Best pets for companionship


7 Small Pets That Could Be Right for You

Pets can be great sources of companionship and comfort, and the health benefits of keeping a pet are well documented. Pet owners often experience increased self-esteem and reduced feelings of loneliness, and they may even gain physical health benefits such as lowered heart rate and blood pressure.

But maybe you aren’t up to the challenge and responsibility involved in owning a dog or cat. If that’s the case, don’t overlook the benefits of small pets! From pet birds and rabbits to ferrets and pet rodents, these guidelines can help you choose the best small pet based on personality and the level of care needed to safeguard its pet health.

Is a Rabbit Right for You?


  • Rabbits are social and friendly animals, and adapt very well to human companionship.
  • They have one of the longer life spans of small pets, living between 7 to 10 years.
  • Their floppy ears, soft fur, and wriggly noses make them popular with kids.


  • Companionship rabbits should be kept in the home, rather than in an outside coop or in a basement or garage. You will need room for a fairly large cage.
  • Rabbits need daily handling and care to become socialized. You need to pet your rabbit regularly and let it out of its cage for at least an hour each day.
  • Rabbits have a delicate digestive system and need a varied diet that includes fresh vegetables.
  • Rabbits and small children do not go well together. Rabbits are skittish animals that need a quiet environment, and the quick movements of excited children could startle and stress them.

Let a Bird Brighten Your Life


  • Pet birds are colorful additions to any home, and you may find their tweeting and chirping to be charming.
  • Pet birds can be kept in a cage in one area of your home, eliminating the potential for mess elsewhere.
  • Many types of birds have been selectively bred for human ownership and adapt well to domestic life. These include finches, cockatiels, canaries, parakeets, and lovebirds.


  • Many wild birds, such as toucans and parrots, belong in the wild and will not enjoy domestic life. They can be loud and destructive.
  • Most birds are flock animals, so when purchasing certain species you really should get two in order for them to lead a happy life.
  • A bird’s cage should be big enough for it to spread its wings fully and fly from one side to the other. Keep in mind that the cage will need to be cleaned regularly.

Keep a Hamster’s Schedule in Mind


  • Hamsters are a cuddly, friendly, and inquisitive type of pet rodent.
  • Hamsters are relatively independent and self-entertaining and therefore don’t require the amount of attention that other small pets do. However, you will need to provide them with a variety of toys to enjoy.
  • Hamsters are solitary creatures, so you only need to buy one.


  • Hamsters are nocturnal and won’t be awake for much of the time you are. They may also make some noise rattling around at night while you sleep.
  • Hamsters must be handled gently or they could bite. Children under 8 might not possess the motor skills needed to handle a hamster correctly.
  • Hamsters carry diseases like salmonella, so you should be sure to wash your hands after handling them.
  • Hamsters only live 2.5 to 3 years, so be prepared to explain death if you purchase one as a pet for a young child.

Have Fun With Ferrets


  • Ferrets are engaging pets with a playful attitude and boundless energy.
  • Ferrets enjoy a long life span, about 8 to 10 years.
  • Ferrets can grow very cuddly as they get older, usually at 3 years of age or later.


  • You will need to “ferret-proof’ your home and supervise them when they are out of their cage, as their inquisitive nature can get them into trouble.
  • You should not keep a ferret in a cage for long periods of time. They need to be out spending time with you when you are home.
  • Ferrets can be pretty smelly, as their fur contains a natural musky odor.
  • Ferrets require gentle handling and can bite if threatened or harmed.

Take a Gander at Guinea Pigs


  • Guinea pigs are considered the sweetest and most social of the pet rodents.
  • Guinea pigs live 5 to 7 years, longer than hamsters.
  • Guinea pigs can be kept in an open-topped pen rather than a cage, as there’s less chance they will try to climb out and escape.


  • Guinea pigs have long hair that will require grooming.
  • They are herd animals — you should get at least two guinea pigs so they will have companionship.
  • You will need to clean your guinea pig’s pen regularly.
  • Like hamsters, guinea pigs carry salmonella and other diseases.

Choose a Chinchilla


  • Chinchillas are adorable pet rodents with soft fur, large ears, and bushy tails.
  • Chinchillas live between 5 to 10 years.
  • Chinchillas tend to be solitary and do not need a companion.
  • They are usually clean and odorless, and friendly to humans.


  • Chinchillas can be easily startled and should be handled carefully. Also, patches of fur can come loose and slip off with rough handling.
  • Chinchillas require dust baths once or twice weekly to maintain pet health. The dust — usually powdered volcanic ash — must be provided deep enough so your chinchilla can roll around in it.
  • Chinchillas can be large and hard to handle.

Get Acquainted With Gerbils


  • Gerbils tend to be very clean pet rodents.
  • Gerbils are independent and can keep themselves entertained for extended periods.
  • Unlike hamsters, gerbils are not nocturnal. They will be up when you’re up.


  • Gerbils are smaller and can slip out of wire cages. You’ll need to purchase an aquarium in which to keep them.
  • As with other pet rodents, gerbils must be treated gently or they can bite.
  • You will need to clean your gerbil’s aquarium regularly. As desert animals, they tend to pass highly concentrated urine that can have a strong odor.
  • Gerbils live for 3 to 4 years, so you may have to explain death if you have a young child.

There are plenty of pet alternatives to choose from, especially if you are more comfortable welcoming a small pet into your home.

“Pocket pets” are what people call small domestic animals such as gerbils, hamsters, ferrets and rabbits. Many people opt to adopt a pocket pet as opposed to a dog or cat because they are easier to take care of, and they don’t require as much attention as their canine and feline counterparts. Whether you live in a small space and cannot have a large animal, you’re gone all the time and cannot properly care for a more active animal or whether you just want a pet that is low maintenance and relaxed, pocket pets make great companions for the non-dog and non-cat people. With that in mind, this guide is meant to help you decide which pocket pet is ideal for your lifestyle and pet-ownership goals.

Preparing for Your Pocket Pet

Though some small animals are much more low maintenance than larger animals, you still need to take time to prepare your home for them. Oftentimes, this means investing in a terrarium, tank or cage, and accessories designed with your future pet’s needs in mind. Many people wrongly assume that small animals don’t need a lot of space. They might buy a hutch for their rabbit and line it with a thin layer of shavings, or they might invest in a small tank for their gecko and call it a day, but these types of environments are not acceptable. Many smaller animals still need plenty of space to run around in, foliage to hide beneath, shavings to burrow into and toys to play with. While owning and caring for small animals might be easy and inexpensive, setting up their living environment is often a costly endeavor.

We don’t have a separate paragraph about rodents in this article, but they are cute 🙂

Some things to keep in mind before bringing your new pet home:

  • Reptiles need a climate-controlled environment.
  • Rodents like toys such as spinning wheels and tube mazes.
  • Most small animals are used to be prey, and so like to have objects to hide under and behind. This is especially true of rabbits.
  • Ferrets are very curious animals, and so need a “ferret proofed” home to live in.
  • Some small animals, such as chinchillas and rabbits, need a companion to remain emotionally happy (which can positively affect their lifespan).
  • Many small animals need an indoor environment in which they can sleep and rest, and an outdoor environment where they can play and run around.
  • Some birds, such as parrots, can live for up to 80 years. If you’re not willing to make that big of a commitment, reconsider your choice to buy a bird.
  • The same can be said for turtles.
  • Crustaceans such as hermit crabs can live for up to 40 years, but need a climate-controlled environment. Additionally, as they grow, their cage will need to grow with them.
  • Fish are fairly easy to care for, but only if you stick with the basics, like gold fish or beta fish.

Easiest Small Animals to Care for and Why They Might be Right for You

While hamsters are fun and active pets, they are nocturnal, which means that they can be a disappointing pet for small children. However, if you work long days and are home alone only at night, a hamster might be ideal for you, as a hamster is great company in the evening hours.

Hamsters are relatively low maintenance and can entertain themselves with a hamster wheel, tubes and toys. They need a wire cage with a solid bottom to live in that is nicely padded with shavings.

Guinea pigs and hamsters are often lumped into the same category, but the truth is that they are very different animals. Guinea pigs are much more active than hamsters, and have a much more expressive personality. Once you get to know your piglet, you’ll be able to tell when he’s happy, sad, mad or excited. Unlike hamsters, which can spend a great deal of time in their own little space and be happy, guinea pigs prefer a large open space where they can run around, graze freely and be safe from predators. Guinea pigs also need to be with others of their species, as loneliness tends to set in with these animals, which contributes to depression.

Many people think that rabbits make great pets for small children, but in actuality, rabbits are difficult to care for and temperamental. That is not to say that they don’t make great pets—they do!—they are just not the “easy animal” everyone assumes them to be. Rabbits are extremely complex creatures, and they need a very specific environment to be happy. For starters, rabbits cannot be placed in an enclosed hutch and left alone. They need an enclosed space for sleeping and resting, but that space needs to be attached to an outdoor area where they can run around and play safely. Rabbits are also naturally skittish creatures, so they need plenty of coverage to hide from predators, such as cats and foxes.

Finally, rabbits need a companion of their own kind in order to thrive both physically and emotionally.

Chinchillas are cute, cuddly little creatures that tend to make people think of a little puppy, kitten and hamster all at once. These animals are extremely intelligent creatures with a happy disposition. Once you get to know them and them you, you will find that you can even teach them basic tricks for the right treats.

Like hamsters, chinchillas are nocturnal animals and so might not be the best animal for small children who go to bed early. If you are buying a chinchilla for your children, consider their average lifespan of 15 years. That is a long time to own a small pet, so really consider if your child will continue to love and nurture this pet when they’re 12, 16 or 18 years old.

Chinchillas don’t require much maintenance, but they do need a fairly large cage with a dust bath in it. Chinchillas are very enthusiastic about their dust baths, so if you’re going to adopt one of these creatures, you need to be prepared to sweep up and clean up dust on a frequent basis.

Chinchillas, like guinea pigs and rabbits, need a companion to live with.

Mice and Rats

Mice are interesting animals to watch, as they’re very active and playful and able to climb robes, run around in tunnels and put on a show for children. However, they are very squeamish and not easy to hold. If you want to buy a small animal for your child to hold and cuddle, you may want to consider buying them a rat.

Rats are hugely fond of social interaction, and they are highly intelligent, making them great pets for children and adults alike. Without attention, rats can become very depressed, thereby shortening their lifespan.

Rats and mice both need ample space, though rats need more than mice. While a large aquarium might work for a mouse, rats need a cage with multiple levels, similar to a hutch you might buy for a gerbil or hamster.


Parrots are wonderful, human like pets, as they’re playful, lively and intelligent. However, like humans, parrots have the potential to live for up to 80 years. For this reason, it is not recommended that a parent buy their small child a parrot. If you’re going to invest in a parrot, you should be old enough and at a stage in your life to make that type of long-term commitment, especially considering that parrots become very attached to their humans over time.

Parrots cannot be placed in a small birdcage—they need an area the size of a small room (at the very least) to fly around in. Their cage should be cleaned every other day and lined with a thin layer of gravel.

Hermit Crabs

Hermit crabs don’t get enough credit as pets, which is a shame, as they are highly active, interesting and social little creatures. While hermit crabs can be great fun for kids—after all, they get to pick out cool new shells as their little friend outgrows hers—they require more commitment than most children are ready for. Hermit crabs can live for up to 30 years when taken care of properly. Proper care includes providing them with an environment with a continuous temperature of 75 degrees. They love humidity, so daily misting is encouraged. They also need sand to dig in, rocks to climb and places to hide out in.


Ferrets are a lot like cats: independent, curious and mischievous. However, they make great pets, as they’re highly energetic and intelligent. Children especially love ferrets, and if trained properly, they can be the loyal and low-maintenance companion you desire. Keep in mind though that because of their curiosity, your home should be ferret-proofed, with all things that could potentially harm or trap your pet put up and out of reach.


Though reptiles such as snakes, lizards and frogs are relatively low maintenance, setting up the proper environment for them can be a difficult and expensive task. Reptiles need a just right environment to thrive, which should be moderated with a heat lamp. They also need plenty of foliage (preferably foliage similar to their native habitat), hiding spots and ground covering.

Reptiles eat live prey, which can make some people squeamish. If you’re not into feeding live mice or bugs to a creature, a reptile may not be the best pet for you.


Assuming that you’re buying a gold fish or some other non-tropical fish, a fish may be the ideal low-maintenance small pet you’re looking for. While you would still need to invest in a nice tank, filters, rocks or pebbles and foliage, beyond that, caring for a fish requires very little investment of your time. You just need to feed them daily, make sure that the pH balance of their water is good and clean their tank weekly.

However, if you invest in tropical or exotic fish, your time and money investment could skyrocket, as many fish require a precise environment to thrive.

Sea Monkeys

If each of the above animals requires more work than you’re willing to invest, you may do well to buy a pack of sea monkeys. Sea monkeys are ideal for small children who just want to look at things moving but not actual care for a live creature. They require hardly any maintenance, and only need to be fed growth food every five to seven days. If the water starts to get too cloudy though, you can negate the food for awhile longer. Sea monkeys live up to two years, the ideal lifespan for small children that want a pet but that don’t firmly grasp what owning a pet entails.

Talk to an Experienced Veterinarian About the Best Small Pet for Your Lifestyle

Small animals can make great, low maintenance pets. That being said, each living creature still needs a proper living environment, a healthy diet, care and nurturing from its owners and adequate medical attention. If this all sounds like something you can provide for your pet, talk to the veterinarians at the United Veterinary Center for advice on what small animal would make the best pet for you.

The next article will be on the exotic pets that are easy to care for.

14 Best Dogs For Anxiety: What Are the Most Comforting Canines?

Few things calm nerves and lift spirits like the unconditional love, attention and security provided by a good dog.

But while you can probably bond with any dog breed (or combination thereof), some are dogs are better suited for reducing anxiety than others.

Watch Spot Soothe: How Dogs Reduce Anxiety in Humans

Before identifying the best breeds for reducing anxiety, it is important to understand why dogs have this ability in the first place.

In a word: hormones.

According to a 2012 study, published in Frontiers of Psychology, human-animal interactions are thought to activate the oxytocin system. Oxytocin helps regulate the social bonding process. It is the reason that a baby’s gaze fills a new mother with joy; and, it turns out, it’s also the reason a loving look from your pup gives you warm and fuzzy feelings.

And this isn’t a one-sided interaction: As determined by a different 2012 study, your puppy’s oxytocin levels also rise when you are affectionate with him. So, while your puppy is making you feel good, you are making him feel good too.

But hormones aren’t the only reason that dogs help reduce anxiety. They accomplish the task in other ways too:

  • Physical Contact Feels Good. Simple physical contact helps to ease anxiety (and this isn’t limited to humans – other animals fight stress with touch too). Some breeds are particularly effective in this regard, as they tend to remain in nearly constant physical contact with their owners.
  • Unconditional Adoration. Unlike even your closest friends and family, dogs lack the capacity or willingness to judge. Your dog will remain firmly in your corner while you confess your darkest secrets or behave in ways you’d never do in front of other humans. You are completely free to be you when in the company of your pup.
  • Sense of Security. Some dogs make their owners feel safer, either by virtue of the dog’s intimidating appearance or propensity to bark at strangers and strange noises.

However, despite the mountain of supporting evidence, dogs are not a magic bullet in the fight against stress and anxiety.

While many studies have found that dogs are capable of providing significant emotional benefits for their humans, some studies have found that conventional stress-and pain-management techniques probably perform equally well.

But come on, do you want to meditate and chant soothing words while thinking about your happy place, or do you want to scratch a dog’s belly while he licks your face?

That’s what I thought.

What Personality Traits To Look For In Anxiety-Lowering Dogs

Obviously, some dogs are more effective at reducing your anxiety than others are. This is true at both the breed level and the individual level.

Dogs that constantly bark and yip, run full speed through your house or have hyper-needy personalities may lead to more anxiety than they allay. Accordingly, it is important to familiarize yourself with some of the personality traits associated with good anxiety-lowering dogs to help you select a good one.

Generally speaking, the most soothing dog breeds and the best dogs for anxiety are canines who are:

  • Friendly
  • Outgoing
  • Calm
  • Affectionate
  • Confident
  • Loving
  • Loyal

Note that intelligence is not listed above; in fact, highly intelligent dogs can cause headaches for some owners. After all, it doesn’t take a genius to follow you around and shower you in unconditional love.

Of course displaying these qualities alone isn’t enough – most official anxiety therapy dogs need to undergo some basic training programs, such as the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Test, and demonstrate good behavior skills.

Curious what life is like for an anxiety-fighting pooch? Check out this video following therapy dog Fraiser on one of his average days. (Fair warning – lots of “onion cutting” in this video)!

Small Dogs Vs. Large Dogs For Anxiety: Which Are Best?

One of the first things you’ll want to consider when trying to pick out a canine to calm you down is size. Some people may find that a big dog helps lower their anxiety, while others will find a tiny pooch fits the bill better.

Obviously, neither option is inherently better than the other; you must simply pick the best-sized pup for your wants, needs, and lifestyle.

However, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind when making your choice:

  • If you want to take your dog with you everywhere, a small breed may be the better option. Small dogs are easy to carry around in a bag, they can sit on your lap comfortably, and they’re typically welcomed in more places than large dogs are. Extremely well-behaved big dogs may be suitable for constant companionship, but you’ll likely find doing so to be more difficult.
  • If you are a touchy-feely type of guy or gal, you may appreciate the whole-body snuggling opportunities big dogs present. Snuggling up with a big pooch on the couch can be very soothing, and many large dogs will even “spoon” with you during naps.
  • If your anxiety stems from concerns about your personal safety, a big dog is probably the best option for you. Few people with bad intentions will pick on a person with a dog – they’ll usually look for an easier target who is not accompanied by a canine. Many “scary looking dogs” are in fact big softies, and will do a great job at making you feel safe while not being much of a worrying threat at all.
  • If financial challenges are exacerbating your anxiety, you should probably opt for a small dog as they’re generally cheaper to support. Bigger dogs need more food, bigger toys, larger crates, and stronger leashes, all of which will increase the costs of ownership. You’ll even find that veterinary care is more expensive for large dogs than small dogs in many cases.
  • If you’ve never had a dog before, or you aren’t already comfortable with canines, you should probably start with a small dog. Smaller dogs are simply easier to care for and control than their larger counterparts. They’re also easier to rehome if you discover that you are not cut out for pet ownership.
  • Are peace and quiet important for controlling your anxiety? If so, you may find that a large dog is the better option. There are certainly myriad exceptions, but, as a general rule, smaller dogs tend to be a little more excitable and vocal than big dogs. Make sure to check out our list of the quietest dog breeds if silence is essential for you!

14 Best Dogs For Anxiety: Anxiety-Battling Breeds

While every dog is an individual and there are no guarantees, the following breeds are generally considered some of the best dogs for anxiety – these canines are especially well-suited for reducing stress and providing comfort.

Best Large Dogs For Anxiety: Big & Mighty!

These popular and large emotional support dog breeds will excel at comforting you in times of stress.

1. Standard Poodles

Standard poodles make great companions for those in need of stress reduction, and their tidy coats make them a breed welcome in homes with allergy sufferers. Standard poodles are very smart, friendly and have an optimistic demeanor, which can’t help but rub off on their owners.

2. Labrador Retrievers

Labrador retrievers are well-suited for so many different purposes that it should come as no surprise that they also excel in a therapy context.

Few dogs are as loving as labs, and even fewer are as gentle; they are typically wonderful with children, the elderly, handicapped individuals, and even strangers. This makes them a very popular breed for service work.

3. Golden Retrievers

Golden retrievers are quite similar to labs in many respects, and they are equally well-suited for eliciting smiles and soothing frazzled nerves. The UKC characterizes them as calm, compliant and compatible – traits which are utterly obvious to anyone who’s ever met one.

Like many of the dogs on this list, they can often pass the Canine Good Citizen Test with a little training, proving just how great these four-legged furry pals can be.

4. Great Pyrenees

Described as “calm, patient and smart” by the AKC, Great Pyrenees are affectionate dogs who are wonderful for reducing anxiety.

These are big dogs, so you must have enough space for them – females often weigh about 85 pounds, while males tip the scales at about 100 pounds.

5. Great Danes

Great Danes are calm, confident dogs that are great for reducing anxiety. But you better be sure you are ready to welcome such a big critter to your family – large males may stand nearly 3 feet high at the shoulder.

Nevertheless, Danes provide a type of affection and companionship few other breeds can provide.

6. Greyhound

Greyhounds are very sensitive dogs, who are very good at picking up on their owner’s emotions. They also love snuggling on the couch with their people, so they are a great choice for people who want a lot of physical contact with their dog.

Note that retired greyhounds are often put up for adoption, but these dogs often come with emotional scars. So, while these dogs can make great pets for some owners, people with high anxiety levels are likely better served by adopting a young greyhound puppy instead.

7. Border Collie

The border collie is an understandably popular breed, given their fun-loving nature, marvelous temperament and otherworldly intelligence. In fact, they’re often characterized as the smartest breed in the world.

These traits also make these dogs a bit of a handful, as they’re full of energy and a bit mischievous.

So, border collies are rarely recommended for first-time owners, and they aren’t commonly considered ideal for people dealing with anxiety. But anxiety comes in a million different flavors, and some people may find the border collie’s strong personality and ready-to-rock attitude just what they need to feel a bit better.

Best Small Dogs For Anxiety: Tiny & Terrific!

These pint-sized pooches are just the thing for comforting stressed-out owners.

1. Pugs

Pugs aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but those who give them a chance will be rewarded by ridiculous amounts of love and entertainment.

The Canadian Kennel Club describes their expression as “human-like,” which may be part of the reason it is so easy to bond with these little lovers (but they’re big hearts certainly don’t hurt).

2. Yorkshire Terriers

Yorkshire Terriers (Yorkies) tend to bond very strongly with their owners and shadow them whenever possible. In fact, they’re at their happiest when they are lavishing love and affection upon their person.

Although Yorkies are on the small side, they have a rough-and-tumble personality that the AKC describes as “tomboyish.”

3. Pomeranian

Pomeranians are great for people who want a dog that prefers to stay by your side 24-7 while lavishing you with love (and a bit of entertainment). Most Pomeranians will gladly accompany you everywhere you go, although you may want to invest in a carrying bag of some type, as these little guys and gals have tiny legs.

Just make sure you socialize your Pomeranian early and often, as they’re sometimes distrusting of strangers and kids can make them a bit nervous.

They are pretty sharp pups though, and they don’t exhibit some of the training difficulties that some other tiny dogs do.

4. Bichon Frise

If you need a few more smiles in your life, a Bichon Frise may be just what the doctor ordered.

These little happy-go-lucky cuties are among the friendliest breeds in the world, and they usually greet everyone they encounter with a big set of puppy eyes and a wagging tail. However, they’d always rather be beside their pup parent than anywhere else.

Bichon Frises are also smart and easy to train, so they’re unlikely to cause you many headaches. They do require rather elaborate grooming, so you’ll need to build some room for regular trips to the groomer in your budget. They do not, however, shed very much. So, allergy sufferers may want to give them extra consideration.

5. Pembroke Welsh Corgi

The Pembroke Welsh corgi is one of the most affectionate and devoted pets a dog lover could want, and they’re commonly used in therapy contexts.

Pembroke Welsh corgis (and, to a lesser extent, their larger cousins the cardigan corgis) are incredibly friendly with most people (and kids), although they can be a bit prickly with other dogs.

Corgis are pretty smart and easy to train, but they are pretty energetic little pups, so they aren’t great for homebodies who live in small apartments.

Weighing up to about 30 pounds, we’d consider them small dogs, but they’re certainly not small enough to carry around in a bag with you or sit in your lap the way Pomeranians or Yorkies can.

6. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels were bred to be lap dogs, and they love nothing more than relaxing in mom or dad’s lap all day. In fact, they may be the very best choice for owners who just want calm, consistent love from a pet.

But this doesn’t mean their prissy – these Spaniels still have all of the pluck and energy that characterizes their bird-flushing ancestors.

These pups make great pets for first-time dog owners, and most have never met another person or dog they didn’t like. They’re also smart and easy to train, and they don’t even require much grooming to keep their luxurious coats looking great.

7. Havanese

If you want a dog who is gentle and loving, yet full of energy and gumption, you’d be wise to consider the Havanese.

Sometimes called “Velcro dogs,” thanks to their desire to stay at their owner’s side as much as possible, these dogs are great for owners who suffer from anxiety and will benefit from the endless buckets of love they have for their people.

But, you’ll have to be OK with your dog-loving everyone else too, as the Havanese is a bit of a social butterfly. However, this makes them great companions or therapy dogs for owners who want constant support, as they’ll usually behave quite well while traveling by your side.

Where to Find a Good Dog For Anxiety

You can find a good dog to help curb your anxiety through all the typical avenues. Rescues often have a wide selection of mixed-breed dogs, while breeders and retailers typically offer purebred varieties.

Give some thought to adopting an older dog if this is your first pet. Young puppies require much more time, effort and patience than adult dogs do, which may move your stress level in the wrong direction.

Adult dogs available at rescues are often housebroken and many have received at least a minimal amount of obedience training. Senior dogs aren’t as popular as puppies, but they still have boundless amounts of love to give and are often more laid back than their younger counterparts.

In all cases, it is wise to do your homework on the charity or breeder with whom you intend to do business.

Emotional Support Dogs vs Stress-Reducing Benefits of Canines

Just about anyone can benefit from adding a new dog to the family. Pets (well, properly trained pets anyway) offer a wealth of health benefits, including, most notably, the ability to reduce your stress level.

But there’s a big difference in a standard-issue pet and a dog that is capable of being a bona fide emotional support dog. So, it is wise to be clear about your goals when trying to pick a pup. And although many rescue dogs can be trained to perform therapy work, top-tier support dogs don’t exactly grow on trees.

Minimally, you’ll need to get a dog that demonstrates phenomenal obedience and the ability to pass the Canine Good Citizenship Test mentioned above. And, of course, you’ll need to select a dog with whom you connect – if you two don’t get along like old pals, the relationship may be doomed from the start.

The Difference Between Service, Support and Therapy Dogs

Alright. So, you’ve decided that a dog may be just what you need to help cope with your anxiety. What do you do now?

The answer depends, in part, on your goals.

The laws, regulations and working practices involving assistance animals is a tangled web that can be difficult to decipher. But, terminology matters, and there’s a difference between a therapy dog, an emotional support dog, and a service animal.

You need to understand the differences between these types of companions, so that you can select the best one for your needs.

Service Dogs

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, a service animal is “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.”

A guide dog who leads his blind owner around is the classic example of a service dog, although other service dogs are trained to monitor their owner’s blood sugar levels, alert their deaf owner to danger, or perform similar tasks.

And yes – you can get a service dog for anxiety, so long as the dog is trained to perform certain tasks to alleviate your anxiety.

Service dogs usually receive a ton of training (which may take years to complete), and they are generally allowed to go anywhere their owner goes, as they are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They can walk alongside you at a buffet, they can sleep on your hospital bed, and they can rack up miles while flying around the world with you.

Certification isn’t necessary for service dogs, and you can actually train a service dog to perform the necessary tasks yourself. In other words, while your service dog must be trained, you needn’t necessarily have him trained by a professional.

In fact, the employees of “covered entities” cannot even demand to see proof of your dog’s training. Legally (at least as far as I can tell by reading the DOJ publication referenced above – I’m no lawyer), they can only ask you two questions (paraphrased for brevity):

  • Do you need the dog because of a disability?
  • What service has the dog been trained to perform?

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs are usually trained to provide gentle love and affection to people in hospitals, schools, retirement communities and other places where people often experience stress or anxiety. They are also commonly used following traumatic events to help survivors feel a bit better.

While service dogs and emotional support animals are generally used to provide their owner with support or assistance, therapy dogs are generally used to help other people feel better.

Because they aren’t expected to do anything extraordinary, therapy animals don’t need the kind of ultra-specialized training service dogs do. They must simply be well-behaved, gentle and comfortable with receiving love and attention from a variety of different people.

Therapy dogs are not covered by the ADA, they aren’t legally entitled to accompany you on an airplane, and landlords are not required to make special accommodations for them.

Generally speaking, they’re treated like pets. However, some businesses will welcome therapy dogs – it just varies from place to place.

Therapy dogs needn’t be certified, but paperwork documenting a therapy dog’s training will likely improve the odds that businesses, schools, and other locations will invite your dog inside.

Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional support dogs provided disabled owners with comfort or support. They needn’t be trained to perform specific tasks; they simply help their owner to feel better by being a dog (or cat, ferret, hippopotamus – technically, any animal can be an emotional support animal).

Emotional support dogs enjoy more legal protections than therapy dogs do, yet they do not enjoy as many legal protections as service dogs do.

For example, airlines must allow your service dog to accompany you on a flight, and your landlord will have to make special accommodations too. However, you can’t take an emotional support dog with you into most other private businesses, unless the owner voluntarily allows you to do so.

Emotional support animals needn’t be registered, although there are organizations that will allow you to do exactly that. However, to take your dog on a flight or force your landlord to allow him to live with you, you’ll need a letter from your doctor, psychologist or therapist.

Service Dog

Emotional Support Dog

Therapy Dog

Basic Services Provided

Performs specific tasks for a person with a disability

Provides comfort and support to people suffering from emotional or mental disorders

Provides comfort to people (typically people other than the owner) in stressful situations.

Training Required?

Yes – typically quite extensive


Basic obedience training is usually necessary, although not legally required.

Certification Required?


No, although you need a note from a doctor, psychologist or therapist.


Allowed on Airplanes?


Yes (although size restrictions may be implemented by some carriers)


Special Housing Permission?




Allowed Anywhere You Go?




Note that none of these dogs are required to wear a vest or badge identifying them as a working animal. But, it’s not a bad idea to outfit your pooch with a service dog vest, as long as he doesn’t mind wearing his uniform. This may help diffuse social tensions that occasionally arise when people bring dogs to public places.

A Word of Caution (and Karma)

Over the last few years, a number of stories have appeared in the press involving people trying to take advantage of the laws protecting emotional support dogs (and other animals).

Often, these people do not have a legitimate need for a support animal. They are just trying to work the system, so they can take their dog with them on a flight without jumping through the hoops typical pet owners must.

Don’t be that guy or gal.

Accommodating animals on a flight is not exactly easy for an airline, and it often generates plenty of stress for the other passengers on the flight. And while most people are certainly understanding of those who legitimately need the help of a support animal, few will take kindly to those who try to skirt around the rules for no good reason.

Trying to push these boundaries will only make it more difficult for those with disabilities to travel with their support dog. Just don’t do it.

If you want to take your dog with you on your flight and have a legitimate need for the emotional support your pet provides, you’ll want to obtain a note from your therapist or doctor.

Then, you’ll want to contact the carrier and verify that your dog meets the size requirements some carriers impose (some airlines also have species restrictions, but we’re talking about dogs here).

Where Can I Get a Service, Emotional Support or Therapy Dog?

If you just want a pet to love you and lower your blood pressure when you’re tense, just head down to the local shelter or start perusing breeder advertisements.

Stick with one of the breeds above (or some combination thereof, if you go the shelter route), and you’ll likely find that your new pet helps you relax.

On the other hand, if you want a service dog, you’ll probably want to contact a local organization that provides training programs or sells dogs who have already been trained. Because you’ll want to speak with a group in your area, you’ll want to just start Googling and see what you can come up with.

However, you can also start with the AKC, as they offer a certification program and other resources.

Don’t Forget to Factor in the Challenges of Pet Ownership

As wonderful as they are, dogs also present challenges to their owners. Most people well suited for dog ownership learn to cope with these challenges easily enough, but for others, dogs may bring more stress than they resolve.

For example, you will need to walk and feed your dog on a semi-regular schedule, which may lead to additional stress for those who work long hours or have other responsibilities keeping them away from the house for long periods of time.

If you have a large or active breed, you’ll have to be willing to take long, frequent walks with your pooch.

You will also have to shoulder the considerable financial burdens associated with dog ownership. In addition to the weekly expenses of food, treats, and incidentals, you’ll have to be ready to cover any necessary veterinary bills.

Even the healthiest of dogs require periodic immunizations, checkups, and regular teeth cleanings.


Remember that each dog is an individual, and even the twitchiest Chihuahua may help alleviate your anxiety – you have to match your personality to that of your pet.

Have you been able to lower your anxiety by acquiring a dog? Which breed did you choose, and how has that worked out for you? Let us know in the comments below.

Choosing the right small pet

Small pets come in all different shapes and sizes and sometimes it’s hard to know which one is right for you and your family. Our advice is here to help you with your decision so that everyone, including your pet, is happy…

Gerbils as pets

Gerbils are great fun to watch. They are burrowing animals by nature and they spend hours digging for pleasure which can be captivating! Because they’re quick and agile, young children can find it quite difficult to hold them without squeezing too hard so they’re generally more interesting to watch than to handle.

Gerbils are fascinating but if you have young children and want them to be able to handle their pet, it might be better to consider another small animal.

Hamsters as pets

Hamsters are fun and active pets. They are nocturnal which means they can be a disappointing pet for children because they’re fast asleep during the day and then they emerge just when it’s time for bed. If they are disturbed from sleep they may bite and their eyesight isn’t great so they’re easily startled by sudden movements.

It’s also important to know what kind of hamster you’re getting – while dwarf hamsters like company and can be kept in same sex pairs or groups, Syrian hamsters are solitary and need to live alone.

Mice as pets

Mice are natural explorers and can provide hours of fun to watch as they climb rope and dash through tunnels. Mice are usually friendly and they rarely bite but, because they’re so small and quick, it can be difficult for small children to hold them. To pick a mouse up hold the base – not the tip – of their tail gently but firmly and then lift their back end and slide your hand under their body.

Rats as pets

Rats absolutely love social interaction and they can make great pets for both adults and children. They get very depressed if they are left without attention.

Rats need more cage space than mice, hamsters or gerbils and they also like to have a few levels so you’ll need to make sure there’s enough room. Aquariums don’t make suitable homes for rats.

Guinea pigs as pets

Guinea pigs can make good companions for adults and children. They are fun to watch and have a varied vocabulary. Once you get to know them it is possible to tell when they are happy, sad, excited or angry. They are not happy just to be left in a hutch at the bottom of the garden but need shelter from all extremes of weather and a run where they can graze freely, safe from predators. It’s vital that they are with another of their own kind. Gentle by nature, guinea pigs can be a good firsttime companion for a child (as long as there is considerable parental interest).

Consideration needs to be given to their fairly long lifespan, which can be up to seven years. If you are buying them for your children, please consider whether they will still be interested in seven years time. Many animals end up in rehoming centres such as Blue Cross because children reach an age when their priorities change.

Chinchillas as pets

If housed and handled correctly, chinchillas make intelligent, happy and interesting companions. When you know them well and they are happy in their homes, they can be taught to do basic tricks in order to earn a treat!

Consideration must be given to their long lifespan, which is around 15 years. You need to bear this in mind if you are buying them for your children – who may have grown up and left home by the time the chinchillas have reached later life.

Chinchillas are nocturnal animals, and need a very large cage plus a dust bath (this is essential for their mental and physical well-being). They are enthusiastic dust bathers and do make quite a lot of mess! Chinchillas need to live with a companion – either a female with a neutered male, or litter-mates of the same sex (they will usually live harmoniously as long as they have been together since birth).

As well as a large cage with different levels for their accommodation, they need exercise time out of their cage and are responsive and lively animals.

Rabbits as pets

Most people are of the opinion that rabbits are excellent pets for children. There are, however, many things to be considered before thinking of giving a home to these animals, especially when you have young children.

Rabbits are prey animals and need to be ready to run from danger at all times. Those rabbits kept only in hutches have nowhere to feel secure and when a child tries to lift them from the hutch, the rabbit may try to scratch, kick or bite to get away from perceived danger. Children can be disappointed when they find their rabbits are not keen to be picked up and cuddled. They do make good companions for children as long as their accommodation is correct and the handling is done with sensitivity and under adult supervision.

The best kind of accommodation for rabbits when children are involved in their daily care, is a wooden Wendy house construction with an attached run area. This will give children the opportunity to sit quietly and wait for the rabbits to come to them. This way the animals will feel more confident as they will have all four feet on the ground and will be able to hop away if they want to.

It also means that the rabbits can still be given attention even during bad weather and children will be able to groom them and watch them having fun. It’s important that a rabbit has a companion of its own kind. Many people are of the opinion that rabbits and guinea pigs can live quite happily together, but this is NOT the case. They do not speak the same language and rabbits can sometimes inflict quite severe injuries on guinea pigs.

The approximate lifespan of a rabbit is between six and eight years, so careful thought needs to be given before taking on these animals.

Please be sure that when buying any small animal for yourself or your children you always use a reputable breeder. Make sure the animals have been sexed properly and are of the right age to leave their mothers. Never buy animals from pet shops unwilling to spend time with you making sure you understand the commitment being taken on.

Keeping a domesticated rodent as a pet is something many people do these days and the reasons behind that are various. They are cute, small, and with requirements that can be easily fulfilled. Not all of them live long, though. Find out more info here about the pet rodents with the greatest lifespan.

You might have heard people saying that a house without a pet is not a home. There are so many reasons that support the truth of that. History traces pet raising way back in our evolution as a species and certain animals have been kept as pets for so long now.

It seems even easier to keep animal companions with all the products available for sale these days. Most pet shops include anything you need to care for your pet, from pet houses to food and toys.

If you see only benefits when it comes to keeping a pet and you’re interested in getting pet rodents but you’re a bit worried about their short lifespan, here are some things to help you make an informed decision.

Factors to consider before getting a pet rodent

When it comes to pets, any pet, there are various things to take into account before getting one. The desire to share your home with a furry or feathery friend and the emotional rewards that come with such a step might make one ignore certain aspects regarding the pet’s habits and needs.

Paying attention to what a pet rodent needs in order to be healthy and happy is a form of respect you pay to the animal. Think of the time you have at disposal as well as of the material things needed for your rodent to thrive. A pet needs to be cared for on a regular basis. It is a being that needs to be fed, cleaned, and looked after to stay in good physical and mental shape.

Once you’ve considered all that and, if you’ve reached the conclusion that you can care for a pet rodent properly, there are a few other factors to keep in mind in order to choose the rodent species that is best for you. Consider the size of the pet rodent you’d like to have. Rats and Guinea pigs are larger and thus require bigger cages.

Mice, gerbils, and hamsters are smaller yet they are also more fragile and handling them must be done carefully, especially when children are the ones playing with them. While some of the rodents that can be kept as pets prefer solitary living, others are happier when living in a group.

Guinea pigs, gerbils, and rats are social rodents and thus do best when living with other pets of the same species. They usually prefer living in same-sex pairs. Mice and hamsters might fight if kept with a companion; therefore, after considering the size of the pet rodent you’d like, consider the number of pets you should buy in order to keep the little ones happy.

A pet is a being that needs attention. While some rodents such as mice and hamsters tend to get a bit nervous when there are people around, others including Guinea pigs and rats are less likely to bite and actually seek human interaction. Caring for a pet might thus include playing with them as well. Make sure you have the time to do that before getting one.

Rodents are nocturnal or diurnal, depending on their species. Rats and hamsters are active during the night and will most probably sleep during the day. Guinea pigs, gerbils, and mice are diurnal creatures, so, if you prefer a rodent that is on your daytime schedule, you might want to try one of these little companions.

Pet rodents and lifespan

Checking all the boxes mentioned above is not enough to help you make an informed decision when buying a pet rodent, though. Another factor that plays a key role is the pet’s lifespan. Rodents are easier to care for when compared to bigger pets yet their lifespan is significantly shorter and that’s probably the biggest downside of keeping them as pets.

Getting attached is almost inevitable and saying goodbye to an animal companion is not easy. However, the rodents’ short life shouldn’t stop people from having them as pets. The beauty is in caring for them and providing them with what they need to live happily. Plus, there are rodents that get to live even up to 7 years as some pet rodent parents have reported.

Guinea pigs are probably the safest choice when it comes to pet rodents that live longer. Such pets live five years on average. However, well-cared individuals can live up to 14 years as it has been reported yet that depends on their species as well. If you want a pet that will be part of your life for a long time, you might thus want to consider this rodent.

Domesticated rats should also be taken into account. Their average lifespan is 2-3.5 years yet if they are well-cared-for, they may live longer. Although rare, there have been cases of rats living 7 years or so. As is the case with other pets, nutrition and the quality of life count a lot as far as longevity is concerned.

Gerbils are also a great option since they generally live up to 4 years. You could stretch their lifespan a bit if you take good care of them, though. Well-cared gerbils can reach up to 5 years with rare cases of individuals that reached even their 8th birthday.

If you like mice a lot and you’d want one to keep as a pet, learn that they live 2 years on average. Cases of a 3-year lifespan are not uncommon, though, yet pets require a healthy diet, a stress-free life, and a healthy environment in order for such happy outcomes to occur. The maximum lifespan reported is 7 years, which sounds hopeful.

Hamsters are also part of the most popular pet rodents, given their relatively simple habitat requirements and the caring-related aspects involved when keeping such a pet. Their lifespan rarely exceeds 5 years, most of them generally living for 2-3 years.

Still, there have been cases of hamsters reaching a 7-year lifespan. The quality of life, nutrition, and the environment have a lot to say; therefore, providing your pet rodent with the best might add years to the pet’s life.

Caring for a rodent

As we’ve said before, getting a pet might seem like a lot of fun and it is so indeed, yet it requires a responsible pet owner or parent. They are beings and have needs that should be fulfilled on a regular basis in order for the pets to thrive.

Taking care of the things mentioned below will help you create a healthier and more comfortable environment for your pet even if the little one has a shorter or longer lifespan. Start by getting the right house for your rodent. Choose one that will allow the pet to move freely and exercise. Stimulating your pet both physically and mentally is a must in order to support its health.

Guinea pigs and rats require larger cages, given their size. Not to mention that if you keep several pets, then a modular cage that features several floors is recommended. Use tunnels to connect the different rooms and add exercise wheels and toys that will keep the pets entertained.

Rodents are called so for a reason: they love to chew. Make sure the pet’s house includes safe toys the animal could chew on. Provide the pets with foods that were specifically formulated for them. Pellets are a favorite food among rodents yet fresh produce should also be added to the pets’ diet.

Guinea pigs have some special requirements as far as nutrition is concerned. They need to have foods rich in vitamin C and fresh hay. Plus, provide your rodent with fresh water and thus change it daily.

Keeping the pet’s house clean also contributes to the pet’s well-being. Today’s pet stores offer absorbent bedding that prevents odors and keeps the air fresher for longer. Plus, use a litter-box to train your pet to defecate in a dedicated area and thus keep the cage cleaner.

Taking care of a pet rodent is nothing complicated but it is something constant. Even so, the benefits of having a pet rodent are many and thus worth every single effort.

(3 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Facts About Small Mammals as Pets

Clearing up some of the perceptions- and misconceptions- about small pet mammals.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Although the ancestors of today’s hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, rats, mice, rabbits and chinchillas were wild animals, the “pocket” pets we keep in our homes today are captive-bred and completely dependent on human caretakers for food, care, company and protection. These small mammals merit the same status in pet society as their larger counterparts.

Lifestyle Issues

The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association’s National Pet Owners Survey reveals that, as of 1998, one out of 25 households in the United States contained a small pet mammal, with rabbits the most common. As with any pet, the decision to own a hamster, guinea pig or other small mammal should be based on careful thought and knowledge, not whim or impulse – including the impulse to rescue. Some have relatively short life spans, while others can live as long as a dog or cat; they all require a lifelong commitment. Potential owners should consider whether their schedule allows enough time for routine care. They should also have their landlord’s written permission to keep a pet and make sure that no family members are allergic.

Some of these little critters are nocturnal, meaning that they sleep during the day. This does not fit well with every household. Also, because they have many natural enemies, they are susceptible to stress, including noisy surroundings and the presence of larger household pets. Considerate owners may situate their exotic’s cage in quiet locations and turn the radio dial to “easy listening.” Some little guys enjoy early-evening activities, while others prefer to just curl up on their owner’s lap to enjoy the Animal Planet network.

If children are part of the family, the age of the child is important in determining which exotic is suitable. In most cases, children under the age of seven are not recommended. With rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs, the combination can be dangerous. The most loving child may think these are “toy” animals who want to be held anytime and carried around. Just the opposite is true. All of them are fragile and can be squirmy in anybody’s hands, especially a young child’s. If accidentally dropped, they can suffer severe injuries or death, or may run away and hide. If lost, they cannot survive on their own. Outdoors, they are at the mercy of predators and other dangers.

Too often, when unfortunate accidents happen, a parent will buy a “replacement” pet for the child. Although well-intentioned, this is a lesson in irresponsibility. It is vital to remember that an adult should always supervise children as they interact with any of these small animals.

If there are other pets in the household, consideration must be given to the compatibility of the species. The safety of the small mammal should be a major concern, since he or she is often the natural prey of the other pets in the home. Some larger animals can learn to make friends with these little pets, but supervision is always necessary.

Dollars and Sense

The dollar cost for most of these pint-sized pets is low – from $5.00 for a mouse or rat to $95.00 for a chinchilla. The cost of housing and accessories throughout these animals’ lives is relatively low. But their value shouldn’t be measured in dollars and cents. As with any pet, medical expenses should be anticipated in the event of injury or illness. Unfortunately, according to the National Pet Owners Survey, only two out of 10 owners consult a veterinarian for a small pet.

Sources and Resources

Books, the Internet, clubs and associations can provide you with what you need to know about the characteristics of each type of animal – varieties, behavior, equipment and space requirements, diet and medical problems. Fortunately, more and more information as well as specialized products are becoming available.

Pet stores, breeders and club-sponsored shows can help a potential owner learn how to tell if an animal is healthy. Not all pet stores or breeders are knowledgeable or ethical. Any place selling small mammals as pets should be clean, have proper cages with enough space for the number of animals they contain and keep the sexes separated (except for newborns). The animal should look healthy and be active. The salesperson or breeder should be willing and able to answer your questions. A great way to obtain one is from a shelter or a rescue organization.

Health Care

Constant confinement can lead to stress, behavioral and health problems. Generally, signs of ill health include cloudy eyes, running eyes or nose, dirty or wet fur around the tail, unusual lethargy, bare patches of fur or any wounds. Routinely check your pet’s ears and make sure his teeth are not overgrown. Follow diets prescribed for the specific animal and make sure there is fresh water daily. Hygiene is extremely important, so keep bowls, bedding and cage scrupulously clean.

It’s easy to miss signs of trouble unless you handle your pet regularly. Regular gentle handling also will make it easier for your pet to be examined by a veterinarian and treated if needed. Never pick up any of these little guys by the tail. If you have to hold on, grasp the base, not the tip. Important to note: many can be spayed or neutered, and sometimes it is recommended. You can avoid heartache by finding a veterinarian who specializes in small mammals before an emergency arises.

Housing and Welfare

The size of the enclosure for one or more of these furry friends should meet certain minimum requirements, but the bigger the better. Wire cages with solid flooring are best because they provide good ventilation and protection from sore feet. Locate the enclosure away from drafts, direct sunlight, radiators and air conditioning. Check that the air temperature is appropriate for your particular pet. It could mean the difference between life and death. Provide toys, untreated branches or wood, nest boxes, litterboxes, bedding, bowls and other appropriate accessories.

It is a misconception to think that just because these small animals don’t need to be walked, they are maintenance-free. For starters, they need more supervision and cleaning of their environment. Is there enough space, as well as security from hazardous objects, predatory dogs and cats or humans too young to understand that these creatures are fragile? Safe, supervised exercise time outside their cages is a necessity. Pet-proof the room or rooms that will be used for exercise and playtime. Most of these pets will chew anything, including electrical cords! Seal up any holes, cracks or crevices that may tempt the curious. By investing time, energy and emotion in the care of the smallest pets, large dividends accrue. The virtues of little critters far exceed their size.

Jill Boriss, a former member of the ASPCA Publications department, has owned several hamsters.

The ASPCA does not recommend keeping sugar gliders, chipmunks, hedgehogs or prairie dogs as pets.

Squeaking Out Against Small-Pet Profiling

Some people want what they believe are easy pets. “Shelf pet,” “starter pet” and “pocket pet” are some of the labels that induce humans to acquire these animals. They are under the impression that hamsters, gerbils and other small mammals take up little space, provide amusement on command, require hardly any work and no veterinary care, are inexpensive, disposable and quickly replaceable. For a long time, small mammals have been the choice of research laboratories and school classrooms because of the so-called convenience of keeping them. On the other hand, many people, including those involved in animal welfare, debate the ethics of keeping animals either as experimental tools or educational objects, ignoring their need for environmental enrichment and social relationships. In addition to nutritious foods, ample space and good hygiene, small mammals, like larger pets, deserve active involvement with caretakers on a daily basis. -J.B.

Characteristics of Popular Small Pets


  • Most popular variety- the Syrian (golden) – needs to be housed alone.
  • Very short tail; cheek pouches for storing food.
  • Nocturnal; may get upset – even bite – if disturbed while sleeping.
  • In addition to a wheel, needs things to crawl through and to climb on for exercise.
  • May cannibalize offspring


  • Comes from desert lands with hot, dry climates.
  • Likes to burrow for shelter; needs enough litter for digging.
  • Must be kept indoors; needs the company of at least one other gerbil (same sex).
  • Exercise wheel must be free of openings that can catch long tails.

Guinea Pig, a.k.a. cavy

  • Very social and inquisitive; needs lots of attention but no noise.
  • Can share his home with another guinea pig.
  • Not a climber, and when lifted will feel insecure.
  • Extreme temperatures or dampness are dangerous.
  • Needs vitamin C in diet.
  • To better digest plant fiber, a cavy expels food material in pellet form (not to be confused with fecal matter), which he then eats, allowing more nutrients to be absorbed.
  • Speaks in squeals, squeaks and gurgles.



  • Not dirty; constantly grooming.
  • One of the most intelligent rodents; can learn his name, play peek-a-boo, tug-of-war and hide-and-seek.
  • Cannot vomit, and is thus careful about what he eats; doesn’t need to fast before anesthesia.
  • Very social and should never be kept without another rat (same sex) for company.
  • Poor eyesight but excellent senses of hearing and smell. (Colored rats have better eyesight than albinos.)
  • See veterinarian at first signs of breathing problems. No smoking around rats!
  • Nocturnal, but can alter his schedule for human attention.
  • Pine shavings and cedar chips are toxic; so is ammonia from urine.
  • Will chew on anything!


  • Be careful of pet mice bred as food for snakes; health and temperament may be questionable.
  • Males will fight in a confined space.
  • Clean animals, always self-grooming, but males have odor.
  • Excellent hearing (ultrasonic) and sense of smell.
  • Cannibalism can exist.
  • To get more nutrition, may eat own feces.
  • Does not vomit.


  • Is a lagomorph, not a rodent; has paired upper incisors (one tooth behind another).
  • Average life span of well-cared-for indoor rabbit is seven to 10 years.
  • Not recommended for young children; not Easter toys or storybook stuffed animals.
  • “Freezes” when scared; if carried, this may be mistaken for contentment.
  • Should be kept indoors. Can die from a heart attack at the mere approach of a predator or vandal.
  • Needs solid flooring in wire cage to prevent ulcerations on feet.
  • No pine or cedar shavings or clay cat litters.
  • Spay or neuter.
  • Rabbits and guinea pigs can cohabit.


  • Can live an average of 15 years, and with proper care, up to 22 years.
  • Basically a pet for adults. Very susceptible to stress. Must be protected from noise and activity during the day.
  • Can be kept singly; two require plenty of room for both.
  • Must not be allowed to chew on plastic.
  • Bathe in special chinchilla sand or dust, available in a pet shop.
  • Not advisable to own with other pets.
  • High heat and humidity can be fatal.
  • Chew toys are a necessity.

For more informationFor more information on hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils and rabbits, as well as on classroom pets and ASPCA books, please write, call or log on to:

ASPCA Humane Education
424 East 92nd Street
New York, New York 10128-6804
(212) 876-7700, ext. 4402

American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association
(818) 992-5564

The Rat Fan Club
(530) 899-0605

House Rabbit Society
(510) 521-4631

For further reading

The ASPCA Pet Care Guides for Kids series includes Guinea Pigs, Hamster and Rabbit.

Are You the Pet for Me? by Mary Jane Checchi, St. Martin’s Paperbacks

Litter Alert

There is sharp controversy over whether pine and cedar (softwood) shavings are safe litter materials for pocket pets. Some experts warn that the oils in these shavings may cause respiratory problems and liver damage. To be safe, ASPCA suggests that you avoid these products. Use hay, recycled paper pellets, aspen or hardwood shavings instead.

©2000 ASPCA

Can pets make you happy?

Whoever coined the saying “good friends are hard to find” probably didn’t have a pet. Unlike your gossipy co-workers, pets are loyal, nonjudgmental and full of unconditional love. Who could ask for anything more?

Indeed, when a group of children was asked to list 10 of their closest relationships and then rank them according to who they would most likely turn to in a time of need, pets often scored higher than the children’s human relationships . It’s not just children who value their pets’ company. A recent survey conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association found that more than half of respondents consider their pets as companions . And if you’ve ever found yourself on the couch confiding all of your private problems into Fido’s soulful eyes, you’re not alone. A study on the bonds between people and their animals revealed that 97 percent of pet owners talk to their pets .


Not only can pets be an integral member of a person’s social network, but they can help extend that network in other ways as well. Owning a dog, for instance, forces a person to go on walks or to the dog park, where he or she is more likely to be approached by other people and perhaps strike up a conversation about the cute little friend. Wheelchair patients with companion dogs receive both more attention and better quality attention from acquaintances and strangers alike. Researchers sometimes call this the magnet effect, and it works especially well for those who have a difficult time meeting people .

The companionship pets offer can be especially beneficial to the elderly or the infirm, who often have trouble maintaining lasting friendships. The presence of a pet provides a constant source of healthy social stimulation that can be hard to find in even a spouse or a caretaker . In such instances, animals have proven effective antidotes to depression. In one case, AIDS patients who owned pets were much less likely to succumb to depression than those without pets . Even in situations where all other factors are the same, the presence of an animal seems to provide a boost: A group of patients suffering from depression who participated in daily water exercises with dolphins saw significant improvements over a group who performed the same exercises without dolphins .

So whether you go with Flipper or Fido, a pet may be just what the doctor ordered.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


6 Best Small Pets to Consider for Your Child


When you’re looking to add a pet to your family, there are many options to choose from other than cats and dogs. Plenty of cuddly and furry pets are more compact, easier to care for, affordable, and don’t require as much attention. Small pets are good options for children older than 5 because they can be a great way to teach responsibility, says Dr. Jennifer Graham, assistant professor at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. To decide which small animal might work as a family pet, you should do as much research as you would when choosing a larger pet. Some of the most popular small pets, such as hamsters and guinea pigs, might look similar but are very different in terms of their needs and how they interact with kids. But if you’re looking for small pets that require less interaction and are just fun to watch, a gerbil or even a chinchilla might be right for your family. When deciding on a small pet for your family, consider these six options — some traditional and some unusual — and before you welcome the right pet into your home, keep in mind that each one has unique needs and characteristics.


This classic small pet is easy to care for and can even be trained to use litter, but hamsters can be rather nippy, and small breeds (females in particular) can be quite aggressive, warns Dr. Katherine Quesenberry, an exotic-pets expert at New York City’s Animal Medical Center. This makes some hamsters difficult to handle; Dr. Graham recommends getting a larger breed such as the Syrian hamster, which is more likely to adapt to being handled. A hamster should also be kept in a cage that is roomy, with tunnels and nesting areas for sleeping, but make sure you can clean the cage easily. A hamster will typically live for about three years, so consider how much your child will want to interact with it: If you think she will lose interest in caring for the hamster, these years might seem long, but they could also seem too short if the pet dies, giving your child her first exposure to death. Unless your child has experienced the loss of a family member or friend, the experience will undoubtedly be upsetting, though it can also provide the opportunity for an important life lesson. “It can be sad but also a way to introduce the idea that everything dies,” Dr. Graham says. “You can be there as your child goes through the experience.”

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs may be in the same rodent family as hamsters, but their demeanor couldn’t be more different. These rodents are gentle and have a sweet disposition, which makes them less likely to bite. Plus, they can be sociable, which means they won’t mind being handled — as long as they are held properly — and they won’t mind if young kids want to interact with them. These cuddly creatures are ideal for a kid who is just learning to take care of a pet because a guinea pig is less likely to get frustrated with its young caretaker. Consider getting another guinea pig as a companion, however, so the pet won’t get lonely. Guinea pigs have a longer life span — around five to seven years — than hamsters do, and they require more time and effort because of their bigger appetite for lots of hay and vegetables. This bigger appetite can make guinea pigs messier than other small mammals, so you might have to clean their cage more frequently as well.


“Gerbils are easy to take care of but not very hands-on,” Dr. Quesenberry says. “They’re fine for kids who don’t want to be that involved.” Unlike hamsters and guinea pigs, gerbils have a relatively short lifespan — about two years. It’s easy to feed gerbils because they have a standard diet similar to that of rats and hamsters: rodent pellets and food blocks, along with some supplemental seed mixes. Gerbils are not usually aggressive, so they can also be held, but they are very fast, so it won’t be easy to hold them for long. This quickness means a lot of activity in the cage, which could pique your child’s curiosity. Gerbils are more sensitive to their environment than other small animals, however, and humidity can give them respiratory and fur problems. If you are concerned that your environment might be too humid for a gerbil, consult a veterinarian.


A rat might not be the first pet on your list, but “they make some of the best pets for small children,” says Dr. Graham. “Rats can be calm, laid-back, not as nippy as other small mammals, and they can be handled a lot.” They make ideal pets if you want your child to develop a strong bond with a pet, because they are interactive and able to learn tricks, such as retrieving objects and navigating mazes or obstacle courses. Since rats enjoy interacting with people and things, providing a number of toys and accessories, from ropes to paper-towel rolls, will keep them happy and occupied. Rats are also easy to care for and require a standard rodent diet of food blocks. However, like gerbils, rats have a short lifespan ranging from two to three years.


These popular pets are good for young children as long as there is also adult supervision. Like guinea pigs, rabbits are good for younger kids because they usually have a very gentle and sociable nature. While larger breeds can be especially gentle, Dr. Quesenberry advises that all rabbits should be spayed or neutered to prevent any aggression (and to prevent uterine cancer in females). This is especially important if you want to keep more than one rabbit in the same space. A rabbit can live from 8 to 12 years, can be litter-trained, and is easy to care for. Dr. Quesenberry notes that a proper diet is very important to ensure the animal’s health and happiness: grass hay, rabbit pellets, and vegetables.


Chinchillas are a more exotic option for kids who want to watch what their pet does rather than have direct interaction with it. Although they’re gentle, chinchillas can be very agile and quick and may not be appropriate for young children who aren’t able to handle them, Dr. Quesenberry says. They need a diet of chinchilla pellets and hay, with vegetables as a treat. Unlike their small-pet counterparts, chinchillas should be provided with a dust bath instead of a water bath. Buy chinchilla dust (specially formulated to mimic the dust in their native habitat) and place it in a sturdy bowl or deep dish, or purchase a dust house. A chinchilla needs a dust bath two to three times a week, given outside of its cage; the cage should be multilevel so it can climb up and down. With a lifespan of around 12 to 15 years, chinchillas tend to live much longer than guinea pigs and other rodents.


These spiny mammals may not make cuddly pets, but they are cute, friendly, and relatively long-lived, with a lifespan of five to seven years. And if hedgehogs are handled while still young, they will grow to be social with your child. A downside is that you might find yourself spending more money caring for them. “Hedgehogs require more care and are prone to more health problems than other small pets,” says Dr. Quesenberry. “They have a higher incidence of disease and sometimes develop oral cancer and get mites, so your vet bills may be a bit higher for a hedgehog.” Hedgehogs also require a different diet containing vegetables and special food with protein because they are omnivores. Sometimes cat food can fulfill the requirement, but you should consult your veterinarian. When considering getting a hedgehog as a pet, make sure to check your local state laws — it’s illegal to own these small mammals in certain states.

Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.

  • By Lisa Granshaw

What Kind of Small Pet Should I Get?

Guinea Pig

  • Adults grow up to 12 inches
  • Lives 5 to 8 years
  • Diet consists of hay, pellets, fruit, vegetables and Vitamin C supplements
  • Great for beginner pet parents


  • Adults grow up to four inches plus a four-inch tail
  • Lives up to three years
  • Diet consists of pellets, fuit and vegetables
  • Great for beginner pet parents


  • Adults grow seven to 10 inches, plus a six- to eight-inch tail
  • Lives up to two years
  • Diet consists of pellets, fuit and vegetables
  • Great for beginner pet parents


  • Adults grow two to three inches
  • Lives up to two years
  • Diet consists of pellets, fuit and vegetables
  • Great for beginner pet parents


  • Adults grow nine to 10 inches, plus a six-inch tail
  • Lives up to 10 years
  • Diet consists of pellets, fuit and vegetables
  • Great for intermediate pet parents


  • Adults grow three to seven inches
  • Lives up to two years
  • Diet consists of pellets, fuit and vegetables
  • Great for beginner pet parents


  • Adults grow two to 10 pounds
  • Lives six to 13 years
  • Diet consists of hay, pellets, fuit and vegetables
  • Great for intermediate pet parents

Petite-pet pointers

  • The tinier the pet, the more easily they can slip through small spaces. Make sure your pet’s habitat is escape-proof.
  • Handle with care: small pets can be wigglers and may be injured if they’re dropped.
  • Children younger than 5 should be supervised while handling small pets, which can bite when frightened.
  • Little pets and big pets don’t always mix: a hungry or curious dog or cat might regard your small pet as more meal than comrade.

PETSMART CARES: Pets purchased at PetSmart are part of our exclusive Vet Assured™ program, designed by PetSmart veterinarians to help improve the health and well-being of our pets. Our vendors meet a high standard in caring for pets and screening them for common illnesses. This program also includes specific standards for in-store pet care.

The PetSmart Promise: If your pet becomes ill during the initial 14-day period, or if you’re not satisfied for any reason, PetSmart will gladly replace the pet or refund the purchase price.

Top ten low maintenance pets for children or adults

In fact, contrary to popular belief, birds are social creatures and can easily bond with their humans just like cats and dogs, so it will be fun to train and interact with your little feathered friend if you have the time for it. Small birds are also very clever with the ability to understand and learn things.

All you need to do for your bird is perhaps provide a swing, but avoid overstocking the cage or your pet will not have enough room to fly around. Wondering what to feed it? Small birds do not require expensive food, however, do ensure that you provide the right kind. A good quality bird mix that contains all the necessary nutrients can be found in any pet shop across Malta and Gozo.

Lifespan: depending on the breed, approximately 10 years.

3. Guinea pigs
Guinea pigs are a firm favourite of smaller children as they are quite tactile and make a noise. They are social animals who appreciate human contact but are still low maintenance pets. They just need a cage, some straw and to be fed and watered daily.

Guinea pigs appreciate human contact so much so that they tend to squeak in excitement when they see you, while they are also known for popcorning, whereby they jump up and kick their heels in the air whenever they feel happy.

Ensure that you provide sufficient straw and hay because when they are not napping, these small animals like to constantly graze which helps them file their teeth since they tend to grow continuously. You may also want to consider giving your guinea pig some leafy greens like kale and broccoli.

Lifespan: typically between 5 to 6 years.

4. Rabbits
Many, but not all, rabbit species are fairly low maintenance. Give them a hutch, some fresh vegetables to chew on, space to run around and they are happy. Human contact is optional but why wouldn’t you want to interact with such cute creatures? Just be aware that they can live longer than you might think.

The optimal starter pet for families, you may want to opt for the dwarf hotot, the harlequin, the havana or the mini rex which are all considered low maintenance. Rabbits can live both indoors and outdoors, however, if you decide to keep yours indoors you must take certain precautions such as covering and hiding any cables to prevent them from being chewed and removing any poisonous plants that you may have around your home.

Hay or grass is crucial to their diet, but you can also give them a daily variety of fresh vegetables and fruit.

Lifespan: around 8 to 12 years, so this is a pet for the long haul.

5. Cats
Most species of domestic cat are low maintenance because they mainly look after themselves. As long as they have somewhere warm to sleep, food, water and somewhere to scratch they are generally happy. If there is someone around to play with them or provide a warm lap to curl up on, all the better!

Unlike dogs that typically require your constant attention, love and care, cats are very independent. Whether you prefer having yours confined indoors or you don’t mind it roaming about outdoors, you need to ensure that your cat is fully vaccinated and microchipped. What’s more, they do not take up too much space, so they are perfect for those who live in small apartments or houses.

Have you found a cute cat and you’re ready to give it a forever home? Here are 6 tips for welcoming a new kitten into your home.

Lifespan: expect your cat to live around 10-18 years.

6. Goldfish
Goldfish are a very low maintenance pet and certainly lower maintenance than most other fish. Keep their water clean, change it regularly, keep them fed and sit them in a nice place and they are happy.

This type of fish is also one of the most popular and inexpensive types that can be purchased from any local pet store. A fishbowl is all it needs to begin its life at your house but as the goldfish grows it may need to be placed into a proper tank. The common goldfish can grow up to ten inches so it will need an aquarium of about ten feet with around 30 gallons of water to sufficiently support its growth.

Wondering what to feed it? Some good quality goldfish flakes should suffice, however, be careful that you do not overfeed it since doing so can have adverse effects.

Lifespan: with the appropriate care and ideal environment, goldfish can live up to a decade.

7. Insects
While not the most interactive pet around, insects can be quite low maintenance depending on which you choose. Stick insects, praying mantis, hissing cockroaches and crickets need nothing more than a warm tank, some foliage and regular feeding. Spiders need more looking after but can be equally interesting to keep.

But there are more benefits to having insects as your pets. If you’re a parent, introducing your children to these invertebrates means that they will grow up to appreciate any animal, be it a fluffy cat or a large cockroach, while they will not fear various insects and spiders as they move into adulthood.

Named for their stick-like appearance, stick insects are interesting to have as a pet. They are known for camouflaging themselves and can grow up to 1 foot in length. Would you rather have something more exotic? Chances are you may have never considered keeping a cockroach as a pet, but the hissing variety is different from your typical cockroach that usually appears during the hot summer months. This species of good-nature cockroaches are docile and easy to handle.

Did you think that fresh leaves, vegetables and fruit are the only suitable staple? The praying mantis is a carnivore and its diet should reflect that, yet, irrespective of which species you decide to adopt, it’s best to check with a vet beforehand to confirm your pet’s dietary needs.

Lifespan: each insect has its own life expectancy. For instance, stick insects can live up to 16 months, praying mantises an average of 6 months, while hissing cockroaches can live up to 5 years.

8. Sea Monkeys
Sea Monkeys are small aquatic creatures that live in salt water. They are extremely low maintenance, needlittle cleaning and are fun to watch. Keep them fed with either special food or approved human food and you’re good.

In essence, they are an artificial hybrid version of the brine shrimp, a crustacean. What’s fascinating about them is that they undergo cryptobiosis, in other words, they enter into a state of suspended animation, whereby most vital functions cease to work but there is no death. Think of it like a dormant seed or a hibernating animal. This allows them to survive until the ideal conditions appear. Wondering how they got their moniker? The name is based on their saltwater habitat and the shape of their tails which is supposed to resemble that of monkeys.

Lifespan: expect your sea monkey to live for around 2 years.

9. Snakes
Some snakes make very good pets. They don’t need feeding often and just need a warm tank with some foliage and a rock or three. As long as you don’t mind feeding it live or frozen mice or rats, snakes make very low maintenance pets. Some species are also happy to be handled.

Some snakes make very good pets. They don’t need feeding often and just need a warm tank with some foliage and a rock or three. As long as you don’t mind feeding it live or frozen mice or rats, snakes make very low maintenance pets. Some species are also happy to be handled.

The right environment is crucial for them, so perhaps it’s best to place a thermometer and a humidity gauge in its terrarium.

Lifespan: some species can live up to 20 years, so ensure you’re ready for the commitment.

10. Reptiles
Some reptiles are low maintenance while others most certainly are not. Scorpions, bearded dragons, geckos and terrapins can all make good pets. Give them warmth, somewhere safe to sleep and keep their tank clean and they can make great pets!

For example, lizards are unique animals but not all are easy to handle. If you’re new to the reptile world, you should perhaps consider opting for a leopard gecko since they do not need much attention and unlike other types, they do not require UVB lighting because they are nocturnal. Slow-moving and docile, these small lizards are easy to tame.

Likewise, scorpions, bearded dragons and geckos simply need warmth, a tank and live prey such as insects to feed on.

Lifespan: a leopard gecko’s life expectancy is that of approximately 20 years, whereas that of a bearded dragon is between 6 and 10 years.

While these creature types can make low maintenance pets, it is important to do your research first and ask a Pet Shop for advice. Not all species within each of these types make good companions. Be sure to know what you’re buying before you get it home!

10 Popular Small Pets

Selecting the small pet that’s right for your home is no small feat. With all the adorably tiny options, it can be difficult to determine whether your family’s new addition should have fins or fur. After all, some pets need massive amounts of care and attention, while others prefer to be left alone. It all depends on how much time and effort you’re willing to put forth to become a pet owner.

You should also consider whether you’d like the type of pet you can curl up with on the couch or prefer to watch at a distance. A little snuggling might be possible with a chinchilla, but it’s a sure bet your hermit crab won’t take the bait. And, there are a few pets that aren’t a good fit in households with preschoolers.

So, where will you start? We’ve got the scoop on 10 popular small pets that, in one way or another, reward their owners with companionable ease.

10. Guinea Pig

As small pets go, guinea pigs — also known as cavies — are virtual giants. In fact, each of the 13 guinea pig breeds recognized by the American Cavy Breeders Association can weigh up to 3 pounds or 1,360 grams (that’s a lot compared to a parakeet). They come in several colors and patterns, and can have short or long hair.

Life Span: Five to 10 years

Best For: Children of any age; a great “starter” pet

Feeding: Commercial pellets, prairie hay, fresh vegetables and water; daily dose of vitamin C

Housing and Exercise: Guinea pigs need lots of exercise. Pet retailers sell portable enclosures in which your guinea pig can safely explore an indoor or outdoor environment. You can add pipes for your pet to run through or offer hiding places like small boxes. However, resist the urge to add an exercise wheel to its cage. That’s because running in a wheel could cause injuries to your guinea pig’s back or legs.

Good to know: Guinea pigs are actually from South America (not Guinea) and aren’t pigs at all.

Dogs and cats are at the top of the human-pet love pyramid for a reason – they like people, they’ll willingly live with you, and they’re relatively easy to care for. But if you can’t or don’t want to have a dog or a cat, and have a young child who desperately wants a pet, you may be wondering what other pets might work. Here are some great – and terrible – options.

The worst pets for young children

Mice, gerbils, chinchillas, and hamsters

These sort of “pocket pets” are fuzzy and small, so you might think they’ll be great for your children, who are also small. But these rodents are generally terrified of humans – you can train them to appreciate human touch if they’re handled gently and frequently as babies, but they’re often sold full-grown at pet stores, and parents can’t trust that young children won’t squeeze them too hard – or accidentally let them out of their cage, never to be seen again.

Small rodents also require a surprising amount of care. They need a special cage, food that’s not sold at the grocery store, a water dispenser, something to exercise on, and “bedding” – i.e. wood chips, that the rodents pee on, and you’ll have to change weekly or even more often. Wait, you say you didn’t want a small box of peed-on wood chips in your child’s bedroom? Finally, many of these rodents are actually nocturnal. When you want to pet them during the day, they’ll be asleep; at night, when you’re trying to sleep, they’re squeaking and running on their exer-wheel.

Aren’t ferrets rodents? Why aren’t they included above? Because ferrets aren’t rodents – they’re weasels. And though they are often clever, inquisitive, and playful, they can also be mean. They bite if you don’t handle them just right – and small children will make mistakes. They’re also escape artists and will make a beeline for any open door, and if not neutered, the males spray stinky pee all over your house.

Ferrets also need both a cage and a litter box, hours of attention/training daily, and have one of the weirdest pet habits out there – they form attachments to particular objects in your house, and make little caches of them. So if you wonder “Where are all my socks?” or “Why do my hair ties keep disappearing?” you’ll probably come across a pile of them in a closet in some point.


Birds are a popular pet because they’re small, relatively easy to care for, and can be friendly to humans. So why are they on this list? Because small kids can’t be trusted to pet birds gently, or close the cage properly so birds won’t fly away. Young children may squeeze small birds, like baby chicks or parakeets, to death, or otherwise injure them.

Birds also make a lot of noise. Even a small bird like a parakeet makes small chirps all day long, and large birds like parrots sing, talk, and screech whenever they’re not sleeping. Perhaps worst of all, birds can carry bacteria, viruses, and diseases that can be spread to humans – and since their cages need daily maintenance, they require a lot of care, too.

Turtles, snakes, iguanas, frogs, and other reptiles and amphibians

They’re cute, they’re small, they don’t have allergy-causing fur, and they can live peacefully in a cage in your house. So why are they a bad choice? Because though cold-blooded reptiles and amphibians may enjoy sitting on you – or a hot rock – they don’t take to being cuddled or hugged, which may frustrate small children. Many reptiles are also small, and can be hurt by children who run around and step on them, or squeeze too hard.

Snakes have to be fed creepy things, like crickets and live mice; iguanas can grow up to 6 feet long and get mean if not expertly handled; many frogs are so sedentary that you’ve basically bought yourself a frog statue with a tank that needs constant cleaning. But the biggest reason of all to avoid reptiles and amphibians: salmonella. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that children under age 5 or people with a weakened immune system should avoid handling reptiles, amphibians, and their environment. Young children: known for handling things even when someone says not to.

They’re soft and fluffy like long-eared cats. But unless your rabbit has been carefully handled all his life, he’ll be scared of people. Even rabbits who aren’t terrified of your family members generally can’t be picked up – as prey animals, they’ll bolt if you try to hold them. Explaining to a 3-year-old that he can’t pick up the adorable bunny will never work – choose an easier-to-handle pet instead for small kids.

The best pets for small kids

Huh? Fish can’t be cuddled. True, but fish are remarkably calming and beautiful to watch, and they’re a great first taking-care-of-something experience for young kids, because they need to be fed daily, and it’s relatively easy to teach a child age 3 and up how to sprinkle the food delicately on the fish’s water. Explain to your child that too much food can hurt the fish, and keep the fish food up high so your child won’t accidentally overfeed the fish.

You’ll also be the one cleaning the fish tank. And though fish do carry germs and diseases, like salmonella, that can be spread to people, transmission is rare. Think carefully about where you’ll put your tank – you want your child to be able to watch the fish, but not to reach into the water and bother/hurt the fish. Finally, consider that fish do tend to die more frequently than other types of pets. You’ll probably have more than one elaborate fish funeral if this is your pet of choice.

Yes. Rats! Rats have many of the disadvantages of other pet rodents: they’re nocturnal, their cages need a lot of maintenance, they don’t live a long time (1-3 years). But unlike other rodents, they’re fantastically friendly and smart if they grow up being lovingly handled by human companions. Many rat enthusiasts liken their friendliness to cats – they may sit on your shoulder, let you pick them up and hold them, respond enthusiastically to petting and attention. They play, they can learn tricks, and they’re very fun to feed – they’ll eat many of the foods kids eat (though there are many human foods to avoid), so kids love saving a small strawberry or a spoonful of (unsweetened) yogurt for their little friends.

All that said, rats are very social, so they’re happiest if you get them in pairs, which adds to the work you’ll have to do. Make sure the pairs are same-gender, if you don’t want to wake up to a horde of squeaking ratlings. And since they’re small, watch carefully when rats are being handled by young children to make sure they’re not being squeezed or handled too roughly.

Guinea pigs

They’re as fuzzy as rabbits, and nearly as tiny as other pocket pets like gerbils and hamsters. So they are they on the best list? Because they’re a lot friendlier than these other small guys. They tolerate, often even enjoy, being held and petted by their human companions. They also live longer than rats or hamsters: a healthy guinea pig typically lives 5-7 years, sometimes even longer, so you won’t be saying goodbye to your beloved pet as soon.

They also have a few unique and completely adorable habits. They make a noise similar to purring when they are being held and petted, they make a sweet squealing noise when running and playing, and they do a curious kind of hop called “popcorning” when they’re happy and excited. Here’s what it looks like:

Guinea pigs are so known for their jumping that many people teach them to run courses with hurdles or to jump up stairs. Guinea pigs can also learn tricks – look up “guinea pig tricks” on YouTube for many squee-inducing examples.

Who could resist? Guinea pigs are a go! Of course, like all cage-based animals, the cage needs frequently cleaning, and you’ll be the one doing it unless your child is remarkably responsible or responds well to nagging. They’re also l’il so watch young kids carefully while they enjoy their new friend.

14 Cheap Pets That Are Easy to Take Care Of

Dogs and cats are great — they provide companionship, entertainment, and love, but not only can the cost of care seem like a burden, but many people don’t have a lot of space or the day to day living arrangements for a larger, more expensive pet. If you’re looking for a new best friend and aren’t in the market for a dog — or even if you already have a dog and are considering a second pet — you might consider something less expensive that can save you money — animals such as hamsters, guinea pigs, fish, hermit crabs, or others. Our list of 14 pets that both won’t devour the household budget while also remaining low-maintenance, cheap, and lifestyle-friendly includes animals such as insects, reptiles, fish, and even a crustacean. They’re all relatively easy to care for, as most cheap pets are, but will provide years of affection and camaraderie. Consider adding one of these small creatures to your home as your family’s new — and easiest — pet.

Stephen Johnson contributed to this story.

Goldfish: $3 to $15

A classic easy first pet, a goldfish is an animal that adds life and beauty to the room without requiring much attention, time or maintenance from its owners. Goldfish can live for more than 20 years, have a memory span of at least three months, and can be taught to perform tricks. Their vision is surprisingly sharp and allows them to distinguish between people — it will eventually learn who you are, so don’t be surprised if a day comes when your fish swims over to ask for food when you’re nearby (remind you of another beloved pet? read: dogs). This is a characteristic that children will love.

Unless won at the county fair, these animals cost between $3 and $15 for the standard variety but up to several hundred dollars for rarer breeds. Daily food fees are minimal, but fish need a proper tank and setup costs about $100. The traditionally small goldfish fishbowl doesn’t provide enough oxygen and has been banned in several countries. Opt for a larger tank, ideally with a filtration system.

Leopard Geckos: $20 to $70

Leopard geckos make a great pet for reptile enthusiasts. They are enchanting, cheap, and low maintenance. The small, spotted creatures may be shy at first, but after some love and care they’ll sweeten up to your touch, just like other pets. Leopard geckos are nocturnal — meaning they’re less active during the day — and unlike other reptiles, don’t require UV light bulbs, but do need an incandescent bulb and possibly a heat pad, depending on temperatures in your home or apartment. These animals also require a moist hideout to aid their shedding, a water bowl, and a second hideout for when they’re feeling self-conscious.

The going price for leopard geckos ranges from $20 to $70; a beginning terrarium setup generally costs between $100 and $200. Geckos enjoy eating live crickets and worms, and weekly food expenses run from $3 to $7, depending on the size of your gecko.

Ants: $15 to $25

The cheapest pets to own are often small, demand little attention, and are the easiest to care for, and that’s definitely true of ants. An ant farm may seem a little dull at first and often aren’t a popular choice — this probably isn’t the pet for someone who loves dogs, for example — but expense-wise, it will save you a lot of money over the long-term. Modern habitats such as the Antworks farm use a clear gel that doubles as food and allows you to watch the ants tunnel. Other ant farms are made from sand or dirt and require regular feeding and watering. These pets require little time, are cheap even by small pet standards, and can be a popular choice for small children.

Ant farms can be found for about $15 to $25, depending on the design. The ants (about $15, including shipping) and food (about $6 a year) are often sold separately.

Hermit Crabs: Less Than $10

Misleading name aside, hermit crabs actually enjoy company and will thank you if you provide them with a playmate. The animals themselves are inexpensive, and it’s fun — for children and adults alike — to buy young ones and watch as they grow. Once they’ve outgrown one shell you’ll need to buy their next, larger shell — a small cost. Hermit crabs sometimes move between shells at night so buy several shells and let them choose their daily outfit. (Painted shells are controversial — there’s a risk of using a toxic material that will hurt the crab.) , And you’ll need to remember that pet hermit crabs need water to drink, bathe, and replenish their shell water.

A hermit crab on its own goes for less than $10 but you should budget between $50 and $150 for a tank and decorations. Being small creatures, crabs have low day to day food costs.

Betta Fish: $2 to $10

A second small, popular, and inexpensive fish to consider, Bettas (also known as Siamese fighting fish) are aggressive by nature and need to be kept in isolation. Males and females are less picky than goldfish, and aside from a need to change the water in the bowl and daily feeding, these make for low maintenance pets that don’t interfere with your time. Bettas often puff up and display their colors when startled or feeling frisky. They don’t require much space, so a Betta tank in the five- to 10-gallon range is an appropriate size and can be decorated on the cheap with rocks and one good hiding place.

Betta fish usually sell for $2 to $10, although rare patterns can command as much as $50. A decorated tank setup costs $15 to $30 and yearly food costs can be as low as $20.

Guinea Pig: $20 to $40

Small, furry, adventurous, and cuddly, guinea pigs are an excellent match for preteens. Younger children may enjoy them, but the small creatures can be injured easily if play gets rough, so they’re not the best choice for families with preschoolers or younger children. These guys live for four to five years and relish the companionship of a fellow cavy (another name for a guinea pig) in their space. These fuzzballs often whistle, purr, and squeal to express emotions, which makes them one of the best choices for people who like to know their pets are happy.

These rodents cost between $20 and $40, and a proper habitat adds about $60 to the initial cost. Monthly food, bedding, and hay can cost up to $30 a month, although the outlay can be minimized and made easy by feeding the animal leftover veggies from the dinner table. Occasional vet visits run about $45. More of a hamster person? That works, too, as their care, cost, and temperament are similar to guinea pigs.

Canary: $100 to $150

Thanks to their day-to-day ease of care and, among male canaries, their trademark singing, canaries have been one of the most popular types of pets for more than 500 years — not nearly as long as dogs, but 500 years is pretty impressive. These animals, among the easiest of their species to own, live for about eight to 15 years and are relatively inexpensive compared with other popular pet birds such as parrots. Pet stores will typically sell canaries for about $100 to $150; breeders often sell for less. Excluding the costs of a cage, toys (canaries can get bored and require entertainment), and unforeseen veterinary visits, you can expect to pay about $100 per year for food and miscellaneous supplies.

Degu: $20 to $100

Degus, which come from Chile and are a type of rodent similar to a guinea pig, make surprisingly easy pets when socialized from a young age. These animals are a pet that require little maintenance and space. There’s one catch: They do best in pairs because they’re extremely social critters. Degus can be found for around $20 to $35 each from a shelter and around $80 to $100 each from a breeder. After buying a multilevel cage ($50 to $150) and some other supplies ($100), you can expect to pay between $60 and $120 yearly on food for each degu (guinea pig food works fine), depending on its appetite.

Butterflies: Less than $30

Butterflies are one of the few pets you can order from Amazon (well, in caterpillar form at least; and talk about low maintenance — you don’t even have to leave the house to bring one home). Raising butterflies is fairly easy and requires little space and time, though most kits guarantee only that some of the few caterpillars they send will reach maturity, so you’ll need to consider the cost of more than one. The best part about this pet is that most butterfly species feed on just a mixture of sugar and water. Expect to pay less than $30 to raise and keep your butterflies.

Sea Monkeys: $8 to $16

Marketed somewhat nonsensically as “the world’s only instant pets,” Sea-Monkeys is the brand name for a type of brine shrimp that are sold in novelty kits, usually to children. They make remarkably easy pets — probably one of the easiest in terms of maintenance. Just pour a packet containing salt, conditioner, and brine shrimp eggs into a tank of water, and wait a few days for the little crustaceans to hatch. After, all you’ll need to do is change the water every once in a while and feed them the “growth food” that comes with most kits, which typically cost between $8 and $16.

Venus Fly Trap: $4 to $40

A plant qualifies as a pet if it hunts and eats animals, right? Venus fly traps are unique in that they have a special mechanism that’s able to close rapidly on insects unlucky enough to land on their lobes. The plants aren’t too difficult to raise, requiring minimal space, consistent sunlight, and a special type of soil (about $6 for a gallon), and are inexpensive when bought young. Both young and older children love them, they need virtually none of your time, and, unlike dogs, cats, and most of the other creatures on this list, don’t require a pet-sitter when you leave town. The quintessential low maintenance “pet” if ever there was one.

Praying Mantis: $6 to $25

The praying mantis is great for people who don’t want to make a fuzzy, emotional connection with their new pet. Depending on the species they typically cost between $6 and $25 each, though you can purchase eggs and nymphs for much less. Rest assured, this insect, whose females kill and eat males after or during sex, won’t provide that. Still, praying mantises are cool to look at, it’s fun to watch them feed, and, on the list of easiest pets, they rank right up there. Speaking of which, food is the only catch with this strange pet: Praying mantises eat live insects, which can cost about $100 per year.

Scorpion: $20 to $50

With their two pincers and a venomous stinger, it doesn’t take an ethologist to see that scorpions make for a look-but-don’t-touch kind of pet for most — so also one of the best choices for pet owners who don’t want a lot of affection or have time to give it. They’re easy to care for — perhaps the most low maintenance “pet” on this list — and need only a terrarium for living quarters, and a heating pad, totaling about $50. The catch? Like praying mantises, scorpions eat live insects, so plan on spending about $75 per year on crickets. They also don’t require a lot of water, but will need to have a bit of it around.

Rat: $10 to $20

Choosing a rat as a pet might seem like a gamble. But many rat owners say the furry little animals are cuddly if handled often from a young age. An alternative to hamsters and other rodents, rats are also low maintenance. All you’ll need to buy is a 20-gallon aquarium or a similarly sized wire cage (expect to oat $35 or more), some bedding and toys, and food, which will cost you about $40 per year, and you’ll have a happy animal that doesn’t need much else.

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