Best low-maintenance family pets for children
What are the best pets for children that are small and easy to take care of? Here are 4 great (and very cute) options, with expert advice on everything from cages to cleaning and food...
Having a family pet can be hugely rewarding: providing comfort, support and security, and teaching children invaluable life lessons about responsibility, patience and compassion.
But not every family is set up to provide the right sort of home for a bouncy, walk-hungry dog or a strong-willed, furniture-scratching cat. Hurray, then, for low-maintenance pets: fun, interesting, affectionate but altogether less demanding on the feeding/grooming/walking front.
Which is the right low-maintenance pet for your family? We've rounded up best ones to choose from: have a look to see which ones your child would like best and find out which ones would best fit in with your family lifestyle...
Here's our pick of the best low-maintenance pets for families...
1. The frog
Cost: From £30, plus purchase of tank (from £80) | Average lifespan: 15 years (but varies from species to species)
Frogs need a proper amphibian tank (see How do you set up your frog's tank, below) but, once that's set up, they require minimal upkeep beyond regular feeding and cleaning.
This does not mean, however, that frogs are boring; though you can't handle them too much, they can actually be interesting, entertaining pets, who can teach your children many valuable lessons about responsibility and being caring towards the needs of another, much smaller and more delicate being.
Did you know, for example, that frogs don’t drink? Instead, they absorb water through their skin. Additionally, they are pretty well built for swimming with webbed feet, and eyes and a nose on the top of their head – watching your pet frog jump, hop and swim around can be quite something.
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How do you set up a frog's tank?
You can buy a frog's tank from a good pet shop. It should be at least 45cm high x 25cm long x 25cm wide and you'll need to position it away from any direct sunlight.
The most important thing about the tank is to ensure the environment inside is maintained at the correct pH and water temperature for your chosen species of frog. You can find a list of the most popular pet frogs for beginners on EverythingReptile.com but perhaps the easiest 'beginner frog' is the African bullfrog (or Pixie frog), pictured below, which is big, easy-going and quite tolerant to handling.
As well as the tank being at the correct pH and water temperature, you should make sure it includes:
- Fresh water (free from all chemicals)
- More 'land' (plants, rocks and log) than water
- Fluorescent lighting (source of vitamin D3)
- Food (see What do you feed a pet frog, below)
How often should you clean a frog's tank?
Once your tank is all set up, extraordinarily little will need to be changed throughout your frog's life. The only thing you'll need to remember is to spot-clean the tank every few days and deep-clean it at least once a month to prevent bacterial build up.
Can you put more than one frog in the tank?
It is not always safe to have more than one pet frog per tank – that's because bigger frogs are known to eat smaller frogs. The exception here is the bell frog: bell frogs are able to co-exist in a tank quite happily.
What do you feed a pet frog?
Frogs require live food such as fruit flies, white worms, crickets or locusts. You should only feed your pet frog once or twice a week, depending upon its species. Insects can be bred, purchased from a pet store, or sourced from around your home and garden.
Where should you get a pet frog from?
If you’re considering purchasing a pet frog, I recommend that you source one from a breeder.
2. The hamster
Cost: From £5, plus purchase of enclosure (from £25) | Average lifespan: 3 years
Hamsters are very easy to care for and, as an extra plus for children (and unlike the other pets in our list), they do tend to enjoy exercise outside their enclosure in a hamster ball.
Hamsters are happy to be handled but they also quite independent and therefore don't mind if your child doesn’t have all the time in the world to play with them. As hamsters are nocturnal, they may sometimes be a little grumpy during the day, so it's best to teach your child about this if they're keen to open the cage and get their pet out.
How do you set up your hamster's cage?
Your hamster’s enclosure should measure 60cm long x 30cm wide x 30cm high. And it should include:
- Water bottle (you should change the water regularly)
- Substrate material (for burrowing and keeping the cage floor soft; look for a plant-based, non-toxic substrate)
- Bedding or nesting material (shredded ink-free paper or toilet paper)
- Food bowl or scatter feeder (see What do you feed a pet hamster, below)
- A small home or hiding area in which they can hide their food
- A few toys (such ladders – try your local pet store for ideas)
I wouldn't recommend a hamster wheel for your enclosure: they can actually be quite dangerous, causing broken bones and even organ damage. It's better for your hamster to have other sources of entertainment and to take exercise outside of their enclosure in a safe and monitored area.
How often should you clean a hamster's cage?
Spot-cleaning will need to be done every day. And a full tank clean will need to be done every week to 2 weeks, depending on the size of your hamster's enclosure. A deep clean should involve removing all the shavings, washing down the side of the tank with hot, soapy water, and then drying it and putting in new substrate and bedding.
Do remember that hamsters are naturally nocturnal, though. So, when you're cleaning out your hamster’s enclosure, do it first thing in the morning or last thing at night, so that your pet will be least affected by the disruption.
Can you put more than one hamster in a cage?
Hamsters don’t always need a friend to share a cage with. This is completely dependent upon species and gender. For example, a male dwarf hamster can co-habitate happily with another male dwarf hamster but opposite-sex dwarf hamsters do not get along.
What do you feed a hamster?
Feed your hamster once a day with some commercially-bought hamster food as, this way, you can ensure all their dietary requirements are covered. Then, every 2nd day or so, give them some some fresh fruit and vegs – they love this!
Where should you get a pet hamster from?
If you’re looking to buy a hamster, I recommend purchasing one from a reputable breeder. Get to know your breeder to find out what kind of temperament and behaviours their hamsters have. You're looking for a hamster who is easy to bond with and not fearful.
3. The painted turtle
Cost: £50 to £100, plus purchase of tank (up to £500) | Average lifespan: 3o years
Like frogs, painted turtles are easy pets, once you've taken the time to get their tank properly set up (see How do you set up your turtle's tank, below). But it's important to be scrupulously hygienic when you handle them and clean their tank: painted turtles can carry salmonella, so you should always clean your hands very thoroughly.
There are 4 subspecies of the docile, pretty painted turtle (Chrysemys picta), each with slightly varying colours and patterns. In general, painted turtles have a darker carapace (top of the shell) while the plastron (lower part of shell), legs and head have bright red, orange, and yellow stripes, which give the turtle its name.
How do you set up your turtle's tank?
Fortunately, painted turtles do not grow exceptionally large —adults are typically 10 to 20cm in length — meaning you'll be needing a roughly 50 to 100-litre (2o to 40-gallon) tank. Ensure that your tank is primarily an aquarium and designed to hold water (most "terrariums", sold for keeping other reptiles in, aren’t made to hold large quantities of liquid).
Your tank should also have:
- Ample room for your turtle to swim around
- A basking area, where your turtle can get their entire body out of the water, rest and dry off. This could be a floating platform or a secure stack of rocks
- Plants – real or fake (and sturdy)
- A filter to keep the water clean and prevent skin infections
- A water temperature that's kept in the 70°s F (a typical household temperature)
- An ambient air temperature in the mid-80°s F. A UVB heat lamp is an effective way to reach this temperature and keep your turtle healthy. The light should be turned off at night (12 hours on, 12 hours off).
How often should you clean a turtle's tank?
The water and filter should be changed whenever the water begins to look dirty – this will probably be at least once a week. And the new water should be dechlorinated before coming into contact with your turtle.
Do remember to wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning the tank.
Can you put more than one painted turtle in a tank?
No, it's generally not a good idea because they can become aggressive to each other.
What do you feed a pet turtle?
Painted turtles are omnivorous, eating a wide variety of food in the wild. In captivity, they can be fed leafy greens (fresh parsley, romaine lettuce, dandelion leaves) and insects (crickets, mealworms). You can get pre-made turtle food from most pet stores and it's a quick and easy way to make sure your turtle is receiving adequate nutrients.
Turtles under the age of 1 year should be fed daily, whereas adult turtles can be fed every 2 to 3 days.
Where should you get a pet turtle from?
I recommend sourcing your new hard-shelled friend from a responsible breeder.
4. The leopard gecko
Cost: £35, plus purchase of enclosure (£250) | Average lifespan: 15 years
The leopard gecko makes a fantastic beginner pet: this reptilian species is easy to care for, even-tempered and a relaxed little friend.
How do you set up a leopard gecko's enclosure?
Their enclosure requires the following:
- Decent ventilation (such as a terrarium with a screened lid, approximately 45 litres/10 gallons in size)
- A heat lamp on one side (aim for a temperature of 85 to 95° Fahrenheit
- Calcium sand or reptile carpet
- Rocks, branches or other hide-and-seek equipment (for entertainment and comfort)
Can you put more than one leopard gecko in an enclosure?
If you want more than one pet gecko, then that’s fine – so long as there is not solely males as they tend to be territorial and aggressive towards one another.
How often should you clean a leopard gecko's enclosure?
The gecko’s enclosure should be cleaned for waste once a week. Additionally, a full clean should be completed once a month.
What do you feed a pet leopard gecko?
I recommend feeding your leopard gecko insects, such as crickets, worms, and roaches. They only need to be fed approximately 3 times per week, making them very low maintenance. Insects can be bred, purchased from your pet store, or sourced from around your home and garden.
Where should you get a pet leopard gecko from?
If you’re interested in purchasing a leopard gecko for your child, I recommend sourcing one from a reputable breeder to ensure that they have an even-temperament and are in a healthy condition.
About our expert, Johnathan David
Johnathan is the Editor-in-Chief of EverythingReptiles. He's kept reptiles and amphibians since childhood, meaning he has several decades of experiences in "herpetoculture". He has cared for geckos, skinks – and a poison dart frog.
Pics: Getty Images
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