Five top family pets

If your kids are on at you for a pet, Dr Hugh Wirth, author of Living with Cats and Living with Dogs, says don’t think about the extra work but consider the benefits of what a pet can teach your kids instead.

“The greatest lesson from pet keeping is that animals are much like us,” he says. “They respond to our care, require food, water and shelter and also need regular grooming and clean living conditions.” He adds that a pet can help children develop emotions such as caring and empathy. “A pet needs gentle handling, as an animal can feel pain as we do, and acts adversely to those who accidentally or knowingly inflict pain – biting, kicking or crying.”

Small dogs make a good first pet

While many dog lovers and vets advise buying a labrador as a family pet, Dr Wirth advises choosing a smaller breed for your first dog. “Labradors and golden retrievers have a big reputation as the number one dogs for families with young children because they have a reliable temperament. Nonetheless, they’re big dogs and aren’t easy for children to learn handling techniques or grooming,” he advises. “For the first ‘learning dog’ I would go for one of the crossbred types like a fluffy Maltese or shih-tzu.” He adds that a breed of terrier would also suit a family with children over the age of five.

Cats are great for small spaces

While many families might not have the space for a dog, Dr Wirth says a feline friend is a great second option, particularly for apartment dwellers. He adds that they’re also low-maintenance animals – meaning less work for mum and dad. “Cats make excellent pets,” he says. “They’re self-sufficient, clean and highly adaptable to living conditions”. Dr Wirth also advises choosing a kitten over a fully grown cat for littlies to bond with and choosing a shorthair moggy rather than a shorter-lived pure breed.

Rabbits should be treated with care

Rabbits aren’t as robust as cats or dogs and are therefore better suited to older children. “Rabbits make great first pets but they certainly are not as tough as a cat or dog,” says Dr Wirth. “They’re easily damaged by rough handling, so always choose a small breed for young children, so they don’t accidentally drop them.” He adds that, while many parents think rabbits require little work, hutch cleaning is a constant job. “They must be confined to a hutch at night and in inclement weather, so there has to be a commitment to clean the hutch daily.”

Guinea pigs are great for younger kids

If you’re unsure whether your little one can handle a rabbit, go for a guinea pig instead. “Guinea pigs are very hardy pocket pets and are much easier to handle than rabbits,” reveals Dr Wirth. “They need to be kept in a hutch and can be kept together with rabbits.”

Go for a goldfish rather than tropical fish

While fish are pretty to look at, and often fascinate pre-schoolers, the easiest fish to care for are the ones that live in cold water. “Fish are also good starter pets, but the coldwater varieties of goldfish are easier to maintain than tropical breeds,” advises Dr Wirth, adding that filtering and cleaning the water regularly is an on-going task. He adds that while kids will love to feed their fish, be careful to teach them that too many flakes will harm their pet. “Overfeeding causes pollution of the water,” he confirms.


  1. kymmage 30/03/2018 at 11:32 pm

    Great list. I would love a wee Maltese dog. I think they look great, and with my asthma would be a good fit as well. We have a cat, and it’s that self-sufficient nature that suits us. We aren’t home a lot, so we needed a pet that didn’t need us around to get exercise, etc. We have had fish with varying success, definitely agree – cold fish are best for learning with.

  2. felicity beets 24/03/2018 at 1:21 pm

    We had a guinea pig which was a great pet and good to travel with as well. Interesting and helpful comments regarding the smaller dogs and that guinea pigs are more child friendly than rabbits.

  3. Mands1980 13/03/2018 at 8:15 pm

    Out of the top six pets we have 2 cats which I caught on farm when little and tamed them they are the best cats now very friendly a brother and sister I think they were. We used to have a rabbit but the kids lost interest in it as it wasn’t an inside animal or that friendly as we got it when it was a bit older.

  4. MuddledUpMolly 08/03/2018 at 2:29 pm

    I like that small dogs make good first pets. Technically it wouldn’t be a ‘first pet’ for either of our kids but I am open to looking into smaller breeds for our next pet. The only problem is convincing my hubby!

  5. Kjgee 07/03/2018 at 8:30 am

    We currently have a cat, and hope to get a dog. When on the farm we had chickens and they certainly helped the kids to learn responsibility around animals without taking up too much time for them. We have had fish in the past but not something I am keen to have again, it took up a lot of space for a tiny fish which I didn’t feel gave anything back – I like that the cat cuddles up on my lap in the evenings!

  6. danielle2211 02/03/2018 at 10:35 pm

    We currently have a dog and 2 chickens and they make cool pets! Chickens respond to food and kids love feeding them and collecting the eggs, they are also curious so will come inside for a look which is always entertaining trying to herd them out. We have had a rabbit that wasn’t too friendly kids found it hard to connect to and some cats just don’t do kids especially smaller children who can be a bit rough. Fish can be quite fragile too but easy to replace should you need too

  7. Misskay80 02/03/2018 at 2:11 pm

    We have all of the above (apart from fererts – now illgal to have as a pet in NZ). Always have loved animals, my oldest also loves animals sometimes a tad too much (they get a wee bit sick of her lol) my youngest whilst she likes animals shes not what I would call a die hard animal lover like her sister.

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