The 5 worst (and 3 best!) pets for kids that aren't cats or dogs

Dogs and cats are at the top of the human-pet love pyramid for a reason: they like people, they'll willingly live with you, and they're relatively easy to care for. But if you can't or don't want to have a dog or a cat, and have a young child who desperately wants a pet, you may be wondering what are the best pets for kids (or conversely, the worst pets for kids). Here are some great – and terrible – options.

The worst pets for kids

worst and best pets for kids mice gerbils chinchillas hamsters

Are mice, gerbils, chinchillas, and hamsters good pets for kids?

No. These sort of "pocket pets" are fuzzy and small, so you might think they'll be great for your children, who are also small. But these rodents are generally terrified of humans – you can train them to appreciate human touch if they're handled gently and frequently as babies, but they're often sold full-grown at pet stores, and parents can't trust that young children won't squeeze them too hard – or accidentally let them out of their cage, never to be seen again.

Small rodents also require a surprising amount of care. They need a special cage, food that's not sold at the grocery store, a water dispenser, something to exercise on, and "bedding" – i.e. wood chips, that the rodents pee on, and you'll have to change weekly or even more often. Wait, you say you didn't want a small box of peed-on wood chips in your child's bedroom? Finally, many of these rodents are actually nocturnal. When you want to pet them during the day, they'll be asleep; at night, when you're trying to sleep, they're squeaking and running on their exer-wheel.

worst and best pets for kids ferrets

Are ferrets good pets for kids?

No. Aren't ferrets rodents? Why aren't they included above? Because ferrets aren't rodents – they're weasels. And though they are often clever, inquisitive, and playful, they can also be mean. They bite if you don't handle them just right – and small children will make mistakes. They're also escape artists and will make a beeline for any open door, and if not neutered, the males spray stinky pee all over your house.

Ferrets also need both a cage and a litter box, hours of attention/training daily, and have one of the weirdest pet habits out there – they form attachments to particular objects in your house, and make little caches of them. So if you wonder "Where are all my socks?" or "Why do my hair ties keep disappearing?" you'll probably come across a pile of them in a closet in some point.

worst and best pets for kids birds

Are birds good pets for kids?

No. Birds are a popular pet because they're small, pretty, mostly inexpensive, and can be friendly to humans. So why are they on this list? Because small kids can't be trusted to pet birds gently, or close the cage properly so birds won't fly away. Young children may squeeze small birds, like baby chicks or parakeets, to death, or otherwise injure them.

Birds also make a lot of noise. Even a small bird like a parakeet makes small chirps all day long, and large birds like parrots sing, talk, and screech whenever they're not sleeping. Perhaps worst of all, birds can carry bacteria, viruses, and diseases that can be spread to humans – and since their cages need daily maintenance, they require a lot of care, too.

worst and best pets for kids turtles snakes iguanas frogs reptiles amphibians

Are turtles, snakes, iguanas, frogs, and other reptiles and amphibians good pets for kids?

No. They're cute, they're small, they don't have allergy-causing fur, and they can live peacefully in a cage in your house. So why are they a bad choice? Because though cold-blooded reptiles and amphibians may enjoy sitting on you – or a hot rock – they don't take to being cuddled or hugged, which may frustrate small children. Many reptiles are also small, and can be hurt by children who run around and step on them, or squeeze too hard.