The Best Pet for Your Child

Can't decide whether your family should get a dog or a cat? Bird or hamster? Use our cheat sheet to help pick the perfect pet for your family.

  • Kim Cornelison

    Dog

    Your child runs with the gang, romps around the house, and steals treats off the table -- and he'll love having an accomplice in the fun.

    Ideal for: Children who develop strong bonds. The animal-human relationship is particularly intense with canines. Think "man's best friend."

    But remember: In general, dogs require the most care of any domestic animal. Promises like "I'll walk him and feed him every day" are usually broken quickly, even by the best-intentioned kid. Also, beware of bites. Never leave a pet and baby or young child together unattended.

  • Goldfish

    Choosing the ideal pet is a complex decision. To get you off to a solid start, we asked Bob Thorne, who owns the Petland pet shop in Novi, Michigan, and has matched thousands of children and pets. Thorne suggests writing down how much free time you generally have, how much you're willing to clean up, how much space you have in and outside of your house, how often you travel, and how much you're willing to spend on your pet's care, feeding, and maintenance. Then take your list to a local pet shop, breeder, or veterinarian for a consultation.

    Sure, they swim around in their own waste, spit out food, and live immersed in germs -- but it all happens behind glass.

    Ideal for: Kids who are brand-new to pet ownership. A popular "starter pet," the hardy goldfish can live up to several years in cold water with no heater or filter.

    But remember: One of the most common ways to send your goldfish to a premature toilet-flushing is by feeding him too much -- or the wrong -- food.

  • Manners & Responsibility: Raising Responsible Pet Owners
    Manners & Responsibility: Raising Responsible Pet Owners
  • Cat

    Nothing's more comforting than a warm, fluffy body and a soft, calming purr. Meow.

    Ideal for: Kids who are nurturing but who won't mind being ignored by a pet that's often aloof. Though cats are beloved by both genders, they tend to be especially popular with girls.

    But remember: If you have cats in your house when you bring your baby home, your child may have a reduced risk of allergies. But if you get a cat when your child is older, he may be allergic; as many as 30 percent of people who have allergies are. Cats can also scratch during play.

  • Kim Cornelison

    Bird

    They trash cages like a rock star in a hotel room, but music-minded kids love their tunes.

    Ideal for: Children who are true animal enthusiasts. Birds are colorful, active, and can be very social, but it takes time and patience to train them, so they're not right for all kids.

    But remember: If you have a hands-on kid, or can't tolerate messiness, certain types of birds won't be right for you. Be sure you select a bird by temperament rather than color, because personality varies widely by species. And prepare for a real commitment: Birds can live a long time.

  • Fotolia

    Hamster or Gerbil

    Small, furry, harmless, and clever, these critters require some care but not more than a child can manage.

    Ideal for: Families who want a pet but aren't ready for a cat or dog. "Pocket pets" are especially good in homes where everyone is gone during the day, because they're nocturnal and that?s when they sleep.

    But remember: Even if you change the cage bedding regularly, you may still find the ammonia smell of rodent urine annoying. And if you neglect to clean the cage for a while, the odor can be horrid.

  • Ant Farm

    They're like tanks, backhoes, and dinosaurs all wrapped up into a compact, educational package.

    Ideal for: Boys between the ages of 5 and 8 who seem to especially like pet insects. But ants are also good for any child who shows an interest in science.

    But remember: The only real way ants can escape a sturdy farm is if the feeding port is left open -- a slight but real risk. Usually, the plastic remains intact even if it's dropped or bumped off a table. Usually, but not always.

    Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the March 2008 issue of Parents magazine.