I have an eight year old niece who keeps begging her parents and her uncles for a Chameleon lizard or a “Finger Monkey” (Pygmy Marmoset). Oh and she’s already been through the “I want a pony” phase. I’m not a parent myself but I know enough to stay away from pets because they end up being your responsibility, not the child’s. There are already enough irresponsible pet owners out there so I choose to stay away. I managed to kill two Betta fish a couple of years ago and these fish are supposed to be one of the easiest to take care of. I learned my lesson and there will be no pets for my kids in the future.
Parents often go for an “exotic” pet because they think it might be easier to take care of instead of a dog. And it’s kind of true, who the hell wants to walk a dog everyday and pick up its crap? Don’t let your cute kids with their puppy eyes scam you into getting a dog! If you can’t take care of it, forget about it.
I can see why my niece wants a Pygmy Marmoset. Super cute!
What Is An Exotic Pet?
Technically, any species of a mammal, reptile, or fish can be classified as ‘exotic’ depending on which part of the world you are from. A cat or a dog is a common pet yet there are breeds which are considered to be exotic. In my books, owning a tiger, panther, chimpanzee, or a peacock are “true exotic pets” but those would be terrible options for children. Instead, we’ll look at common exotic pets like various rodents and reptiles which children can handle without harming the animal or vice versa.
The Classic Syrian Hamster
We never had any pets growing up but a handful of my friends had their very own hamsters. Hamsters are relatively easy to take care of and they have an average lifespan of about 2-3 years and grow up to six-inches in length. Hamsters are solitary animals and its best to keep one to a cage. A cage should be no smaller than 12×18 inches but the bigger the better as hamsters are quite active. If the hamsters are handled from a young age, they shouldn’t bit and will do quite well with young children. The average price should be between $15 to $25 and you can even purchase dwarf hamsters at places such Pet Smart.
Just like hamsters, Gerbils also live an average of 2-3 years but there are some that have lived on to see the age of five. Gerbils are a bit smaller than hamsters measuring in at only four-inches and they have a furry tail that is almost as long as the body. Unlike the hamsters, you can keep a pair of gerbils in one cage but make sure that the gerbils are introduced to each other from a young age or there will be domestics. It’s also recommended that the pair should either be male or female to prevent breeding. Gerbils tend to be very active and are social little creatures which can become quite tamed with regular handling. The kids will be kept busy for hours as they watch and laugh at the gerbils as they play in their cages. Make sure your kids never grab the animal by its tail! A gerbil should set you back about $10-12.
These reptiles are a bit easier to look after when compared to many other reptiles and don’t require a larger tank than 10 gallons. And when it comes to handling by children, the Leopard Gecko is quite tame and doesn’t have the tendency to bite, especially if raised from a young age of 3 to 4 week old hatchling. These lizards are nocturnal which means you can skip on the UVB lighting. You also don’t need to feed it fresh fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. A young gecko should be fed twice a day but as it grows into adulthood, you can feed them 3-4 times per week. These creatures grow up to a length of 8-10 inches and can live for up to 20 years. When your child moves out, the lizard can go with them to their university dorm.
The lizard itself should set you back about $22 but other initial costs may be higher than rodents thanks to the tank. The pet store you purchase the lizard from will be able to help you setup the proper home for this cute little reptile.
African Sideneck Turtle
A friend from Egypt once owned a turtle when he was a kid and it ended up “running away”. 15 years later, the very same turtle was found alive and well by their gardener in their shed! Or so he says. African Sideneck Turtles are relatively inexpensive pets going for about $40 and have a lifespan of over 30 years! The shell on this turtle can grow anywhere from eight to eighteen inches so be prepared to change tanks a few times.
This turtle gets its name from the fact that it cannot withdraw its head back into its shell. Instead, they simply turn their head to the side and fold them under the upper edge of their shell. You will find this pet to be aggressive initially until it settles down in its new environment. The best part about these pets is that they are relatively low maintenance. All the tank requires is some gravel and a few decorative pieces such as driftwood to bask upon. These turtles also enjoy swimming and basking in the sun so make sure you are able to provide such an environment for them. If you live in a cold environment, make sure you have a UV light as they prefer the heat.
Other animals to consider include rabbits, mice, and even rats! I would personally stay away from a rat because I discriminate against them and rabbit meat is something I eat from time to time so I wouldn’t be able to look that poor animal in the eye.
No To Ferrets
You may be asking about Ferrets but they are known to stink up the house/apartment and these little creatures require patience and adult supervision when around children. If your kids are older, perhaps you can consider it but I would personally stay away from the hassle. Ferrets are also hunters by nature, so if you have other smaller animals in the house, you will need to keep an eye on things to maintain the peace.
No To Birds!
If it’s one animal I’m totally against as a pet, it would have to be any of the species of birds. Owning a bird as a pet is totally contradictory to what the animal represents. A bird is supposed to be free and fly to places where none other can. Yet we see them in homes and trapped in tiny little cages.