8 Great First Pets For Kids, When A Dog Isn’t An Option

by Karen Belz
Karen Belz has written for sites such as Bustle, HelloGiggles, Romper, and So Yummy. She's the mom of a sassy toddler and drinks an alarming amount of Sugar-Free Red Bull in order to keep up with her.

The first pets that my sister and I had fit in a round glass bowl. Goldfish were a big part of our lives, serving as the go-to pet for plenty of years.

While goldfish have their purpose, sometimes they can seem a little dull. After all, you can’t play fetch with a fish.

When trying to negotiate for a furrier pet, my sister and I settled on a hamster and a gerbil. We petitioned our parents hard, proving that we’d be responsible rodent owners. But finally, my parents caved and decided to welcome a dog to the house. It was an option that she and I didn’t even know was a possibility. Here we were, aiming low.

While Buttons the bichon frise was an adorable and very important part of the Belz family, many homes can’t easily welcome a dog. A lot of people are renting homes these days, and the lease may prevent certain pets. Also, dogs are a lot of responsibility — especially if you end up with a puppy. Still, there are plenty of great options that fall somewhere between goldfish and dogs. If your children are aching for a new family member, here are eight great “first pets” you might want to consider.


first pets

My husband was lucky enough to have a pet turtle that he still looks back on fondly. Turtles are very cute, and they’re a good reminder to sometimes take things slow. In order to prepare for a turtle, you’ll need to make sure you have the right environment for him.

There are a ton of different turtle breeds out there, but PetMD recommends red-eared sliders for beginners. They’re mostly aquatic but also require some areas of land. Your turtle will require some water changes, because unclean water can lead to infection down the road.

Turtles might not be as energetic as dogs, but they’re gorgeous creatures who make excellent pets.


first pets

My parents were a little more receptive to my sister’s hamster idea than my gerbil idea — my guess was because with a longer tail, gerbils look more like the type of rodents you wouldn’t want to find wandering loose around your home.

Hamsters are a great first pet, but children will still need to make sure to use caution while handling them. They’re furry and sweet but also somewhat fragile, making them better for older kids in elementary or middle school.

One of the big things that has changed about hamster care is that wood chips are definitely a no-no. Bedding made from plant-based paper fibers works best when it comes to keeping hamsters healthy. And of course, you’ll need to buy her an exercise wheel. It’s good for your hamster to relieve boredom, and it’s also very fun to watch.

Hermit Crabs

first pets

Recent reports have come out that state that hermit crabs shouldn’t be kept as pets. CertaPet even called them the “most controversial” pet of 2017. But if you focus more on making sure the hermit crab has a spacious and healthy environment, they may be a good choice for kids who know to keep their hands to themselves.

You’ll need sand that hasn’t been contaminated, a large-enough space for them to burrow and climb, fresh shells for them to change into as they get bigger, and friends. That’s right — despite their name, hermit crabs are social creatures. They like to work together and share. So if you’re serious about keeping them as a pet, don’t buy just one. Also, avoid painted shells. Those can be toxic, and they’re just not natural.


first pets

This is a personal recommendation, as I’ve had a pet newt for literally 20 years. He’s been a close pal, and he’ll probably outlive me.

Newts are more interactive than your standard goldfish. Mine enjoys following my finger and saying hello every morning. Mine, like many newts found in pet stores, is a fire belly newt.

He mostly enjoys swimming in the water, but he also likes to bask on land on occasion. He’s active, harmless, and a great indoor pet. All you need is some gravel and some surfaces for your newt to crawl on to get some air. They can eat bloodworms and earthworms but also flies and food pellets.


first pets

Cats aren’t the easiest pets to have, but they’re typically less involved than owning a dog. In general, cats are more like your roommate than your friend. But they’re still wonderful companions.

The best way to bring a cat into your life is to visit an animal shelter. That way, your child and your possible new pet can get to know each other ahead of times. Cats have varying personalities, so you can also talk to staff to make sure that you pick a cat who is suitable to your living situation. There are so many sweet cats looking for a home right now, and plenty of them would be happy to cuddle up with you and your kids.

Tropical Fish

first pets

Yes, there is a difference between goldfish and tropical fish. When you get tropical fish, you usually have a huge tank that allows your pets to swim, interact, and thrive.

You can teach your children about communities of fish when you have more than a few who are interacting together. You can also learn a lot yourself and research which fish are the most compatible so you can make the most out of your tank experience. Just watching a tank is a great way to find some peace. Starter aquariums are a great place to begin.


first pets

Looking for an easy pet? A snail may be the perfect fit. They’re quiet, which means they’re great for an apartment, and children can easily handle them.

Snails also eat most fruits and vegetables, so that extra lettuce in your fridge that’s days away from being tossed out would be an ideal meal for your new pet. They can also eat dried, crushed egg shells.

Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs can be a lot of fun for any family — and according to Vetstreet, they’re fairly easy pets to have in the home.

They also last longer than your standard hamster. On average, guinea pigs can live anywhere from five to seven years, but plenty of guinea pigs have surpassed that milestone. They’re responsive to their owners, and most of them are genuinely in good health. Much like cats, they also come with their own personalities. So before picking one up, you’ll want to make sure the two of you get along first.