Great small pets for children

Get the lowdown on ideal small pets for children, including details of some of the most popular animals and of pet insurance provision.


They've been asking for months and now you've said yes. But once you've agreed to your children owning a small animal, it's important to do your research before rushing to the nearest pet shop.

The last thing you want to do is make a wrong decision and end up trying to rehome your small animal, or taking him or her to a pet rescue centre. It's not just time you will need to invest in looking after the animal; many owners fail to pay enough attention to the financial side, too.

A small animal, plus the associated costs of buying a cage or hutch, bedding and food, may seem quite cheap compared to the expense of a dog, cat or horse. But with just 56% of owners taking out pet insurance,[1] lots of families are left facing big vets' fees when their furry friends become ill.

Some insurers only offer policies for domestic dogs, cats and horses, but cover for small animals, exotic pets and birds is available with others, such as partner ExoticDirect.[2]

Before heading to the shop, set firm boundaries with your children. Decide which sort of animal you're going to buy - and how many! - and tell your children you're not going to change your mind in the shop, no matter how many furry friends they want to bring home.

Pet shops are also likely to have all manner of 'must-have' accessories on display, which your children will claim that their new guinea pig or chinchilla just can't live without.

Explain that buying a pet and essentials such as hay and food is expensive and suggest they can choose one accessory or toy each, or set a limit on the amount they can spend on extras.

When deciding which small animal is right for your child, things to consider include the amount of space you have, how long the animal might live and whether anyone in your family has allergies to things such as hay.

With that in mind, some of the best options include:


Rabbits can live for quite a long time - between eight and 12 years - so it's wise to consider how old your child will be towards the end of the rabbit's potential lifespan.


Rabbits are amongst the most popular pets in the UK, yet can require more care and attention than some owners realise. They might need a lot of grooming, particularly if they're long-haired. But one benefit you might not realise is that bunnies can be house trained!

Rabbits are very sociable and prefer to live with other rabbits, so be careful to get same-sex companions or you could end up with more bunnies than you bargained for. Many insurers offer insurance discounts for second and multiple pets, too.

Guinea pigs

Guinea pigs love being handled and are very sociable, making loud squeaking noises as if they're chatting away to each other. Like rabbits, guineas prefer to live in pairs or groups, so again make sure you don't have a mix of males and females.

They tend to live for about five years and make lovely first pets for children. But they do have very specific dietary and housing requirements, so make sure the shop staff explain this to you.

There is some debate about whether guinea pigs should live indoors or outdoors in very cold weather, and many families prefer to bring hutches into sheds or garages for the winter months.


Clean and quiet, chinchillas can be very shy and are better suited to older children and adults. They can live for up to 20 years, so taking home a chinchilla needs extra consideration!

Traditionally bred for their fur, chinchillas have only been kept domestically in relatively recent times, so it's important to do as much research as you can on the latest thinking.


Ferrets are fun and inquisitive creatures which can live up to 10 years, although six years tends to be the norm. They can socialise well with humans if regularly handled from a young age and are extremely playful.

When buying a small animal, ask lots of questions at the shop about welfare

The downside is that ferrets can become very bored if they don't have enough to keep them occupied, so think carefully about the time and space you can realistically give them.

Ferrets are quite portable, but you'll need to make sure they travel safely in a secure and comfortable container and that you have an adequate pet travel insurance policy.


As small rodents, hamsters don't take up much space and can be housed in a cage in a quiet corner. They're engaging animals and can prove very entertaining as a child's first pet.

They tend to live for about two years and are relatively inexpensive. But they can be fragile and do need to be handled carefully, as over-exuberant young owners could potentially hurt them quite badly.


Gerbils are bigger than hamsters and prefer to live in pairs. They're very sociable but, again, require careful handling and must never be picked up by their tail.Gerbil

They're exceptionally clean animals so their bedding will need to be changed less than that of other rodents - which can be attractive to parents!

When buying a small animal, ask lots of questions at the shop about welfare. If the staff don't have time to answer, go elsewhere.

Once your small animal is home, chat to your children about their new friend's health care and any signs to look for which might mean something is wrong. Hopefully your new addition will lead a happy and healthy life but, if he or she does become ill, your pet insurance should prove a solid investment.

By Rebecca Lees