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10 best family pets: what pet is best for my family?
From budgies to bunnies and cats to canines, find the right fit for your family with our pick of the 10 best family pets.
By Louise Cole | Last updated Jan 21, 2022
Whether furry, feathery or finned, a pet can make your home feel complete. Proven to boost wellbeing and reduce stress levels, the health benefits of beastie besties are undisputed and owning creatures great or small has particularly positive effects for children, who often form a strong bond with their pet and gain a sense of responsibility from caring for another living thing.
When choosing your new addition, it’s vital to appreciate the level of commitment required, and the demands and expenses that pet ownership brings. And with domestic animals living anywhere from a few months to a century or more, their lifespan needs some serious consideration too as your pet will need looking after for the rest of its life, whether by you or your grandchildren.
So, if you want in on the fun, fascination and frolics of pet parenting, we’ll help you discover the ideal buddy to suit your family, home and lifestyle. Here are the 10 best family pets.
“I’ve never lived in a home without a dog. I would be bereft without one.” – Mumsnet user
There’s never a dull moment with a hound around and, as the UK’s most popular pet, it’s not hard to see the appeal. Inviting man’s best friend into your home is a decision that needs serious thought, however, and you’ll need to be realistic about your family’s activeness, time constraints and the costs involved.
Your pooch will need walking daily, whatever the weather, with some breeds requiring more than two hours’ exercise every day. Dogs shouldn’t be left for more than four hours, so they’re a no-go if the house is empty all day.
Outgoings – including vet’s bills, food, insurance and possibly a dog-walker or sitter – run into many thousands of pounds over your dog’s lifetime, which can be a decade or more, depending on size and breed.
Getting a dog will give your kids an early life lesson in prioritising personality over looks, as temperament is paramount. Certain gentle breeds are great with children, such as the Golden Retriever, Labrador and Irish Setter, but bear in mind that larger dogs could accidentally knock over toddlers.
While puppies can be exceptionally cute, you may want to consider adopting an older dog or rescue dog who's in need of a good home. Many come from foster homes, which provide a safe environment for vulnerable animals and the opportunity for them to become socialised, before being adopted.
- Can’t fail to boost your mood
- Encourages fitness
- Can be messy and noisy
What breed of dog makes the best family pet?
If you're after a larger, affectionate dog, the Labrador or Golden Retriever makes the ideal family pet. Family-friendly, mid-size breeds include the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Whippet, while at the smaller end are the French Bulldog and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Research your chosen breed as each is prone to certain health conditions (particularly the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) and, if there are allergies in the family, consider a non-shedding breed, such as the Poodle.
You’ll also need to consider the costs of ongoing vet bills and health treatments like flea control for any dog or cat.
“They’re not smelly, don’t require walking and are just generally easier than dogs.” – Mumsnet user
Independent and solitary, cats make perfect pets for families that have limited time on their hands. They can let themselves in and out through a cat flap, won’t make you feel guilty when you leave the house, and they even clean themselves, demanding little more than their daily feeding.
Our feline friends adapt well to both large and small homes, only really needing a litter tray and access to the great outdoors so that they can explore.
Cats may be prone to scratching your soft furnishings, but on the upside there’ll be no noise complaints from the neighbours whenever the doorbell rings, plus you’ll also have a mouse-free house – worth bearing in mind if you own smaller pets.
Potentially living for 18 years or more, the chances are that the kids will have left home long before Kitty is pushing up the daisies.
- Can be left alone all day
- Cleans itself
- Long-term commitment
- Hair gets on furnishings and clothing
“Mine are extremely tame and loving, but only because I spend a lot of time with them.” – Mumsnet user
With super-cute looks and an inquisitive nature, it’s unsurprising that rabbits have hopped into third place when it comes to the UK’s most popular pets. Owners must understand their needs, however, which include abundant space and attention, plus the company of other bunnies.
The Rabbit Welfare, Association & Fund advises that rabbits should be kept in pairs and that the enclosed living area is at least 3 × 2 × 1 metres, including sleeping quarters, to allow for optimum space. Traditional huts, especially those that are too small, may compromise a rabbit's wellbeing.
Bedding will need checking and changing daily, and your rabbit will need grooming once a week, or every day if it’s long-haired. That’s a lot of brushing as many live for 10 years or more.
Being picked up can be frightening for these prey animals, and they can bite and scratch when stressed, so a rabbit might not be the best choice for younger children.
- Higher-maintenance than expected
- Prefers not to be picked up
- Requires a lot of space
“The only downside is that you get so attached to them, but they don’t have a very long lifespan.” – Mumsnet user
Hamsters are perfect for busy families. Being nocturnal, these cheek-stuffing rodents will happily sleep all day while you’re out and about. Plus, they simply need feeding daily and cleaning out once a week.
Friendly once tamed with regular handling, you will, however, need to be aware that these tiny pets can easily be harmed by overenthusiastic little hands, so younger children should be supervised.
Sadly, there’ll be tears after only a couple of years, which is a hamster’s average lifespan, making them a shorter-term commitment than many animals.
Remember that, unless you want your sleep disturbed by the sound of a tiny creature racing maniacally around on an exercise wheel, it’s wise to keep its cage out of the bedroom.
- Fairly low maintenance
- Can be escape artists
5. Guinea pig
“They are quite timid and shy, but if you are calm and gentle they will become tame and friendly. We absolutely adore ours.” – Mumsnet user
A great choice for a first pet, guinea pigs are sweet and child-friendly creatures that will live for five to seven years. These cute cavies will happily be stroked, fed treats and have a cuddle on your lap, and their excited squeals only add to the fun.
Like us, guinea pigs are active during the day, meaning there’s more opportunity to enjoy them than their nocturnal counterparts. A decent-sized cage is a must and, while they can live outside in summer, they’ll need bringing inside during the cooler months.
Because guinea pigs live in large groups in the wild, they need companionship to stop them from getting lonely or stressed. Those from the same litter shouldn’t squabble – just make sure any males in a mixed group are neutered or you’ll have litters of mini guineas on your hands.
- Tamed easily
- Easier to handle than smaller rodents
- May need more space than expected
- Easily startled
“They are smart, fun little birds and more interactive than a guinea pig or hamster.” – Mumsnet user
If a feathered friend appeals, look no further than the bubbly budgie or budgerigar. Bright in more ways than one, these mini parrots can be tamed within weeks and, if socialised well, are affectionate with their owners and may even learn to mimic their speech.
Although fairly inexpensive to care for, be mindful that these active little birds require a cage large enough for them to spread their wings and they’ll need to be let out of it daily for an hour or two, which will no doubt entail you trailing behind with a wet wipe to clean up any accidents.
While these social flock birds like to chatter and chirp, they’re quieter than other species and are happiest living with at least one other budgie buddy. A good choice for families with older children, they live for around a decade – but sometimes much longer.
- Forms a strong bond when tamed
- Some learn to talk
- Not ideal for tiny tots
- Can be noisy
“Rats really are like little dogs – they’re great fun and you can train them. Each has its own personality.” – Mumsnet user
While owning a rat won’t appeal to everyone, these highly intelligent rodents make fantastic pets and can even be trained to do tricks. They relish mental stimulation, and are confident and friendly. Plus, they rarely bite.
Contrary to popular belief, a pet rat is one of the cleanest creatures to own and can also learn to use a litter tray. They’ll need cleaning out and feeding regularly, but are straightforward to look after and live for a couple of years or so.
Because they’re sociable animals, getting more than one rat is your best bet for happy pets. They’ll need the biggest cage possible and at least an hour’s exercise out of it each day for playing and running, which means rat-proofing your room so they don’t escape or chew through electrical wires.
- Enjoys human interaction
- Short lifespan
- Needs a fairly large cage
“They are very undemanding and cute, with plenty of personality.” – Mumsnet user
Fascinating, quiet and docile, tortoises can make marvellous pets. Before shelling out, however, long-term planning is necessary because – with some living up to 100 years – your tortoise could well outlive both you and your children.
With no tortoises native to the UK and the importation of many breeds banned, look for one bred in captivity. Each species will have different diet, housing and environmental needs, with certain types eventually growing enormous, some needing to hibernate and others requiring a permit.
Getting one of these desirable reptiles can set you back hundreds of pounds, not including necessary equipment such as a suitably-lit indoor vivarium and secure outdoor enclosure.
Ensure that you buy from a reputable source or perhaps rehome an unwanted tortoise – and double-check that there’s an exotic-pet vet in the vicinity.
- Can be enjoyed for generations
- Happy living alone
- Becomes stressed if handled too much
“Cold water fish are easier to look after compared to tropical fish.” – Mumsnet user
House-proud pet parents who feel green around the gills at the thought of mess, fur or dirt might feel more at home with a goldfish or three. These pets are mesmerising to watch and have to be the most efficient – and affordable – destressors out there.
Being cold-water critters, goldfish need no special equipment other than a tank and water filter, but make sure that the tank is adequately sized for their needs – goldfish bowls are almost always too small.
Other than a partial tank-clean once a week, which involves replacing one-fifth of their water, all your fish require is a sprinkling of food twice a day. And with tablets available that gradually release food, there’s no need to worry when you leave them to go on holiday. You are, however, advised to clean away uneaten food daily.
Just be sure to dechlorinate your water before carefully putting it in the aquarium, either using drops from the pet shop or by leaving it in a bucket for 24 hours beforehand.
- Ideal for busy households
- Lack of interaction – children may quickly lose interest
- Fish need more space than you think
10. Stick insect
“I used to have a stick insect. I kept it in a tall plastic sweet jar. They are the easiest thing to look after.” – Mumsnet user
OK, so they won’t want a cuddle or deter burglars, but these masters of disguise are worthy pets nonetheless. Stick insects take up little space and are among the most undemanding creatures of all.
All that’s needed is a regular supply of fresh bramble, privet or ivy leaves and a breathable container spacious enough for them to dangle when shedding their skins as they grow.
These ‘walking sticks’ are educational too. Kids will witness the creatures’ entire life cycle, which lasts about a year. A word of warning though: get rid of any eggs if you don’t want to find live Twiglets all around your home.
- Easy to look after
- Not as exciting as some pets
- Regularly reproduce
What makes a good family pet?
The ideal family pet will vary from one household to the next, but should be one that the whole family is keen to enjoy.
The main reason for wanting a pet will influence your choice and parents should have the final say. However much your children are convinced that they’ll look after it, they’ll inevitably lose interest, with the day-to-day care ultimately falling to the adults.
How do I know if my family is ready for a pet?
Your family is ready to get a pet if you can answer ‘yes’ to the following questions:
1. Will your pet receive adequate care for the duration of its life? 2. Have you researched your chosen pet? 3. Do you have the time, space and money to dedicate to it? 4. Can you afford to take it to the vet’s when necessary? 5. Will you teach your child to handle it gently? 6. Will it be looked after when you go away? 7. Are you prepared to have two or more pets if they can’t live alone?
Other factors to consider include any allergies in the family and whether you already have other pets. If adopting an unwanted animal is an option, this may not only calm your conscience, but it’ll be kinder to your wallet too.
What is the easiest pet to take care of?
You’ve probably already twigged, but the humble stick insect is the easiest pet to look after. Other than fresh greenery, all that’s required is a quick cleanout of its enclosure every few days.
What is a good first pet for a child?
Goldfish make great first pets for children. They teach kids about love, responsibility, life and death, plus they’re cheap to feed and can be left guilt-free when you go away.
What is the best pet for an autistic child?
Being around animals can enhance emotional and social skills, reduce anxiety and loneliness and increase self-esteem.
Guinea pigs make great pets for children with autism. Bigger and therefore easier to hold than hamsters, they’re happier to be handled than rabbits and have a calming effect upon those looking after them.
What is the best family pet to buy?
They’re undeniably demanding, but dogs make the best family pets. Yes, they can be messy, smelly and disobedient – not to mention expensive – but they’re also loyal, affectionate and hilarious.
There’s a good reason why we’re a nation of dog-lovers and these full-on furballs bring the whole family together through their playful antics, unconditional love and need for exercise, grooming and training.
While pooch ownership is no walk in the park, it’s certainly not to be sniffed at. But, if possible, borrow or foster a dog before you fully commit.
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