Small pets are the perfect choice if you don’t have the space to welcome a cat or dog into your family right now, but you’re struggling to resist your kid’s imploring eyes! While picking out a small animal requires as much research as choosing a larger furkid, palm-sized pets have some distinct advantages.
According to Dr. Jennifer Graham, assistant professor at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, small pets are a great way of teaching children over the age of 5 about compassion and can also provide some important life lessons. Small pets don’t tend to live as long as bigger animals and this can often be a child’s first experience of death. “It can be sad but also a way to introduce the idea that everything dies,” Dr. Graham says “You can be there as your child goes through the experience.”
Small pets are also a brilliant way of giving young children more responsibility and an opportunity to engage in a wide range of tasks from cleaning out a rabbit hutch to ensuring their furry friend is fed, watered, and happy. When it comes to playing pet parent to a palm-sized cutie, there are plenty of other benefits too.
Pint-sized pets are more compact than other animals so they take up less space, can be easier to care for, and are often more affordable. They also require less time and attention than dogs, for example, who need regular walking. While there are plenty of perks to owning a small pet, they still need plenty of TLC and mental and physical stimulation, which is where the best hamster toys and best guinea pig accessories can come in handy.
When choosing a small pet, give some thought to which kind of furbaby would fit best into your family. Rabbits, ferrets, and guinea pigs make solid long-term companions and can also be affectionate, which is great for kids who love to cuddle. Other small mammals like mice, hamsters, and gerbils, tend to have shorter lifespans and are less inclined to want to be handled, making them an ideal choice for older kids or children who are happy to just sit and watch an animal’s antics.
Whatever small pet you choose to welcome into your family, ensure that young children are supervised with their new companion until they feel comfortable and confident. Both children and furkids need time to learn about each other and to feel safe. This will ensure neither gets stressed and that the experience of first-time pet ownership is a positive one.
Gerbillinae: (various species)
Lifespan: 2–4+ years
Adult weight: 1.8–3.5oz
This desert dweller is a great pet for kids. Although similar in appearance to hamsters, gerbils are surprisingly distinct in terms of their habits and behaviours. Not least of all, they’re diurnal (active during the day), so they’re far more entertaining for younger children, who will be sleeping when hamsters come to life. Gerbils do need a companion or two, however, and they love to dig, so expect a bit of mess.
Lifespan: 4–6+ years
Adult weight: 2.2lb
Like rabbits, guinea pigs are natural group animals that need to live with at least one other of their kind. Their accommodation should offer lots of space to run, places to hide and, if possible, some lawn to graze on (you can find a little collapsible pen for them to take them outside and let them roam - but make sure they can't escape). They enjoy interaction with humans, so you should factor in some daily time to be with them. Typically reaching five or six years old, guinea pigs are a good in-between option between shorter-lived rodents like mice and longer-lived alternatives like chinchillas.
- How long do guinea pigs live? Your top six guinea pig questions answered
- Five popular guinea pig breeds: Which breed suits you best?
- Do guinea pigs sleep? Five tips from a vet for keeping your guinea pig healthy
Mus musculus domesticus
Lifespan: 1–2 years
Adult weight: 0.4–1.4oz
Mice require very little, making them a perfect candidate for smaller homes. If you keep a couple or a small group, they’re fairly self-sufficient socially too – just avoid putting males together as they will fight. Given their undemanding nature and short lifespan of one to two years, mice make a fantastic first pet for older children.
Lifespan: 8–20 years
Adult weight: 17.6–24.7oz
These furry mammals, originally from South America, can live as long as 15 to 20 years in captivity, so make sure you’re in it for the long haul. And they’re most active at night, so keep that in mind if your child wants a pet that will be active and alert during human waking hours. That said, chinchillas are fairly low maintenance in terms of their demand for attention; so long as they have food, water, a dust bath and things to gnaw on, they’ll keep themselves amused.
Cricetinae (various species)
Lifespan: 2–3 years
Adult weight: 5.3oz
While some of the larger ‘small and furries’ benefit from outdoor accommodation, hamsters can live indoors all year round so are ideal for apartments or houses without gardens. They’re also happy to live on their own, which helps to keep costs down. Do bear in mind that these animals are naturally nocturnal so they can make a lot of noise at night. Think carefully before positioning their cage in a bedroom!
Rattus norvegicus domestica
Lifespan: 2–3 years
Adult weight: 12.3–23.9oz
They still have something of a bad rep, but the humble rat can be a very loving and surprisingly smart member of your family, one capable of learning numerous tricks – in fact, some people call them the ‘dogs of the rodent world’. Despite what you might expect, they’re also among the cleanest pets, though they do have a distinct odour that may not be for you.
Lifespan: 6–8+ years
Adult weight: 6–10.6oz
Not sure if you’re looking at a rat, a chinchilla, or a hamster? It could well be a degu – a rodent native to Chile. These are very active critters and therefore appreciate lots of recreational accessories in their homes. Although happy to be handled, a word of warning: never pick up or pull on a degu’s tail. As a self-defence mechanism, they’ve evolved to be able to shed this appendage and that would certainly cause quite a fright!
Lifespan: 8–12 years
Adult weight: 2.2–4.4lb
Rabbits are some of the most demanding small mammal pets, so never rush into buying one. As social creatures, they’re happiest living in small groups, so you should be prepared to take on at least two. They also require plenty of space for exercise and can live for well over a decade. The flipside to their lengthy lifespans means that they can truly become long-term members of your family home, developing distinct personalities and providing years of affection. Rabbits are a better option for adults and older children as they’re naturally timid and not keen on being cuddled, which given how cute they are can be difficult for younger children to understand.
- The best rabbit runs: Keep your bunnies safe and happy
- Best rabbit toys: Make sure your bunny never gets bored
- Best indoor rabbit hutches: Six top dwellings for house bunnies
Mustela putorius furo
Lifespan: 7–10 years
Adult weight: 1.5–4.4lb
With a keen intelligence and insatiable curiosity, ferrets demand several hours out of their cages every day, ideally with one or two hours of interaction with their owner(s). While fairly labour-intensive pets – they also require regular grooming and teeth brushing – their affectionate personalities and entertaining antics tend to make up for all the hard work.
Get the best advice, tips and top tech for your beloved Pets
Thank you for signing up to Petsradar. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.