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My child wants a pet

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My child wants a pet

Dear Lionel, my son is always asking for a pet but we don’t have the space for a cat or dog. What other types of animals would you suggest as a good first pet?

Owning a pet can be great for children and can help:

  • Build confidence
  • Instil a sense of responsibility
  • Help kids learn to care for and respect other living things
  • Relieve stress for adults and children alike
  • Be great fun for all the family!

Here are some of the more unusual creatures that make a good choice as a first pet.



These slimy creatures are easy to care for and their slow moving antics make them fantastic confidence builders for younger children.

What’s great about them?

  • Surprisingly cute – their faces with wiggly antenna are fascinating to watch
  • Easy to feed – they eat almost any salad leaves and vegetables
  • Quick, easy daily care – simply top up food and spray their tank with water
  • Inexpensive housing – they will live happily in a plastic storage box appropriate to their size and don’t need heating or special lighting in a warm home
  • Be great fun for all the family!
  • No biting or scratching – once they get used to being handled they really enjoy the chance to slowly explore their surroundings

Things to consider:

Overpopulation – once they reach adulthood you will need to keep an eye out for snail eggs. These can be frozen to prevent them from hatching so you don’t end up a slimy population explosion



An unusual pet choice, these beautiful creepy crawly creatures are a brilliant choice for bug lovers!

What’s great about them?

  • Easy to handle – hissing cockroaches are wingless, slow moving and tough. Once they get used to being handled they lose their signature hiss and will happily sit on your hand while you stroke their hard shell
  • Easy to feed – they eat almost anything and make very little mess
  •  Inexpensive housing – they are mini-beasts so they don’t need a large or expensive house, and don’t require special lighting or heating in a warm home

Things to consider:

Overpopulation – if you’re new to keeping insects it’s best to stick to a group of one sex. Female cockroaches have live babies, which are very tiny and hard to contain
Escapees – supervise young children during handling as a dropped cockroach can quickly vanish under the furniture



If you’d rather a furry, cuddly pet, guinea pigs are a favourite for young children.

What’s great about them?

  • Gentle and sweet natured – guinea pigs are easy going creatures who rarely bite and are smaller and less bouncy than rabbits
  • Easy to handle – once they are used to being handled they will happily sit on your knee while you make a fuss of them
  • Require less space than a rabbit – if the toss up is between rabbits or guinea pigs, these little rodents are a better choice if you’re tight on space
  • Choice of colours and coat types – so your kids are bound to find one they love!
  • No digging or high jumping – so it’s easier to keep them safe and secure

Things to consider:

  • You need more than one – guinea pigs are sociable creatures and are happiest with a friend. A pair or small group of the same sex is ideal
  • Spacious hutch or cage – they may not need as much space as a rabbit but they do need a spacious cage or hutch (at least 120cm x 60cm x 45cm) and an exercise run. They can be kept indoors or outside but in very cold weather outdoor guinea pigs will need to be brought inside
  • Lots of mess – guinea pigs are poo machines so you will need to make time to clean them out regularly!



Syrian Hamsters are real characters and make fabulous pets for older children.

What’s great about them?

  • Smaller cage size – hamsters are indoor pets that live alone. Because of their smaller size they don’t need the same amount of space as a pair of guinea pigs
  • They form great bonds with their owners – once they get used to being handled they really enjoy the chance to be out of their cage and bonding with their owners
  • You can litter train them – with a little effort you can teach them to use a litter box, which makes cleaning easier
  • Easy to feed – all pet shops sell ready mixed hamster food
  • Lots of choice – different colours, patterns and coat types to pick from

Things to consider:

  • Nocturnal – hamsters are not the best choice for younger children who might be in bed before their friend has woken up
  • Can bite – hamsters that haven’t been handled can nip if frightened. Be prepared to spend time with your new pet so that it gets to know and trust you. Wear a pair of gardening gloves so you can confidently handle your hamster until you become friends
  • Noisy – hamsters are active pets who love to run on a wheel so they can be noisy at night
  • Cage size – many cages sold for Syrian Hamster are way too small for an adult hamster. Choose the biggest cage you can afford so you furry friend isn’t bored



Corn snakes makes a good introduction to reptile ownership for young and old alike.

What’s great about them?

  • Gentle, friendly, non-venomous snakes – most are very happy to be handled once they are used to you
  • Not too big – they are medium sized snakes that don’t grow too big so can easily be accommodated in most homes
  • Variety of colours and patterns – more choice for your child
  • Easy to feed – they only need feeding once a week (less for a fully grown adult). See below for what they eat
  • Easy to clean – they don’t wee, producing a sloppy bird type poo instead, usually only once a week

Things to consider:

  • You’ll need to keep frozen mice in your freezer – corn snakes eat rodents. Their standard meal is defrosted frozen mice. These are easy to obtain from most pet shops but if this makes you squeamish, a snake might not be your best pet
  • Expensive set up – you will need a vivarium, heat source, décor, hides, large water bowl and substrate, which are not cheap
  • Vivarium size – snakes need to live in a vivarium the same length as they are. This can be up to 5ft. You’ll also need a vivarium lock as these scaly creatures are escape artists!
  • Heat source – your corn snake will need a heat mat or bulb to keep them warm
  • Why not rehome? Corn snakes can live for up to 20 years which means many find themselves looking for a new home when their owner’s circumstances change

If you would like to find out more about some of the amazing creatures above, why not come along to a Lion Learners event or book us for a birthday party? All our presenters have African land snails, hissing cockroaches, guinea pigs and corn snakes that you can meet, handle and learn about.

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