Many parents believe that a pet is an excellent learning opportunity for a young child. And to a certain point, that’s very true.
Having a pet teaches children empathy and responsibility, which are skills that will serve them throughout their lives. However, buying a child a pet, especially as a surprise gift, isn’t always a good idea, for reasons we’ll discuss below.
- Why Shouldn’t You Buy a Child a Pet As a Gift?
- Best Alternatives to Buying a Pet as a Gift for a Child
- Choosing a Toy Over a Pet
But saying “no” to a pet, or choosing not to adopt a pet as a gift, can be difficult. When a child wants something as a gift, they can be truly insistent and persistent! In time, your child will move on to another interest.
But if you were planning to adopt a pet as a gift for Christmas, a birthday, or another celebration, you might be looking for a good alternative.
Here, we’ll let you know some of our ideas for good alternatives for buying a child a pet as a gift.
Why Shouldn’t You Buy a Child a Pet As a Gift?
Children easily grow bored of new “toys,” and this can include a living creature. It’s not your child’s fault if they grow tired of taking care of their pet, but it is your responsibility as the parent to look out for the pet’s welfare.
Pets are an adult responsibility
A child can’t be solely responsible for a pet because pets require an ongoing financial investment and a long-term commitment.
And if you as the adult are not dedicated to researching that pet, purchasing everything it needs, interacting with it on a daily basis (depending on the pet), and taking it to the vet, a pet is likely not the best idea until your child is older and more responsible.
Owning pets too young can lead to regrets
Many children whose parents gifted them a pet or let them adopt a pet too young grow up to regret the way they housed, fed, or generally treated their pet.
If you talk to any adult small pet owner who’s passionate about their pets, they likely have regrets about their pet ownership as a child. As children, they didn’t have the knowledge and capabilities required to provide excellent care to a small animal.
Pet ownership is a family activity
You can help your child avoid this type of regret by researching the small pet you’re adopting as a family in depth and talking to others who own that pet. Choose the pet that’s right for your child, and engage them in the process of setting up a habitat and going through the adoption.
Join online communities for that type of pet, and gain all the knowledge you can. This can provide a great learning experience for your child, but you have to be on board, too.
Ultimately, a pet is not a toy, and it has its own needs as a living creature. It’s important not to put your child’s entertainment above the well-being of another living being, both for the animal’s sake and for your child’s sake.
Best Alternatives to Buying a Pet as a Gift for a Child
Now, we’ll give you some of our favorite alternatives if you choose not to buy a pet for your child as a gift. Some of these are pet-related, while others fill a similar caregiving desire for a child but aren’t pet-related.
The original Tamagotchi came out all the way back in 1996, and many Millenials have fond memories of this iconic virtual pet toy. But Tamagotchi recently came out with a new version of their classic handheld toy for a new generation.
The Tamagotchi Pix offers the same type of virtual pet experience, plus a lot more. You can also still get an original Tamagotchi if you think your child would like that version.
This amazing toy comes with a soft, interactive “mama” guinea pig, her hutch, realistic bedding, a brush, and a plastic piece of celery. Your child can pet the guinea pig, and she’ll respond with adorable noises. There’s also a sensor in the guinea pig’s mouth, so she can sense when she’s being fed the celery.
Most incredibly, mama guinea pig will have baby guinea pigs after a period of time (either two days or ten minutes, depending on the mode you set her to) when she’s placed inside the hutch. Each tiny baby guinea pig comes with a surprise toy, including glasses, a crown, or hair accessories that they can wear.
This toy is a wonderful choice for a child who dreams of owning a guinea pig or a hamster someday!
This hardcover book by National Geographic is great for kids who enjoy reading and looking at colorful pictures. It provides an excellent way for an animal-loving child to learn everything they can about their favorite species.
4. Zoo Tycoon
Zoo Tycoon is a zoo-themed simulation game that can provide hours of fun, as well as education about the various animals included. This game is a more child-friendly version of a zoo simulation game, and it’s available on Xbox as well as PC.
If you’re purchasing a gift for a child who’s older or more of a gamer (and they or their parents have a PC with relatively good specs), you may consider buying them Planet Zoo, instead.
You can gift a Steam gift card and place it in an animal-themed card with a note stating that it’s for Planet Zoo (and the various expansion packs). Planet Zoo is a more in-depth game for teens and adults, as it can be quite a difficult learning curve.
Yet another option is Zoo Hospital, which provides great STEM learning for kids and is available on Nintendo DS and Wii.
This remote control, smart, programmable, and interactive robot dog is a great choice for a child who’s been begging for a puppy. (There’s also a cat version!)
There are many robot dogs available, but we chose this one because it comes with a remote control, but it also has automatic navigation and can be directed using hand motions.
It can bark, sit, stand, dance, and more. It’s also an amazing STEM learning activity as it comes with “program treats.” You can feed the robot dog these treats so that it learns a sequence of tricks that it can then perform.
If your child has dreams of becoming a vet when they’re older, this veterinary-themed toy is a great choice. It comes with a plush dalmatian, a realistic kennel, and a full set of realistic veterinary tools.
Your child can truly feel like they’re caring for their new dalmatian and taking care of their every need while they heal. As a bonus gift, you could include a veterinarian costume like this one, too!
ZhuZhu Pets are a popular alternative to live pets for a reason! They’re cute and interactive, making unique noise and skittering across the floor.
You can even buy unique toys for your ZhuZhu pets, like this wheel and tunnel combination. There are also clothes and cute accessories available for ZhuZhu Pets, so it’s a gift that can provide ideas for additional gifts in the future.
If you have or know a child who’s into building Lego sets and models, an animal adoption-themed set might be perfect. This set includes two adorable Lego dolls and three animal figures: two dogs and one cat.
This set is also great because it teaches children the value of adopting rather than shopping when it comes to taking in a pet.
Children who are interested in all things animals, including wild animals you might see on a safari or at a zoo, will love this play set. It includes 22 large plastic animal figurines, plus a mat with the full layout of a zoo.
This toy set is wonderful for kids with active imaginations, as well as for cooperative play and make-believe. And it comes with a handy storage and carrying case to keep things neat or even traveling.
For younger children, an interactive plush toy might just do the trick. This stuffed hamster looks adorable, and it even repeats what you say! This is a popular gift for young kids who are still learning how to speak.
It can also make a great small gift or stocking stuffer for slightly older children who want a pet hamster.
Choosing a Toy Over a Pet
As mentioned, pet ownership can be a beautiful learning and growing experience for a child. However, if you’re not prepared to take on ownership as a parent, the time likely isn’t right.
Taking care of another living being who relies on them for survival is a huge responsibility for a child who’s still learning to take care of themselves! So it’s essential that the parent be the primary caregiver to a pet and do all of the necessary research to help guide the child in responsible pet caregiving.
If now isn’t the time for you and your child to adopt a pet, one of the toys listed above can make a perfectly entertaining alternative and one that prepares your child for future pet ownership.