Find the right pet for your family with our suggestions for feathered, furry and slithery companions that aren't more effort than they're worth.

By Jennifer King Lindley of Real Simple
Updated July 20, 2018

Birds: Budgies

Why They’re Easy…

When your young pirate begs for a parrot, compromise with a budgie (short for budgerigar), a type of parakeet. If these smaller, shorter-lived birds get used to people when they’re young, they offer much of the same appeal as their more demanding cousins, without the daunting commitment. (“Large parrots are like having a toddler in your home for 35 to 80 years,” says Robertson.) Budgies will perch on your finger and mimic words (a skill that’s generally stronger in males). And though they’re prodigious poopers, their waste dries quickly and doesn’t smell much, so you can get away with a weekly cage-cleaning routine.

…OK, Not That Easy

If you have only one bird, humans will become his flock by default, so someone will need to hang out with him for an hour or more daily. Or you can bring in a second budgie, but this will make both birds less motivated to bond with you.

Life span: 5 to 15 years.

Start-up costs: Budgies begin at about $20, and a good-size birdcage and basic supplies will add up to around $60.

Small Mammals: Guinea Pigs

Why They’re Easy…

If your child wants a pet that he can cuddle, a guinea pig is a pleasing handful and plenty entertaining. He will squeal with delight at the sound of your refrigerator opening (thus the “pig” in guinea pig), and when he’s happy, he’ll jump for joy, kicking his heels up in the air. (This is called “popcorning.”) Many other pet rodents are nocturnal, which means that they sleep during prime human playtime. Guinea pigs, however, are nappers, so they’re usually up for a visit (and a tasty snack) when your kids are. And unlike their hamster brethren, guinea pigs don’t tend to bite or require an exercise wheel that will squeak through the night.

…OK, Not That Easy

You’ll need at least four square feet of cage per animal—a good chunk of real estate to maintain. Quality out-of-cage time with your child is key, too. “If you don’t handle your pig regularly, he’ll probably be scared and try to leap away from you,” says Valarie Tynes, a veterinarian at Premier Veterinary Behavior Consulting, in Sweetwater, Texas.

Life span: 4 to 6 years.

Start-up costs: Guinea pigs begin at about $30. A suitable cage and gear can run $50 and up.

Reptiles: Leopard Geckos

Why They’re Easy…

These beautiful, patterned lizards are known for their gentle disposition and tolerance for handling, says Connie Packard Kamedulski, the owner of Animal Fair, a pet shop in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Also, they don’t grow longer than 7 to 10 inches, so you won’t end up with a small dinosaur on your hands—unlike some reptiles we know (see Do Turtles Make Good Pets?). Adults can be fed every other day and left alone for a weekend. And since they tend to designate one corner of the cage as the bathroom, keeping their home clean is relatively easy.

…OK, Not That Easy

Leopard geckos eat live crickets and mealworms (available at pet stores); the worms can be bought in bulk and kept in the refrigerator for weeks. To stay healthy, these guys need a heater under the tank, along with a humid shelter, such as a plastic hideout (available at pet stores) filled with damp mulch. (It could be worse: Other lizards, like bearded dragons, also require a special UV-lighting setup.) Like many reptiles, leopard geckos can carry salmonella bacteria on their skin, says Julie Morris, a veterinarian at Morris Animal Hospital, in Granger, Indiana, so hand washing after handling is a must.

Life span: 10 to 20 years.

Start-up costs: Baby lizards begin at about $30; plan to spend $200 or so on a habitat.

Fish: Bettas

Why They’re Easy…

In the wild, these brilliantly colored fish live in small, stagnant puddles. So a big bowl of treated tap water (at least one gallon and preferably three) will look like the Ritz-Carlton by comparison, especially if you add a plastic plant for your pet to hide behind when he’s feeling shy. Unlike goldfish, that other childhood standby, bettas can go to the surface for oxygen rather than drawing it from the water, so they’re not as bothered by less-than-pristine surroundings and they don’t require a filtered tank. In addition to their hardiness, bettas have other charms. When one male spots another, he’ll blow bubble nests and do some dramatic tough-guy posturing (called “flaring”); he’ll even put on the same show if he happens to catch sight of himself in a tiny “exercise mirror” in his bowl.

…OK, Not That Easy

“You’ll need to clean your betta’s home at least weekly,” says Kyle Donnelly, DVM, an exotic-animal specialist at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. (This is still far less involved than managing a full-fledged tank.) Male bettas are typically favored as pets for their attractive, longer fins and feisty antics. However, if you’re getting more than one male, they’ll each need a separate bowl. They’re known as “fighting fish” for a reason.

Life span: 3 to 5 years.

Start-up costs: You can bring home a betta, a shaker of betta food, and a big bowl for about $40.


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