Fish aren't cute
April 19, 2016 11:12 AM   Subscribe

My daughter is allergic to cats and dogs, even the supposedly hypoallergenic types. What kind of pets should I suggest to her that we consider getting instead?

We thought about a guinea pig or a bunny rabbit. Might she be allergic to those too?

She likes geckos well enough but I'm not so keen on them because they look a little creepy to me. Plus I think she'd like a pet that is a little more interactive in some way or another.

How about a parrot or cockatoo? Is it cruel to keep birds, especially such intelligent and social ones, caged most (but of course not all) of the time? Obviously the same question could apply to guinea pigs and bunny rabbits too.

My daughter is 7-1/2 and she is responsible but she wouldn't have a huge amount of time for taking care of a pet because she has a lot of activities outside of school time. But she'd definitely have some time, and obviously the point in getting a pet is to spend some time with it on a regular basis.
posted by OCDan to Pets & Animals (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
She likes geckos well enough

A long time ago I used to babysit for some kids who had a leopard spotted gecko named Lucy. Lucy was awesome. She was adorable and cuddly (y'know, for something without fur) and perfectly happy to perch on your leg and get gentle finger pats for as long as you felt like giving them. They really can be quite charming.

I have a dog and the kind of personality that would let anything in a terrarium languish unfortunately but I'm gonna be honest, every time I go to a pet store I go spend a few minutes to waggle my fingers at the gecko tanks and make googy noises at them because they're just that cute.

Rabbits are terrible pets. Ok I've only had one rabbit but he was terrible enough I feel ok making broad pronouncements about the entire genus. Terrible. Pets. Never again.
posted by phunniemee at 11:24 AM on April 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

How about rats! They make wonderful pets - social, smart and sweet!
posted by Sassyfras at 11:24 AM on April 19, 2016 [18 favorites]

Nevermind the allergies, rabbits are not good pets for kids if the expectation is that the kid will take care of the pet. Rabbits are more complex than cats and dogs in many ways. They can't be left alone for much longer than one night, for example. Their litterboxes require frequent changing, and their vet costs are significant compared to a cat or a dog's. They are social animals and do better in pairs than they do alone. They require more attention than you describe you'd have time for.

I owned rabbits for over 10 years and I loved rabbits. But they are not a starter pet. They are an advanced pet. Do not get one for your daughter unless the rabbit will be a family pet with primary responsibility being on the adults in the household.
posted by zizzle at 11:29 AM on April 19, 2016 [12 favorites]

The birds may outlive you, so think a lot about whether or not you want that kind of responsibility.

Bearded dragons seem to be very "pet" like for a reptile, or at least that it the way it seems from the pictures I see on Facebook from a friend that owns a pair.

My son has a pet snake (Cali King Snake), not my idea of cuddly but he lays in bed reading with Blackbeard wrapped around his arm. You can't beat a snake for carefree pet maintenance though.
posted by COD at 11:50 AM on April 19, 2016

A tarantula is not a pet for every 7.5 year old girl, but it is the perfect pet for certain 7.5 year old girls. If she can deal with the "spiders are icky" instinct, learning how to find something that is supposedly "ugly" cute, and learning that something that we are instinctively scared of is a delicate creature that needs protection could be valuable lessons.

And she can have fun taunting her friends by snapchating them molting videos.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:50 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm allergic to cats and dogs, and I'm also allergic to pretty much every other animal that has hair (including humans to some extent). So I'd say you'd be wise to avoid anything with fur.

Whatever pet you go for, it'll take looking after, and the adults will largely be the ones taking care of it, whatever your initial plans.

Goldfish can be relatively easy pets, provided you give them enough space, don't over-feed them, and do regular water changes. Reptiles tend to have more complex requirements (live food, heat lamp, hiding/climbing places, dietary supplements etc.)

I'd advise doing your homework before you head off to the pet store. Better still, don't go to the pet store - find a well-respected breeder of the animal - one who clearly understands the needs of the animal and can educate you on how best to look after it.
posted by pipeski at 11:50 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

If a little fur is ok, definitely 2nding rats. They are SO much fun.

I don't know how easy they are to keep, but maybe a hedgehog? Less cuddly, but they sure are cute!
posted by ghostbikes at 11:53 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Rabbits are terrible pets. Ok I've only had one rabbit but he was terrible enough I feel ok making broad pronouncements about the entire genus. Terrible. Pets. Never again.

I agree with phunniemee - had a rabbit when I was a kid and I remember it biting me......on the neck. They are not as cuddly as they appear and IMHO don't make the best pets for a child.

On preview - thirding a rat. I've never owned one, but a friend in college had two, and they were really fun, and easy enough for a busy college student to care for.
posted by onecircleaday at 11:59 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

As long as you get the proper set up Bearded Dragons make great pets. They are very laid back & seem to like being handled. My brothers sits on the couch with him & watches TV & chases the dogs. They learn to know their owners. You can put them on leads & take them for walks. They are one of the easier reptiles to take care of as they will eat veggies, specialized packaged foods & some insects & don't need to be fed mice etc so good for the squeamish. They grow big enough you won't accidentally squash or loose them. They do live a long time though which can be a pro or a con.

Rats are an amazing pet & I'd suggest getting 2 of the same sex if she's going to be busy some days & a big cage. They love coming out to run, snugly, learn to know their owners & seem to show every sign of affection for them. They can learn tricks too. But they are short lived. Also they clean themselves a lot so if pet dander is a problem they can also cause allergy issues so you may want to let her try handling some before hand.

What ever you decide I'd suggest checking out a few online forums etc before hand to get an idea of just what is involved, animals you might think would be easy because they are small can be a lot more work than you suspect.
posted by wwax at 12:01 PM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed my gerbils and parakeet as a kid. We built elaborate setups for the gerbils and played with them every day. The parakeet was only caged at night; we trained him to stay in one room, and he spent most of his time on a perch by the window. I spent a lot of time with him, and the room he was in was also where my brother's computer was so he often had company. (When people came in the room he'd fly to their shoulders and hang out there.)
posted by metasarah at 12:07 PM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

My mom had two Bearded Dragons, Darwin and Rosebery, when I was a kid (they were named after two cities in Australia), and they were the best. We'd feed them crickets, and let them lounge on their hot rock, and they'd eat flowers and lettuce right out of our hands. They were super chill, and Darwin liked to ride on my little brother's head from time to time when he was a kid.

We legitimately mourned their passing--my mother cried--and I'd consider getting them again in a heartbeat if I wanted a not too fussy, not too needy pet in the future.
posted by PearlRose at 12:15 PM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have to nth rats. They are really loving and funny creatures, will bond to you, and are clever enough to learn tricks. Very social too, so get two.

Gerbils and hamsters are cute but both are pretty nocturnal/boring. I had a guinea pig in my own youth and they are friendly and social (enough that they'll sit on your lap for longish stretches), but they are not anywhere near as much fun as a rat.
posted by veery at 12:15 PM on April 19, 2016

Tree frogs (and especially White's tree frogs) are perfectly decent, low-maintenance, hypoallergenic pets.
posted by JMOZ at 12:22 PM on April 19, 2016

A turtle!
We have a turtle and he's fun. He has favorite music, he has music he hides from(anything with lots of bass). He eats spiders that hide under furniture. He like to get his head scritched. He doesn't like corn in his food. he has favorite hiding spots (behind the computer). He pees on the vet. he hides in pants legs.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:23 PM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing bearded dragons, a perfect starter for young creature enthusiasts; get a couple and, after about a year, help your daughter build an incubator to hatch the dozen-odd eggs into a (sellable) progeny!
posted by progosk at 12:27 PM on April 19, 2016

Tree frogs, though relatively easy to take care of once you've set up a paludarium, leave a lot less scope for interaction/relationship than beardies.
posted by progosk at 12:31 PM on April 19, 2016

I would advise staying away from rats because they seem to be something a lot of people are allergic to. When my kids got rats, I quickly became allergic to them. Up until then, the only animals I knew I was allergic to were cats and deer. I'm not allergic to dogs or ferrets. We already had mice and I didn't seem to be allergic to them. In reading about rats online, you come across lots and lots of people talking about their rat allergies. I get the impression they're more likely than a lot of other furry pets to cause allergies.
posted by Redstart at 12:33 PM on April 19, 2016

Birds are a lot more intelligent than we give them credit for, and need a lot of attention and stimulation, so unless someone will be around to play with a bird out of the cage for a few hours a day, it would be cruel to get a bird, especially a large one like a cockatoo.

the leopard gecko suggestion above is a good one, that are super cute and velvety to the touch, as long as you make sure you get a good sized enclosure with lots of interesting (to a lizard) places to hang out, it should be good with minimal attention.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:00 PM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Whatever you pets you consider please find a way of confirming if your child (or any other member of your household) is allergic to the pet of choice before you acquire the pet. Turns out my brother and mother were both allergic to the guinea pig we got but not the rabbit. Neither was allergic to the family dog or cats they came into contact with at various points.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:10 PM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've not had them as pets, but I was not allergic to rats/mice until I started working extensively with them and became sensitized (rashes on arms develop within minutes of entering the animal unit).
posted by porpoise at 1:23 PM on April 19, 2016

Putting aside the question of allergies, rats are awesome pets. Seriously awesome. I like them better than cats. They're smart, they all have very distinct personalities, and they purr. Truly. (Not like a cat's purr, but it's basically a purr. I think it's the sound of them grinding their teeth or something.) One drawback, and it was a big one to me: their lifespans are seriously short, and it got too sad to keep them. That was the only reason I stopped.

Guinea pigs are adorable, but very stupid, so if you want a smart pet, don't get a guinea pig.
posted by holborne at 1:31 PM on April 19, 2016

I wouldn't get a parrot or other intelligent bird like that. Lovebirds or budgies or something might be OK, but parrots (including cockatoos) are so intelligent and social that keeping them caged and isolated from their flocks isn't healthy for them at all. It's almost the default for pet parrots to have anxiety and engage in self-harming behaviors like feather plucking.

I work at a rabbit shelter, and while domestic rabbits can be fantastic pets, they are exotics. They require special handling, special diets, special vet care, and lots of specialized knowledge. They're still fundamentally prey animals, so they can be skittish and fearful at times, especially if they aren't appropriately socialized. They are susceptible to some pretty severe and quickly progressing diseases that you need to be on constant lookout for. And they bond very closely, so they should always be adopted out in pairs (spayed and neutered, of course, because that breeding like rabbits thing is real). That said, they do have lots of different and distinct personalities, and if you are interested and in the US, you should look around to see if you have a local chapter of the House Rabbit Society. They do adoptions and provide education and resources that you won't find from a pet store or breeder.

Your daughter is much too young to be completely responsible for any pet on her own, so whatever you decide on, the adults need to be onboard and take full responsibility for. She will likely learn as you go along, but never count on a kid that age to care for a pet on an ongoing basis.

If this is something you want to do and can support her in, though, I'd suggest you find local rescue groups for different types of animals and go talk to them (and throw in a donation for their time). Breeders and pet stores are far more likely to be trying to sell you on their products, whereas a rescue group will be much better at explaining to you what responsible pet ownership entails and will be interested in helping you make the right decision for your family and for the pets.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:49 PM on April 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Getting a parrot is a lot like getting married, as far as I can tell.

I'd look at getting a pair of rice finches or something.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:21 PM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hedgehogs are pretty easy to take care of (and they are adorable), but they're not super social (or at least mine isn't- we call him our grumpy little roommate) and they're mostly nocturnal. They also poop while they run on their wheel (they all do, they can't be taught not to) and they get poop on their feet. This also means you need to clean their cage and bathe them and trim their nails every couple of weeks or more.
posted by MadamM at 2:52 PM on April 19, 2016

I used to have pet birds, beginning in childhood, but I now believe it's wrong to cage a bird. If you do decide to get a bird, please educate yourself about the tropical bird trade and illegal bird trafficking. This article is a place to start.
posted by FencingGal at 3:32 PM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Gerbils, hamsters, and guinea pigs were my childhood pets, and they were fun. Hamsters are probably the easiest of those three, because gerbils are more active and guinea pigs are bigger. It's pretty easy not to be too allergic to them, too, because they live in a cage so you just wash hands after petting them. Maybe there's one at school she can foster for a weekend to try it out? That's how I convinced my parents- in second grade, I brought home the class gerbil over March Break and then got to keep her for the summer and ever after. She was cool. We named her Josh.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:28 PM on April 19, 2016

If she has allergies to other things too (e.g. dust) keep in mind that many pets can increase other allergens too. Such as it's possible to have a reaction to cat litter or guinea pig bedding.

I definitely like the idea of trying out a pet for allergies before getting one- but that might be hard unless you are lucky enough to know someone needing pet sitting with a non-mammal pet!
posted by nat at 6:16 PM on April 19, 2016

If she has allergies to other things too (e.g. dust) keep in mind that many pets can increase other allergens too. Such as it's possible to have a reaction to cat litter or guinea pig bedding.

Here to point out this. I had a guinea pig in my early twenties, and he was AWESOME, so cuddly and cute and fun, but guinea pigs eat hay and boy howdy was I allergic to that. I didn't seem to have that reaction to his paper-based bedding, but I could definitely see how someone might.

BUT if pet/food/bedding allergies turn out not to be an issue for guinea pigs, get a couple. They are just the cutest, sweetest, squeakiest little friends, and I thought their incredible stupidity was a bonus. Mine was never going to hatch any clever escape attempts. I'm not sure he understood what the door in his cage was even for.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 6:23 PM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Guinea pigs are more work than cats -- they have very delicate little toes but require regular nail trimming, they need fresh vegetables, they need hay and pellets in addition to veggies, they need to be bathed, and they require a big cage. The whole family really has to love guinea pigs to give them the best life, especially because they live 5-8 years. I have two guinea pigs and my children have lost interest in them. They are sweet little things and I will take care of them, but I wouldn't have them again.

I would say that rats are better pets. Less fussy, more inquisitive and intelligent.

Fish are great, too, especially livebearers like mollies, platys, and swordtails. They have live young, and baby fish are super cute.
posted by Ostara at 8:09 PM on April 19, 2016

Rats can be very short lived and can often get the most horrific cancers. Can be a sad pet to own.
posted by smoke at 8:33 PM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

We had a cockatiel when I was a kid. My dad used to deliver medical oxygen to people, and when an old lady went into hospital for what she thought might be the last time, she asked my dad to take care of him. He was pretty cool and smart. I don't know much about caged bird ethics, but I don't feel too bad about an abandoned bird.

I also had guinea pigs, which are adorable. they're fun and pretty clean, not too expensive to keep up, and their joyful WOOP WOOPS when you get home are fun like an excited puppy. I had many a nap watching tv with a happy chubby pig on me. They do need quite a lot of care though, but it's not crazy. I did this thing where I had TWO cages for the pigs, so when one was dirty I threw it on the back deck, and transferred the pigs and their beds to the clean cage. Then when that one was dirty, I cleaned both and set them back up. It didn't take any longer to do two than one. I would highly recommend it if you can end up getting pigs (There are hairless ones I think, too, though they look crazy!)

I had a dwarf hamster in colllege and it was mean mean mean and it got a cataract in it's eye that turned completely white and it was just terrible. So if you go with hamsters, definitely go with a TeddyBear.
posted by euphoria066 at 9:39 PM on April 19, 2016

My parents got me a parakeet for this reason (except I wasn't the allergic one) and I do not recommend it. There wasn't much you could do with it and it just chirped all day. Taking it out of its cage was only possible when its wings were clipped because otherwise it would fly into stuff but when it came out of the cage, it's not like there was much to do with it. I felt like the bird probably had a pretty crappy life too, it just hung out and chirped at itself in the mirror, basically.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:00 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Rabbits are not good pets for children, especially if you're expecting the child to be the sole caretaker. That's a really quick way to end up with a dead rabbit.

Zizzle is absolutely right about everything regarding rabbits. I love them and they're my favorite animal, but rabbits require a lot of upkeep and attention, their vet bills are much more expensive than cats and dogs and many vets aren't trained to care for them.

Honestly, I also think most kids wouldn't be observant enough to notice when a rabbit was sick (especially in the situation you describe where there's very little free time). Bunnies tend to be stoic with their pain and become lethargic when they're sick. And that's bad for rabbits because they need vet care ASAP if they start exhibiting lethargy and/or not eating/drinking/pooping/moving for more than 12 hours.

Rabbits also shouldn't be allowed to languish in a cage. They need at least several hours outside their (indoor) cages every single day to play and get exercise. They're generally social, so they usually do best if they have a fellow rabbit to hang out with. This doubles the workload, though: the cleaning, the feeding, the litterbox maintenance, the vacuuming (mine always loved to get hay everywhere, the little b-holes ;D), etc.

I would only recommend rabbits as pets for adults or families where the parents are prepared to do all the work themselves and willing to supervise all contact between rabbit(s) and kid(s). Many rabbits prefer not to be held or picked up and they can often be injured or killed through mishandling or neglect. Kids, on the other hand, want to hold and pet ALL THE FLUFFY THINGS and have poor impulse control. It's a volatile situation that could end badly for the rabbit.

Anyone who wants to adopt a pet rabbit should be willing to learn what rabbits need to lead happy, healthy lives and understand that rabbits are a 10 year commitment. Children are very unlikely to be able to comprehend and absorb all of the various but specific needs that rabbits have and would really need major parental support and supervision to do a proper job of caring for a rabbit. If neither you nor she can give that kind of time and energy, there's nothing wrong with realizing that and continuing the search for a more suitable pet.
posted by i feel possessed at 10:29 AM on April 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Hermit crabs are a really fun pet--I know some kids who just got two as class pets. They move around a lot, and are pretty easy to take care of.

Leopard geckos, as mentioned above, are very sweet, calm pets, and they have a velvety, almost fuzzy texture. I don't generally vibe with reptiles, but I would get a leopard gecko if I didn't have cats. They eat crickets and other live insects, so they're probably best for an unsentimental child. Turtles are also good pets, and very active.

Some breeds of chicken also make good pets! No, really. I once met a girl about your daughter's age with a totally tame bantam roster on a little leash, and he was awesome. I think keeping an intelligent bird like a parrot would be unkind--they can live to be 80+, and they bite a lot, and have a lot of weird dominance behaviors that would be too much for a 7-year old. But a few nice little bantam hens might be fun to have if you have a little outdoor space.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 8:44 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

« Older Was my great-grandfather a cross-dresser?   |   Communist baby gift Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.