6 low-maintenance pets for families instead of a dog

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Pets

because-I-said-so-tealA dog may be man’s best friend, but Fido isn’t the only pet fit for a family. There is a menagerie of animals that make great family pets and are a lot less work than a dog or even a cat. Next time your kids beg for a pet, consider satiating their need for an animal to love on with one of these six low-maintenance choices:

1. Rats

“Rats make really good pets,” says Meghan Zundel, a manager at Animal Ark in Orem. “They are just as smart as a dog and as clean as a cat.” Rats live between two to four years, so the time commitment is relatively short. Rats are friendly and can even be trained — Zundel had four rats she trained to come when called and roll over on command. At $5-$10 each, this pet is inexpensive to buy and feed.

2. Rabbit

Rabbits are soft and can be cuddled like a dog or cat but are much less work. “You need to get them fresh food and water every day and once a week clean their cage,” Zundel says. “You can potty train rabbits, too.” Rabbits can bite when provoked, so steer clear of rabbits until your kids are old enough to not pull tails. Rabbits live eight to 10 years.

3. Leopard gecko

Reptiles have a bad rap but one of Zundel’s top recommendations is a leopard gecko. Approximately six inches in length, these geckos are tame and low-maintenance. They eat inexpensive live crickets and mealworms and don’t require special lighting to keep them warm — a heating pad under their tank will do. “You can take them out and handle them, and they usually will tolerate that pretty well,” she says.

4. Birds

Parakeets and cockatiels can make great family pets, Zundel says, especially if they’ve been handfed from birth. “They are very nice and very sweet and can live up to 20 years,” she says. You can train the birds to sit on your finger or shoulder and they can even learn to talk.” Birds are generally best with kids ages 10 and up who know how to be gentle with fragile animals.

5. Snakes

They aren’t cuddly — unless you’re talking about constrictors — but if you’re looking for an easy pet, snakes fit the bill. “You only need to feed them one appropriate-size mouse once every seven to 14 days,” Zundel says. “Little kids can handle them and most snakes really aren’t going to bite.” Zundel recommends cornsnakes for families because they are around four or five feet long and don’t eat large prey.

6. Tarantulas

Spiders make great pets, as long as you leave them alone. Tarantulas need to be treated like fish, Zundel says. They’re OK to look at in the tank but it’s best not to get them out. “Some of them will tolerate handling but they’re never really going to enjoy it,” she says. Tarantulas eat one cricket a week at about 10 cents a pop, so they are dirt cheap to feed.

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Natalie Hollingshead is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly about home, family, food and travel for a handful of publications, and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking” (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Elyssa Andrus. A native of Alberta, Canada, Natalie lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.

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