The term “exotic pets” leads many people to think of expensive, hard to manage and maintain animals that try hard to escape and want only to eat your family. This is not necessarily true; the category encompasses a whole lot of much smaller, and family friendly pets. Cats and dogs are nice family pets, but are not always a real viable option. Apartment dwellers might find it easier to keep a small, exotic pet, and in fact, in some buildings certain types may be the only ones allowable.
Some of the best and most popular exotic pets for children are some of the simplest to care for. Look for the animals that are most child friendly, which would rule out any potentially poisonous, feistier than average or Houdini-esque pets. Keep to the ones that have at least a modicum of the cute factor to them, and always keep in mind that you are going to potentially be adopting this animal in a few weeks.
A great starter pet is a Guinea pig, especially for an older child, as long as the child is capable of dealing with some simple rules. A quiet, gentle child will find a guinea pig becomes fairly easy to handle with regular handling and they rarely bite unless frightened. Guinea pigs are also fairly inexpensive, needing only a basic cage, some clean fresh bedding and an easy to find diet. They do require Vitamin C because they are prone to scurvy, but can get that from the same fresh fruits and vegetables that your family is already eating.
Other rodents are fairly good choices as starter pets, but each have their own benefits and drawbacks to consider. Rats might creep out some family members, but are remarkably intelligent and have been known to bond with their human keepers with consistent, gentle handling. Some rodents are best kept in a pair, while others are better kept as single pets, so make sure you know which is which.
If buying a rodent for a pet is just more than you can really handle, there are other exotic pet options that are still small and relatively easy to care for. Smaller birds like the finch and parakeet are very good starter animals, although are a lot more fragile than the rodent groups. Birds are best left for the older child. Another option is lizards and snakes. Some are kind of hard to maintain and need a lot of work to care for. Remember, the larger the reptile or amphibian, the larger the cage and the more intensive the “zoo-keeping.” Keep in mind the snake’s diet before you allow him to slither home with you.
Finally, if you truly want a low maintenance, nearly hands off pet, consider the hermit crab or the Madagascar hissing cockroach. Neither really needs a lot of human interaction, both only need a small space and will not pout if their keepers ignore them for days on end.