Want a pet but can't manage a dog or cat? We've got the lowdown on the tiny creatures that make a lovely addition to the fam...
Got pet envy from visiting Singapore’s dog-friendly parks? We’ve all been there… the kids really want a furry friend, and the pet cafes and cat museums just aren’t cutting it anymore. But if you don’t have the time or space to take care of a dog or cat, there are plenty of small pets for kids that make the perfect addition to the family.
However, with great companions come great responsibility! Contrary to what most people think, small animals aren’t suited to be cared for by very young children. Kids under four years don’t quite have the empathy needed to avoid squeezing a tiny creature to death out of sheer love, so an adult should always be present. And remember, despite your children’s best intentions, you will probably end up being the primary caretaker of all the critters adopted by your family (at least until they can feed or clean the cage without prompting). So, think about whether you’re ready to commit before taking in a new resident – it’ll save you a lot of tears. Before you get started, check out our list of places to adopt furfriends, and remember: adopt, don’t shop!
Show of hands, who had a hamster as their first pet? Whether Syrian or dwarf, hamsters are extremely lovable and curious. They also make great escape artists: a resident HoneyKids hamster once wriggled his way out of a temporary cage and was found the next morning happily chewing his way through the lifestyle section of the newspaper. As nocturnal, solitary creatures, it’s important to keep hamsters in separate cages to prevent fighting and breeding. They do enjoy a good run around the room and they look adorable with their cheeks stuffed with food. However, they do nibble on fingers so don’t squeeze them too hard! We adopted our little dwarf hamster, Buddy, from SPCA. He doesn’t take up a lot of room but we make sure to clean his cage once a week and provide him with hamster-friendly chewables.
Care: Clean cage once to twice a week
Lifespan: 2-2.5 years
Gerbils are agile rodents with a tail that’s furrier than a mouse. They’re easily tamed and, unlike hamsters, enjoy the company of other gerbils. Since they’re awake during the day, they make entertaining pets. Gerbils love to burrow so it’s recommended to keep them in an aquarium or a gerbilarium with a tank full of bedding and a wire cage on top.
Care: Clean tank every two or three weeks
Lifespan: 3-4 years
Mice, like all other rodents, are a lively bunch. They are highly sociable creatures who require companions to play with. Since they’re nocturnal, it’s better not to keep them in anyone’s bedroom, as they’ll be scratching away all night! Mice love to climb and scamper around their cage. They might frighten some people but in fact they’re lovely creatures who are less inclined to nibble on stray fingers than hamsters.
Care: Clean the cage three times a week
Lifespan: 2-3 years
Rabbits are one of the most popular house pets, with over 45 recognised breeds. But despite being super cuddly and sooooo fluffy, these delicate creatures are flighty by nature and dislike being picked up. They do make great furry companions and love being petted… as long as all four feet are on the ground. You’re going to need space and a lot of patience to get your rabbits used to you and your kids. Once they’re litter-trained and have become accustomed to the new environment, you can even let the little bun-buns free-roam in the house. Plus, if rabbits are really happy, they’ll let you know by hopping really high; that’s called a “binky”.
Care: Need to sterilise and also groom at least once a week
Lifespan: 8-12 years
These nocturnal fluff balls are inquisitive and playful and are quite happy running around the room, provided you’ve chinchilla-proofed it. They do prefer cooler climates so they should be kept indoors. Though they’re easily tamed to do tricks and cuddles, they are the priciest furbabies on our list as they are not native. However, they do live the longest – up to 20 years! – so make sure your kids take them along when they move out.
Care: Clean environment at least once a week, dust bath at least twice a week
Lifespan: 15-20 years
Not only are guinea pigs hardy, they’re also easily tamed, affectionate and sociable creatures. If you’re planning on getting guinea pigs, it’s best to get two so they can keep each other company. With lots of exercise and a healthy diet, they can live four to eight years, and they offer up all sorts of cute tricks: they can purr, ‘popcorn’ by jumping up and down – literally – for joy, and make adorable squeaking sounds called “wheeking”, which sounds a bit like a cross between an oink and a squeak.
Care: Clean cage once or twice a week
Lifespan: 4-8 years
Fishes are quiet, low maintenance pets that can brighten up any home. Most of the maintenance of fish goes into keeping the tank environment at an optimum level. Speaking from experience – a crushing childhood “Where’s Fishy McFish gone?” kind of experience – we recommend that if you’re getting more than one kind of fish, make sure they’re able to coexist without fighting or they could end up as fish food. If you’re a fishy beginner, it’s worth starting with varieties that require less maintenance, such as guppies, tetra, goldfish, betta and plecos.
Care: Clean the tank once a week
Lifespan: Varies (well cared for goldfish can live up to 10-15 years!)
Small, beautiful, and best of all, fuss-free. Although they are short-term pets, butterflies are perfect for showing kids the fascinating aspects of a caterpillar’s life cycle. You can make your own butterfly kit or buy one from Oh Farms. They come with everything you need including leaves, base paper, and an environment for the caterpillars to live in. Once the caterpillars have become butterflies, Oh Farms recommends not keeping butterflies trapped for more than a day. Set them free into nature and get your science and life lesson all-in-one!
Care: Provide caterpillar with fresh supply of leaves and clean the container to prevent build-up of waste
Lifespan: About five weeks from caterpillar to pupa stage