remember that puppies and kittens are infants. As such, they require the highest level of care (especially in regards to potty training) and have more unpredictable personalities than older cats and dogs. There are a number of organizations in Austin (including Town Lake Animal Shelter, the ASPCA, and Austin Pets Alive!) that will allow you to mix and mingle with a prospective pet, and the folks you meet there will have advice of their own to offer you about selecting a dog or cat. Keep in mind that dogs require lots of attention and exercise, consistent access to the outdoors, and time for training and so- cializing. Cats will also need care and affection but tend to be more indepen- dent creatures that can go hours without humans and never take offense.

Cage Animals

Members of the rodent family are popular choices for children, as they are social creatures that need only a moderate amount of space, rarely bite, enjoy being cuddled and played with, and are fun to watch. Hamsters prefer living alone in a small cage; they are nocturnal and have a very short life span compared to other pets. Guinea pigs, gerbils, rats and mice are best kept in pairs. Guinea pigs are larger, so they are very easy to handle. They will need supplemental vitamin C, which can be easily given through fresh fruits and vegetables—just make sure your children aren’t giving away their dinners!

If you as the parent wouldn’t be able to stomach the idea of holding a pet rat or mouse, it’s best not to give this option to your child. Contrary to popular opinion, however, both species are very clean and quite intelligent, which makes them easy to train. Rats do need a more spacious cage, and some male rats may urine mark. Mice live best in groups (creating a group of the same gender will prevent unexpected addi- tions), have a shorter life span, and, like all rodents, are fond of gnawing and chewing, so don’t forget the toys!

Reptiles are a cage pet alternative to rodents, though the small habitats they require are more of an investment. A leopard gecko is one of the easiest rep- tiles to care for. Like all reptiles, they are cold-blooded and so, require a heat lamp and enjoy heated stones for sleep- ing. Leopard geckos are often calm and can be held in clean hands, but they aren’t exactly cuddly. They eat insects, often small crickets, which can be found at most pet stores. Some youngsters may find this thrilling, while others may not enjoy it at all, so feel out your child’s take on this before investing in a reptile.

If your child is very young, a fish may be a good first foray into the world of pets. Tropical fish are easy to feed, colorful and mesmerizing to watch, especially for little ones. However, their life spans tend to be unpredictable, so if you have a particularly emotional child, you may want to find a pet that will be more likely to stick around.

Birds, while often underrated as companion animals for children, are actually quite easy to care for. They are social, attractive, intelligent, and have relatively long life spans. They can be held, but they do need a gentle touch. Depending on the activity level your family desires, a chatty parrot could be the perfect addition to your flock.