Dogs and cats are great pets, but they require an awful lot of work to keep them healthy, happy and well adjusted. Food, shelter, veterinary costs, plus time, grooming and whatever extras you factor in can really add up quickly, making some people question whether pet ownership is really worth it in the long run. For some people, the lessons that a child learns through pet ownership are worth a lot, but not quite as much as the effort to raise dogs or cats, so a smaller, simpler pet is the solution that they seek. But, what are the best choices?
Although the thought will give many people the creeps, the rodent family offers quite a few nice, starter pet options. These are relatively easy to keep, do not take up a lot of space and if handled carefully can be actually very affectionate. Guinea pigs are probably the most popular in the group, and with their slightly larger sizes, may be easier for a child to handle. They do need daily vitamin C but can get that from fresh fruits and vegetables. Other options are the rats, the mice, the hamsters, and the gerbils. Each has its own advantages as well as their drawbacks, so do your research before bringing one home.
If the rodents still sound like too much work for you, consider the lizards or small snake group. (Of course, with snakes, you will still be dealing with rodents, but as a food source.) Not very affectionate, or interactive, these pets are interesting to watch and only need minimum hands-on care to remain healthy. They do need a specialized diet and some pretty intensive habitats, so expense might be an issue in their case. And remember, the bigger the snake, the bigger the home it will need to live in.
Small birds are a good choice, but are still fairly involved on the maintenance scale- they need their cages cleaned daily, fresh food and water and can sometimes be impossible to tame down. But for a child who is more intent on a watching their pet rather than petting them, a bird is a perfectly fine choice.
Possibly the best, low maintenance pet is the fish. True, a fish will not walk with you or eat your broccoli under the table, but they are beautiful to watch as they swim about in their tank and there is a never-ending array of accessories that can be added to their tank. Each new addition will be greeted with curiosity, and the child can see which item brings out the most activity in their fish. A daily feeding or a weekly feeding tablet is about the only real maintenance a good set up will require. Minimize initial expense with your tank choice by buying many of the items used, and as always make sure that you know exactly what you are bringing home. Remember, some pets eat everything in sight, including their own roommates!