Caring for a pet can be a delightful and rewarding experience that many parents like to pass on to their children. Pet care helps to teach responsibility, affection, and routine. It also requires significant preparation. Before choosing an exotic pet for your family, do your research. Learn about the pet’s behavior, daily requirements, housing needs, diet, handling techniques, and lifespan before making a decision. Remember, caring for an exotic pet is an excellent learning experience for children, but the responsibility is ultimately on the parent. 

1: Rats

Rats are surprisingly affectionate and sweet small mammals who form tight bonds with their owners and are inquisitive, smart, and fun pets. Rats are fastidious creatures and not particularly dirty or messy. They can reside in a typical small mammal enclosure that is routinely cleaned, but they do benefit from daily exercise and cuddles. Older children can help care for a rat by feeding him, offering fresh water, spot-cleaning the cage, and coming up with enrichment ideas, such as mazes and puzzles. Sadly, rats usually only live until age 2 or 3.

A rat may be a good fit for you if:

  • You have children around age 8 or older
  • You prefer a cleaner, less messy small mammal with simple care requirements
  • You are looking for a small pet who will form a special bond

2: Guinea pigs

Guinea pigs are adorable handfuls of fluff that make great first pets for adults and children alike. They are even-tempered and sweet, but can be skittish with strangers or if over-stimulated. They are not known to bite, but will, if provoked. Guinea pigs are social animals who prefer to live with a mate, but ensure you have a large enough enclosure and, unless you plan to breed, don’t put a male and a female together. Their loveable purring and chirping noises are especially charming qualities. Like rats, guinea pigs are relatively easy to care for and children can take on the responsibility of feeding, cleaning, and enrichment. You can even opt for a long-haired guinea pig, which can help children learn brushing and grooming. Guinea pigs typically live until 5 to 7 years of age. 

A guinea pig may be a good fit for you if:

  • Your children are age 8 or older
  • Your family is searching for a first-time pet
  • You are looking for a smaller, furrier pet with simple care requirements

3: Bearded dragons

If you are searching for a more unique pet or prefer reptiles, consider a bearded dragon. These animals enjoy being held, are not prone to biting, and are fairly hardy. Their care, however, is more elaborate and they are more expensive than many other exotic pets. Bearded dragon lizards have specific UV light requirements, are temperature-sensitive, and eat mainly insects. Older children can help with their care by checking the temperature of the enclosure, feeding, or spot cleaning, but cage cleanings should be left to an adult. The lifespan of bearded dragons ranges from 5 to 10 years.

A bearded dragon may be a good fit for you if:

  • Your children are age 12 or older
  • You are looking for a pet with more complex care requirements
  • You or a family member has allergies to animal fur or feathers

4: Cockatiels

Cockatiels are fun, energetic, and extremely social birds who can easily learn to sing songs, speak words, and dance, making them fun and entertaining family pets. Cockatiels can live in typical bird enclosures, but should be let out to spread their wings and perch on shoulders. But beware—they leave droppings wherever they please. Children can help with feeding—they typically eat pelleted foods or seeds—filling water bowls, and choosing enrichment activities while in their cage, while adults should take care of the cage cleaning. Cockatiels form lifelong bonds with their owners and can live to more than 20 years of age, so consider the long commitment before choosing this bird. 

A cockatiel may be a good fit for you if:

  • You have children age 4 or older
  • You are looking for a vocal, interactive family pet
  • You are prepared to make a long-term commitment to your pet 

You have many choices for an exotic family pet. Whether you choose a small mammal, bird, or reptile, we are here to help. Contact us if you have any questions.