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What are the best pets for young children?

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Taking care of a pet can be a valuable learning experience for children. Just be sure to choose the right pet for your child and your family. Dogs and cats aren’t the only possibilities. Here’s a look at some other options for animal companionship:

• Fish. Perhaps one of the easiest pets to take care of, fish can provide companionship without a ton of responsibility beyond cleaning their tanks and feeding them. They don’t require much interaction and are a popular starter pet for most children. They don’t take up a lot of room, but you should be careful not to overfeed them.

• Ants/earthworms. If you and your child aren’t easily grossed out, taking care of ants or earthworms could be a good choice. Ideal for outdoorsy and science-oriented kids, ants are quite capable of taking care of themselves. Just be sure to not leave the lid off the container or let it get knocked over. As for earthworms, they’re quite low-maintenance and can be moved to your garden if your child loses interest.

• Rodents. Small mammals such as mice, rats, hamsters, and guinea pigs are excellent pets for those who do not have a great deal of living space. Handle them with care when feeding and exercising them, and clean their cages often. They don’t live for too long, but they are more active at night, when children are home from school.

• Rabbits. While also rodents, rabbits require a different level of care from those previously mentioned. They need a good deal of exercise in and out of their cages. Rabbits also need to be handled with care by their owners and can bite if provoked. They’ll need things to chew on and a roomy cage where they can have their own litter box.

• Birds. Birds such as parakeets or finches can make excellent pets if you make the commitment. Selecting the right kind of bird is key, as their temperament and level of activity should be matched to the family. It can take time to train them, and they can live for several years, so be sure that a bird really fits with your family.

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