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Kids have a wonderful enthusiasm for the natural world and plenty of parents get fooled into bringing home a family pet. But what if your kids aren’t happy with just a cat or a dog? What happens when they want something a little bigger or a little scalier?
For most parents, the idea of getting anything bigger than a labrador is scary and many creatures require a significant amount of care to stay happy and healthy. However, if you’re willing to do something a little different and allow your little zookeeper in training a bit of leeway, there are a few animals you might like to consider.
Horses are a surprisingly popular pet choice and though they require a lot of maintenance, they do give a lot back. Once you’ve sorted out stables, worked out who’s going to muck out and sourced everything, horses can help to boost your kid’s confidence. Give them a safe space to relax, have fun and encourage them to live a healthy and responsible lifestyle too.
Before you jump straight into buying a horse, though, do try taking some riding lessons and see if there’s anyone who needs help taking care of their horse. Lots of horse owners need someone who can share the load and this is a good chance to see if you’re up to the task before you spend a small fortune. You should also make sure that your kids are willing to put in the time doing chores around the stables because owning a horse isn’t just about the fun stuff – it’s hard work too!
Birds are lovely companions and while they might not be particularly cuddly or get on well with cats, they are colourful, noisy and fun to be around. Some birds can learn to perform tricks and like playing and receiving attention. Budgies are a popular choice as they are small and affectionate. However, you might also like to look at larger parrots if you have the space.
Welcoming a new feathered friend to your home is not unlike welcoming any other pet. They will need a suitable space they can consider their own and plenty of food and water. Happy birds like to play so make sure they have access to toys and room to move about. Lots of birds also like human affection so make sure you have time to meet their needs.
Guinea pigs are another popular pet and are happy to be kept inside or outside in a hutch. They are great for children as they are quite friendly and curious animals. As grazing animals, guinea pigs need access to fresh food and water all the time and appreciate a bit of time in an outside run – just make sure they are supervised to avoid predators getting to them!
Guinea pigs are happy to be handled and the long haired varieties in particular need to be groomed regularly to avoid their hair getting matted. They also like to play and a cardboard tube or box can offer a fun space to explore. Hiding food around their hutch is also a good way to keep them interested throughout the day.
We tend to think of rats as pests but tamed pet rats are actually lovely to have around. Contrary to popular opinion, rats are very clean and are quite intelligent. They like to play and interact with people and, since they tend to sleep during the day, they won’t mind if you’re out. Rats tend to be most active at dawn and dusk so are great pets for anyone working full time and kids who are of school age.
Rats may be small but they still have some more complex needs that need to be addressed. For a start, rats should never have to live alone as they are a highly social creatures and love to be around their own kind. Like birds, rats also need plenty of toys to keep them occupied and many like to play with their owners during their waking hours.
They may not be fluffy or particularly cute but lizards are very chilled pets and despite their alien image, tend to be fairly easy to care for. The trick is to get their environment right so that they can thrive, then it’s just a case of providing the right food and a space they can explore.
Bearded dragons are the most popular pet lizard in the UK and no two dragons are the same. Some are lazy, some are hyper but most have a good temperament and are happy to be handled by kids. Bearded dragons are fun to play with and they will expect an hour or two of contact each day. Though lizards aren’t really the fetching type, they also like to have balls to roll around their tank and brightly coloured ones are favoured – just make sure they won’t be able to swallow it by accident!
Pets are a great way to help socialize your kids and introduce them to ideas such as healthy living. Learning to care for a pet is a good way to encourage empathy as well as giving them a chance to take on a little more (quietly supervised) responsibility.
The key to buying a pet is understanding what your kids want. A child who is interested in having a quiet pet who intrigues them will probably enjoy a lizard more than a child who wants to be active. You should also keep the lifespan of each pet in mind. While a healthy rat can live for around 2 years, a guinea pig of the same sort of size can live for up to 8 years.
As you bring more animals into your home, make sure that you have the time and money to look after them properly. Each animal will require your attention every day and while plenty of animals will be happy to play with the inner tube from a kitchen roll, you might need to spend quite a bit on bedding and food to keep them safe and healthy.