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5 Unconventional Pets That Are Great For Kids

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I'm a firm believer that kids should have pets. Caring for a pet teaches children responsibility and empathy while simultaneously providing comfort and companionship. Of course, it's not a perfect world, so parents buy or adopt dogs and cats for their children every single day only to be saddled with the full responsibility of caring for the pet alone. Before you head straight to the shelter, consider these six unconventional pets that are great for kids (and perfect starter pets if you want to work your way up to a dog or cat).

Of course, just because a pet is generally considered "good for kids" doesn't necessary mean it's right for your family. It's crucial to do your research, talk to experts, and consider logistics before bringing a live animal home with you. After all, adding a furry (or scaly) member to your family only to return them weeks later is likely not the lesson you'd like to teach your children.

Before I adopted my first pet as a child — a guinea pig named April — my mom and I spoke to several families that had guinea pigs of their own. We learned all about the responsibilities associated with them, and got a more realistic idea about what to expect. Before we headed to the pet store, my mom had me sign a contract she'd drawn up that laid out the duties I would be responsible for, like feeding her, cleaning her cage, and refilling her water. I highly recommend doing something similar, so everyone in the family is prepared before bringing home your new pet.

1. Lizards

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When you think of adopting a pet, lizards probably aren't the first animals to come to mind... but perhaps they should be! According to Reptiles Magazine, lizards "make great display animals and depending on the species, can be regularly handled." The bearded dragon and leopard gecko are two of the best "beginner friendly" lizards you can buy, and while they certainly have specific care requirements they aren't difficult to manage with proper education.

2. Hamsters

In 2016, Kate Middleton delighted the world when she revealed that Prince George and Princess Charlotte have a pet hamster named Marvin. The royal family clearly has great taste in pets, as hamsters are some of the easiest, and cutest, pets for children. According to PBS Specialist Pet Travel, hamsters are simple to look after, relatively clean, and do beautifully living alone — actually, they prefer it! Because they're nocturnal, however, they don't make great roommates. Additionally, they can and will bite if not handled gently.

3. Hermit Crabs

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While hermit crabs certainly aren't the most cuddly pets, they actually make wonderful (and relatively easy) companions, especially for children. According to the PetCo care sheet, hermit crabs eat high-quality hermit crab pellets, certain fruits and veggies, and carotene and calcium supplements. They do best in groups of three or more. Hermit crabs do molt, and special care needs to be taken when this occurs. Additionally, they need larger habitats and new shells as they grow. They are typically low-maintenance pets, but that certainly doesn't mean they don't have crucial needs that need to be met.

4. Guinea Pigs

I'm totally biased towards guinea pigs, as they were my all-time favorite animals growing up. According to VetStreet, they're easy to care for (I managed to care for them totally self-sufficiently in third grade), they're less nervous than hamsters and they live, on average, for five to seven years. My guinea pig was so calm, I played with her in the yard every single day after school, and she never tried to bolt. Their cage needs to be cleaned regularly (at least once a week, with spot cleanings in between), but that task isn't too difficult.

5. Betta Fish

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Fish can be an excellent first pet for your children, but not all fish are created equally. Rather, not all fish are as low-maintenance as you might think. Betta fish, however, are as easy as fish come. According to their PetCo care sheet, betta fish breathe at the water's surface and don't require super fancy (and expensive) aquariums. They eat sparingly, and their water only needs to be cleaned once a week. Though, like any other pet, there are specific instructions and responsibilities to familiarize yourself with, there certainly aren't much.