A white Chinchilla sitting on a windowsill.

9 Great Alternative Pets for Kids

Dr. Margit Gabriele Muller is a leading veterinarian and award-winning author of Your Pet, Your Pill®: 101 Inspirational Stories About How Pets Lead You to A Happy, Healthy and Successful Life.

Furry friends such as cats and dogs are well-known to be the best companions for children. Apart from providing pet owners with great health benefits, their emotional support for kids is second to none. Cats and dogs can even help foster positive character traits in children, such as trust and self-confidence. However, not every family can have a cat or dog due to lack of space, time, and/or financial constraints. So, what other kinds of pets can children have and what benefits can they provide? Let’s take a closer look.


One of the most popular pets for kids are rabbits. They have a sweet personality and are simply adorable. Their fluffy fur makes them a big hit for kids who love to cuddle them affectionately. As they need to be delicately held and played with, they are an ideal pet to teach children how to be careful and considerate with other living beings.

Rabbits can live either inside or outside the house. They can be toilet trained, so that there is not as much of a mess in their living space. However, you must careful when letting them run freely inside the home — make sure they are supervised, as they tend to eat and chew everything, even cables, which can be very dangerous. If your kids would have loved a dog, but that’s not possible, then an added bonus of rabbits is that they can be trained to walk outside on a leash. Their life span is between 8 – 12 years, which makes them ideal companions.

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs are very funny pets that are also well loved by children. It’s best to keep them in pairs, as they need company. Guinea pigs are usually good-natured and friendly pets that can become quite tame.

Guinea pigs require a lot of ongoing attention. They want to be stimulated and entertained. Therefore, they are certainly not a good pet for a short-term thrill after which your kid loses interest and focuses on other things. Guinea pigs are also not to everybody’s liking, as they make a very penetrating squeaking sound. Their life span is around 5 – 7 years.


Hamsters are nice pets, but they are not the easiest for kids. Being nocturnal, they usually sleep during much of the day and are active at night – running through their tunnels and playing on the hamster wheel. This might be disturbing for your child if the cage is in his or her room, as they can make lots of noise at night.

Also, since hamsters are very small pets, they are not easy to handle for small children, so a larger hamster breed would be recommended. One disadvantage of hamsters is that they can bite, and not very gently. As the life span of a hamster is quite short, only 3 – 5 years, it can hard for children when their beloved passes away.


Chinchillas are not suitable for small kids, but can make great pets for older children. They are a bit shy in nature and require some patience to tame. However, they can become very sociable, affectionate, and friendly. Over time, chinchillas will come when you call them and enjoy being rubbed. Their silky, soft fur makes them adored by children and adults alike.

They are quiet, clean pets that are far less smelly than other rodents. Chinchillas can live between 10 – 20 years.


Rats can make amazing pets for kids. Often underestimated as pets, they can become very tame and friendly, even more so than other small mammals. Having a calm and laid-back nature, rats like to be handled and can be carried around.

Due to their high intelligence, rats can even learn tricks, such as retrieving objects, and can be fed by hand. They are very low maintenance and can even be litter-box trained. Their primary downside is a short life expectancy of only 2 – 4 years, which might make it difficult for your child when they pass away.


Ranked directly behind dogs and cats in worldwide popularity, budgies are among the top pets for children. They are especially great as starter pets for small kids who have never had another pet before. They’re the most suitable bird breed, since they are affectionate, docile, and wonderful companions. Even to observe how they play with each other provides great fun and entertainment for kids. In addition, it’s a real delight to hear them chirping from morning till night. Some budgies even try to mimic human voices.

Being very social animals, budgies should be kept in pairs or larger groups. They are inexpensive and low maintenance. Their life expectancy ranges between 5 – 8 years, but with good care they can live even longer.


Chickens make excellent pets for those who live in the countryside. They not only supply you and your family with fresh eggs every day, but can be very amiable pets for children.

Chickens can be very friendly, and are comfortable being carried around if introduced to this from an early age. They have a great personality and can be trained to listen and come when you call their name. Their life expectancy normally ranges from 3 – 7 years, and up to a maximum of 10 – 12 years.


Tortoises are incredible pets for children. However, they are often disregarded, since many people consider them to be boring. Tortoises can become very attached and tame. It’s even possible to scratch them under their chin and train them to come when they’re called. Despite their shell, they can run fast and are very agile.

Tortoises sleep in the winter time and will disappear for around 5 months to hibernate. They have the longest life span of all pets as they can live up to 50 – 100 years. Therefore, a tortoise is not just a pet for small kids, but a pet that accompanies them throughout their life and might even outlive them.


Fish sound boring as a pet, but they are actually ideal for children with allergies. Also, a beautiful tank with multicolored fish relaxes anxious kids and calms them down considerably. The same applies to kids with attention deficit disorder, as it helps them to focus. Fish can even have a positive impact on children suffering from diabetes.

Fish in aquariums require constant care, which can be a good chore for children. Their life span ranges from 3 – 7 years, depending on the fish species and level of care.