Many parents with children asking for a pet of their own think of getting a “starter” pet; that is, an easy to care for first pet that doesn’t require too much space, time, maintenance or financial resources. There is really no such thing as a “starter” pet. The term “starter” pet implies that the pet is disposable, or meant to be used as a “practice” pet for children not yet ready for a dog or cat. While pets can teach children important lessons in responsibility, compassion and caring, every pet you bring into your home deserves to be provided with the best of care
Be sure that your child is ready to commit to caring for a first pet for the lifespan of that pet, and you should also be prepared to step in to provide care for the pet if necessary. Just because a pet is small doesn’t mean it will be low-maintenance, and children can get distracted and become bored over time with their new pet. Realize that, if well cared for, even a goldfish can live over a decade!
Typical first pets include fish, lizards, hermit crabs, parakeets, small snakes, and rodents such as mice, hamsters and gerbils. Each of these pets has unique basic needs regarding housing, diet, care and handling, which you should research and understand before bringing into your home. When choosing a first pet, consider your child’s age and maturity level. Think also about how long the pet will live, who will pay for veterinary care and pet supplies, and what you will do with the pet when you go away on vacation. The ASPCA estimates that it will cost approximately $300 per year to care for a small “pocket pet” such as a hamster, mouse or gerbil.
A first pet can bring a world of joy to a child, but bringing even a small, first pet into your home is a serious long-term obligation.