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The Real Mom's Guide to 10 Popular Pets

Photograph by Twenty20

What pet should you get?

So you don't feel regret.

Or go into debt.

From constant trips to the vet.

Okay, so that's not what it says in the recently discovered Dr. Seuss book, "What Pet Should I Get?" but imagine how useful that would be! As parents, we often succumb to our children's desperate desire (aka constant whining) for cute critters without proper research. Many pets will be with us for years, so understanding what's really involved in their care and feeding is key.

Plus, no matter how much we tell ourselves that animals teach kids responsibility, let's be honest about who's really going to be keeping them alive: us. So we've reached out to real moms who gave us the straight, um, poop on their pets. Their answers may surprise you:


The good: Guinea pigs are "very cute and smart," said Melissa W., who compared them to having small dogs. "They love to come out and play and interact with the family." Also, they can eat fruits and vegetables, "So scraps are easily disposed of via guinea pigs!"

The bad: If they don't get enough vitamin C (through drops and fresh fruit,) guinea pigs can develop health problems. "One of ours broke a tooth, which led to an abscess and we had to put him to sleep. For several thousand dollars, he could have had dental surgery. We decided to pass on that."


The good: When Jamie G. got a gecko for her lizard-loving preschooler, she had no idea they'd be such great roommates. "The gecko needs two lights in his cage—one for daytime and one at night. I think my son actually likes the fact that the lizard needs the light on at night. It's like a nightlight for both of them." Plus, watching the gecko change color from green to brown has been a fascinating lesson in camouflage. "Sometimes we can't even find him because he hides so well."

The bad: Geckos eat live crickets, which require their own cage, water and food. "Crickets have a pretty short life span," said Jamie. "So I sometimes have to go to the pet store multiple times a week to get more crickets."


The good: Hamsters are easy to care for (they eat hamster feed) and make sweet companions for kids, said Stephanie T. "My three-year-old son has the cage right next to his bed, so watching the hamster helps him fall asleep."

The bad: "The hamster started using his little wheel as storage for food, so when he runs on the wheel, food (and poo) fling everywhere. We worry about the little poo bits interacting with a toddler who doesn't like to wash his hands."


The good: A garter snake is a low maintenance pet, said Amy L., since they only need to eat once a week and don't require much in the way of companionship. That means the family can take a trip without worrying about a pet sitter. And her seven-year-old son thinks snakes are very cool.

The bad: The snake eats six live goldfish at each feeding. "My kids love watching it. But I don't like to do it," said Amy. Also, the snake got out once, which wasn't a great day for mom.


The good: Small, soft and quiet, bunnies make a great first pet—especially for girls, said mother of two Samantha M. "They tolerate dress up, buggy rides and cradle rocks." Plus, their poop is easy to clean up.

The bad: They're fragile. "One got left in the sun and overheated," said Samantha. "Another got hot coffee spilled on it" and didn't make it. As the mom of a bunny owner, you might be having that life and death talk sooner than you think.


The good: Children find them fascinating, says Gina B. "My kids never got tired of wanting to help feed him and watching him eat. (His carnivorous diet: dried and fresh mealworms, crickets and live minnows that were poured into his aquarium.) It was fun to watch the turtle swim after the fish and capture them."

The bad: "Turtles can carry dangerous bacteria so they aren't really a pet you hold and play with a lot," said Gina. "They are more the kind of pet you watch from a distance. If you do hold it, you must was your hands immediately." And if hygiene concerns, feeding expenses and tank cleaning bother you, they're going to bother you for a long time, as pet turtles can live 40 years or more—way past your kids heading to college.


The good: Goldfish are easy and not much of a commitment, yet kids connect with them. "My daughter talks to her fish," said Carrie B. "I think she likes having him around."

The bad: Carrie thought feeding the fish was a good chore for her five-year-old, but accidental overfeeding led to his premature demise. (They got a new one.) Also, cleaning out the fish tank is "so gross" that Carrie had to assign that task to her husband.


The good: Cats are gentle and cuddly pals who will usually put up with a fair amount of awkward petting and chasing from kids that would never fly with adults. "My 3-year-old loves to help me feed the cats," said Lisa H. "He scoops out the food from the bag and puts it in the dish. And he loves to yell at Tigger when he's scratching the couch. I think it makes him feel good that there's someone smaller than him in the house who makes mistakes too."

The bad: The litter box is a potential hazard, since cat poop carries bacteria. Lisa maintains a strict "no touching" rule with her son, so the weekly clean-out is all on her.


The good: Birds are chatty companions, which kids enjoy, and parents, well… tolerate. "My daughter has a bird named Princess that she loves," said Lisa M. "I call her Satan because she tweets whenever she hears my daughter (she even knows the sound of her bedroom door closing) so we have a good amount of tweeting."

The bad: Caregiving is fairly involved, including daily feeds, weekly cage cleaning, trimming nails and feathers, and giving mist baths. "I would not recommend a bird for a young child," said Lisa, who also used to work at a pet shop. "Smaller birds tend to be nervous and require a confident handler." They also do not-so-cute things like bite and pull out their own feathers under stress. And since a bird usually bonds to one person—its primary caregiver—a small child may end up feeling ignored.

RELATED: The 5 Dog Breeds Vets Worry About the Most


The good: It's not exactly breaking news that Man's Best Friend makes a great pet for kids. They're protective, loving and playful, plus they're better than a Dustbuster at cleaning up under the dinner table. For Lauren L., the family dog is practically a babysitter. "The dog is real company. The kids never feel alone."

The bad: Many dogs aren't obedience school valedictorians. As Lauren put it, "He makes a land mine of shit all over the lawn. He terrorizes the cats, eats food off the table if we leave it unattended and barks to defend the house. He has also single-handedly destroyed $4000 worth of orthodontic appliances. He's a delicious pain in the ass."

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