The (Surprising) Best First-Time Pets

So it began: my oldest child, age five, wanted a pet of her very own. Why? I asked. We had a dog and a cat, wasn’t that enough? Well, apparently not. She had an appetite for nurturing, and this was not being fulfilled. Her maturity level was definitely on par; I just wasn’t in the mood, I guess. I did all of the “maybe’s” and “we’ll see’s” for as long as I could, but then I started to see which pets would best suit a five year old, as she was obviously not letting this go.

My husband was adamant that we just get a fish or two, but she wasn’t thrilled about fish and I didn’t like the idea of cleaning out a fish bowl every week. I googled recommended pets for that age group and was kind of surprised at what I found. Of course, things like fish and hamsters were on the list, but I was most definitely not inclined to hamsters, as I had had them as pets and I was forever haunted by them biting me. Those little shits can take a chunk out of your finger and not think twice. What surprised me was that rats were number two on the list, with guinea pigs being number one. Rats?! Okay, let’s look into guinea pigs, then.

They are social, yet timid, and seldom bite. Guinea pigs are happiest in pairs, so, being on the larger size that will require a decent amount of cage space. They do require vitamin C either through fresh fruits and vegetables or via supplements. Not a bad choice, I said to myself. Then, purely out of fiendish curiosity, I began to research the dreaded rat.

Why would anyone want a rat for a pet? But then I started looking and apparently it is favored amongst many small pet owners, kids and adults alike. Why? Because they are clean, love to be handled and touched, and don’t typically bite at all. They are very intelligent, and can be trained if you so choose. Hmmm…okay, I thought. My mind might be changing. I never thought of a small rodent being sociable, I guess. Sure, there was Mr. Jingles, the mouse on The Green Mile. Remember him? But that wasn’t real life. Or was it? Everywhere I looked people were online exclaiming how rats were THE BEST pet to have.  And that is when I made the decision to at least throw the idea to my daughter. I was not optimistic.

I told her what I had learned and showed her some pictures of pet rats. I was expecting an exasperated “Ewwww, Mom!” at the whole idea. Boy, was I wrong. She fell in love with it! I learned it was best to purchase from a pet rat breeder than from a chain store, so I found a breeder closest to me and bought two male rats (like guinea pigs, rats are happiest in pairs).

Their names are Mango and Ralph. They have been the sweetest pets my daughter could have asked for. Like little puppies, they will jump up and reach out if you go near their cage, wanting to be held and cuddled. They are so gentle, and as a bonus, they have really helped to teach my youngest son to be more empathetic.

All of this is to say, if you are trying to decide on a first time pet for your kiddos, consider the humble rat. I’m amazed to hear myself say this, but I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised.