Ideal first pets for children

Vet nurse Laura runs through the considerations parents and carers should make before deciding who their next family member should be and makes some suggestions for the best first pets for kids.

I think all parents go through the stage where their children are hanging off them pleading to get their very own pet.

Considering what type of animal your child’s first pet is, is an important decision to make and one that shouldn’t be made lightly, and that all family members are in agreement.

It can also be fundamental to the building blocks of children’s responsible pet ownership. Allowing them to take ownership and responsibility for another being can be great in developing your child's confidence and wellbeing.

So, if you're thinking it's not a definite no to those pleas, here are some tips to helping you choose the right pet to join the family.

You have to consider what your child would be able or limited to do when caring for the animal. And if they are not able to do this, ensuring you or another family member have the time to do these things.

In 2006, the animal welfare act was passed to ensure all pets in the UK were correctly and adequately cared for.

How does this affect pet owners?

The act was introduced to ensure owners take positive steps to care for their pets, but also allowed enforcers to take legal action when these basic needs aren’t met, resulting in animals neglected or suffering.

The act lays out very simple steps in the “five welfare needs”. These steps can actually help when asking yourself what pet would best suit your family.


What are they 5 welfare needs?


Welfare needs 1- A suitable environment

Have you got the space? The size and location of your home can be a big deciding factor on what type of animal you chose as your pet. Also, the initial out spend on any beds, housing or equipment has to be also factored in too.


Welfare needs 2- A suitable diet

Providing a good quality diet to meet all the nutritional needs at the correct intervals and frequencies. With this in mind, making sure you can source the correct food easily? Financially afford it? And having the time in your and your child's life to do this?


Welfare needs 3- Able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns

Despite animals being domesticated for hundreds of years, we still have a duty as pet owners to provide an environment and enrichments to mimic their natural habitat and maintain their mental health. This can be something as simple as a perch for a bird or a toy that allows the animal to replicate natural play. Providing correct environment and enrichments will help prevent anxiety, boredom or destructive behaviour.


Welfare needs 4- Housed with, or apart from other animals

Are they a social animal? This answer will differ from animal to animal and something that needs to be considered when choosing your pet. Like welfare needs 3, allowing them to exhibit their natural behaviour, particularly if their original environment would involve them living in packs or groups. On the other hand, some animals thrive on a solitary existence, and being mindful if you have any other pets in the house that this will not cause any unduly stress on the animal.


Welfare needs 5- Protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease

Like us, animals can feel pain too. Prevention is generally better than cure; meaning some pets may require treatments like vaccinations, parasite treatment or even a trip to the groomers to help maintain optimum health and prevent illness or disease. Some things cannot be prevented and, in these instances, ensuring the pet receives immediate or regular treatment.


Which make a good first pet for a child?


Guinea Pigs

These are great first pets for young children. Generally, they are quite hardy animals, meaning that are not usually prone to diseases or ill health if their basic day to day care is maintained. Giving their hardiness they can actually have a life expectancy of up to 7 years. They can also be housed outside or in, depending on your preference.

These quirky creatures are very friendly and fun to have around particularly with that distinctive adorable squeaking noise they make when communicating. As long as you handle them often enough, they can easily become very tame.

They are very social able animals and love being in company of other guinea pigs. They are also quite intelligent and active little things! Providing them with plenty of space for them to explore and graze. Even an obstacle or tunnel can them provide them with lots of entertainment or even a hiding place.


How much does it cost keeping a guinea pig?

The initial outlay will involve getting a cage, run, feeding equipment and some environmental enrichments, which can cost up £300.00.

Food and bedding would expect to cost approximately £20.00 a month

Also, having insurance or savings in case your guinea pig becomes sick or ill an requires any veterinary treatment.




We as a nation are massive dog lovers. It is believed that 9 million dogs are owned in the UK! So, it's no surprise dogs are the most popular first pet for children. Researching what breed would best suit your family is key. The dogs, size, energy levels, temperament and even care requirements will differ majorly between breeds. It’s something that needs a lot of thought and consider how much time you and your child can give to meet the particular breed needs. Some breeds are just not suitable being around children, so choosing a social able breed that enjoys interacting, playing games and receiving lots of affection from children is important.

A lot of dog breeds are highly intelligent and require lots of stimulation and interaction from their human family. Particularly, if you have decided to get a puppy. This will take a lot of time and effort to establish those basic training needs, puppies need in the beginning, like toilet training and basic obedience.

Depending on the size of the breed, life expectancy can vary from 8 years for a large breed to even 17 years for small breeds.


How much does dogs really cost?

The costs can vary considerably between dogs. Generally, the bigger the dog, the higher the costs will be.

According to a PDSA article on “the cost of owning a dog” you can expect to pay between £370 and £425 for the initial outlay depending on the size breed. Going forward, you can expect it to cost between £50 and £80 each month. These amounts haven’t taken veterinary fees in to consideration, so making sure you gain insurance or have savings put aside too.



These can be a great first-time pet for any age child. Aquariums are known to have a calming effect and you can easily immerse yourself in to their little world, watching them swim and glide in the aquarium.

It's probably best to start with a fresh water aquarium, as they generally don’t require much attention except feeding daily and weekly cleaning of the tank. A saltwater aquarium on the other hand will require a lot more maintenance and knowledge and probably not a good choice for a first-time owner.

Fish’s life expectancy can vary greatly between breeds. For your typical and most popular fish, like goldfish can except to live for on 2-3 years.

Your initial outspends on an aquarium and equipment will vary considerably from £30 up to £2000, depending on how fancy and chic design you go for. Ongoing costs can be as little as a few pounds a month for food.


Written by Laura Blackman

My career as a vet nurse began over 16 years ago and over the years, I’ve spent time at six different vet practices across Hertfordshire and Suffolk. Being a vet nurse is really fun because every day is different – one moment you could be dealing with anal glad issues and the next, assisting with major surgeries. What I love about my job is seeing the relationship between the owner and their beloved pet. The highlight of my career so far has to be rescuing a hamster from a toy toilet – don’t ask! The biggest challenge of my job is education and that’s why I’m working with We Love Pets to provide professional advice on pet care to help with any preventative health issues. I’m also really interested in pet nutrition so watch this space for diet advice! I rehomed my two dogs Pippa (a Staffie x Whippet) and Charlie (Beagle x Bulldog) and my cat Betty loves them just as much as I do!

Topics: childrens pets

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