Herps and Kids

When you think of a child’s first pet, do you picture a hamster? A kitten? A wiggly puppy? Maybe a Shetland Pony? A goldfish? If you’re like most people, one thing you’re not thinking of is an amphibian or a reptile. However, for some families, a herp (a term keepers of reptiles and amphibians often use for their pets) might be the perfect pet.

Is a Herp Right for You?

If your kids prefer to look at a pet, but not touch it, a herp might be a great choice. Most don’t enjoy being handled, and many amphibians could actually be harmed by contact with human hands. If a sizeable habitat is provided, with appropriate decorations, a herp pet might be far happier with your family than pets like rats, which need daily handling to be happy.

On the other hand, if your children need a hands-on pet and would annoy a reptile or amphibian with constant poking and prodding, consider a less fragile pet, like a mature, tolerant dog or cat. Most herps can easily be injured or even lost in your house if dropped by a child.

A final trait important in deciding whether or not to consider a herp pet is responsibility. Herps tend to require a complicated habitat, which needs cleaning and maintenance. If you’re willing to handle that and use it as a teaching opportunity to help your kids learn about animal care, great! If not, consider a different pet. Herps are often very sensitive to the cleanliness, temperature, and humidity of their habitats, and if you’re not sure you can maintain a herp habitat correctly, don’t get a herp.

Which Herp?

If you’ve decided on a reptile or amphibian, but don’t know which type to get, there are many options.

Lizards often make great pets for first-time herp keepers. Leopard Geckos and Bearded Dragons are particularly good for beginners. Both are easily found in pet stores or by looking for local breeders. Both require a large habitat, though Beardies need more room than Leopard Geckos, because they grow to a larger size. Both of these reptiles tolerate or enjoy handling and are relatively hardy.

If you’re looking for something even more exotic and possibly lower-maintenance, a corn snake is a great choice for some families. These are among the most mellow of pet snakes, and often tolerate handling well. They eat weekly and will not generally get too large for an adult mouse to constitute a week’s meal. Remember that frozen/thawed feeding is by far the most humane method of feeding a snake. Feeding live rodents always causes fear and suffering for the prey, and could also end in disaster for your snake if the prey item attacks and injures or kills the snake, as happens more often than most people would guess.

Finally, a Fire Bellied Toad is an excellent first amphibian. These small toads do not like or need handling, and being handled often could cause illness or injury. As look-but-don’t-touch pets, however, they’re easy to feed (they like crickets) and can live in a fairly simple habitat. Mature males will croak melodiously in the evening, and you’ll enjoy watching them eat and bathe.

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