Perfect Family Pets You’d Never Expect
Sure, you could surprise your family with the tried-and-true kitty or puppy. But for some people, that’s not quite exciting enough. If you have allergies or simply no interest in getting the typical furry friend to join your clan, there are a surprising number of unusual animal choices that also make great family pets.
Because many of these are not your run-of-the-mill family companion, they require lots of research and a strong commitment to proper care. Plus, not all of them will fill the role as a traditional “cuddly pet." They will, however, be fascinating and often entertaining companions that your family can enjoy in their own unique way.
If it’s legal to own a capybara where you live, they are intelligent, playful and make really fun pets. These giant rodents differ greatly from their smaller, better-known counterparts. If well taken care of, they can become trained to do all sorts cool of tricks.
Beware that keeping them in larger groups could be problematic, even if they’re neutered. As with any pet, do your research to know how best to care for it before it becomes part of your family. But know that the adorable faces on these animals, combined with their winning personalities, means they’ll be worth all the extra effort.
These critters are absolutely adorable but should be taken as pets with a word of caution. They require a great deal of care and a ton of research to make sure the conditions you provide will be ones that make them feel happy and satisfied.
With that in mind, these animals are gaining in pet popularity and for obvious reasons. They’re small, keep themselves pretty clean and don’t smell much if properly kept. They can be trained and bond with their humans, making them similar to most other pets — except, of course, for their off-the-charts cuteness.
Unlike their more exotic capybara counterparts, the tried-and-true guinea pig has already made its way into the hearts of many pet owners.
They’re handheld and fluffy and (usually) don’t mind being picked up or gently pet. Plus, they’re pretty easy to care for and packed with personality.
Whether your family is a fan of the Geico commercials or you just want to welcome a little lizard into your lives, the gecko can be a great family pet. There are several varieties of geckos, so look into which option may be best for your particular family interests. Some breeds are more docile than others, and some are more active during the day rather than the typical gecko who likes to hang out at night.
Like many lizards and atypical pets, they require specific living arrangements to be comfortable. But once they’re settled in, they can provide all sorts of entertainment and educational opportunities for your whole family.
Move over parrots and parakeets — finches are the ones growing in bird popularity. Unlike their more-demanding bird counterparts, finches are relatively easy-going birds who are surprisingly simple to care for.
If you have the space for a large aviary for ideally a few of these guys to hang with each other, you’ll enjoy some melodious sounds and beautiful sights as a result. (Note: You need to be careful which birds you get to share a cage, as some breeds are more friendly than others.)
While some people are fans of pet pigs, others have yet to wrap their heads around the idea of caring for a pig like you would a dog. But there’s plenty of evidence and first-hand accounts of people who absolutely love their pet pig. These animals can actually be very gentle and trainable and are often compared to dogs in their temperament.
Of course, the variations and breeds all have their own personalities and needs, so make sure you choose your piggy buddy carefully.
Yes, there is some controversy surrounding hermit crab ownership, but if you do choose to get one for your family, they’re an interesting way to learn about oceanic creatures from the comforts of your own home. These shelled critters won’t break the bank to get or maintain either, and they tend to find interesting things to do regularly that will be fun to watch and follow.
There are safe ways to handle them if you need to that won’t stress them out and won’t leave you with a painful mark. Plus, they will stick around for a while since their lifespan can range from five to 15 years.
Iguanas require a serious commitment to understand and properly care for, but since they happen to be one of the most interesting pets you can own, they are certainly worth it. Plus, if you have younger kids you want to teach responsibility to or teach respect for all animals, they’re a great choice.
It should be noted that iguanas can get pretty big and impressive and tend to be rather standoffish. But if you want something cuddly that requires no maintenance, get a body pillow. Having a healthy, happy iguana will be something your whole family can get behind.
Unlike many other pet choices, getting just one ant isn’t really a possibility. Ants are most fascinating in their colonies, and watching how they interact in a pet ant colony will not only be fun to watch, but it will also be a great conversation-starter for you to better understand insects with your children.
Different species have different needs and should be respected and understood so you can better cater to them.
Yes, we're all thinking of Li'l Sebastian from "Parks and Recreation." If you have space and time to dedicate to their care, miniature donkeys can be really rewarding pets.
Give them some good hay, a salt block, water and a good amount of space to roam around, and they’ll be happy as a clam — or, rather, a donkey in this case.
These prickly pets can have big personalities and even bigger rewards in pet ownership. Hedgehogs, like their most famous Sonic counterpart, do curl into a little ball when they’re nervous or feeling protective. And, like Sonic, they do love exercise and have a lot of energy they need to get out of their systems regularly.
But unlike their digital counterpart, they cannot simply be turned “off” and require constant, consistent care in order to be happy.
Do a quick YouTube search, and you’ll immediately fall in love with these adorable creatures.
Pygmy goats absolutely love to play and are pretty simple in terms of general upkeep, as long as you meet their basic needs. But aren’t we all pretty easy once our basic needs are met?
Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches
Yes, you read that right — you could have a cockroach as a pet. And you might even enjoy it. As this list has already shown, not all pets are cuddly, which works out since not all pet owners need that in their critter friends.
The Madagascar hissing cockroach won’t fly around and escape, nor will it ever bite you or your loved ones. It will just sit in its oversized cockroach glory, hide from the light when it feels like it and make a very unique hissing sound.
Not surprisingly, these roaches are well-regulated, depending on the area in which you live, so you may need a permit to have this buggin’ roommate.
Don’t let their intimidating name fool you, bearded dragons make the best pets of all the lizards on this list. They are extremely popular because of their generally docile temperaments, trainability and relatively minimal housings needs.
Plus, you can say you own a dragon.
There will be plenty of people who will never own a skunk as a pet because of their stinky reputation, and we guess that's understandable. But for those who might be adventurous enough to delve into the world of skunk care, these furry friends can be surprisingly sweet.
In fact, domesticated skunks are de-scented when they’re young, so they’ll lack their defense mechanism (keep them out of the wild) but will not be able to stink up your home. So, if you’d rather have a Pepé Le Pew instead of the cat that accidentally gets white paint on him, it could be a rewarding pet to own.
Though the beloved children’s book "Charlotte’s Web" paints a pretty happy picture of a very loving spider, it’s fair to say most people aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to own one. Yet tarantulas have an enthusiastic following of people who believe they make excellent pets.
They’re not exactly something you want to roam free in your house, but they are pretty fascinating to watch and relatively easy to care for. Set up clear boundaries with the humans in your home as to how much they can interact with the animals, and you could be the coolest pet owner on your block.
Chickens are much more intelligent and trainable than the average person gives them credit for. They can even become therapy animals if they have the right temperament and training. And, if they’re raised in domesticated situations, they will happily enjoy your cuddles like you’d expect to see from a dog.
Of course, there may be permits involved in owning a chicken depending on where you live, but even people in major metropolitan areas can possibly get permits to own them.
With their big eyes and long tails, rats can work their way into your heart. That's, of course, assuming you're open to that sort of thing. There’s a reason laboratories use rats for many of their tests because the creatures are much more intelligent than their little brains might suggest.
They’re trainable and responsive. Combined with having pretty low needs for basic living accommodations, they can be pretty easy to care for and easy to love on little family members.
Cat owners know that if you buy a toy with a fake ferret on it, your feline will absolutely love to chase the furry little thing. But you may want to upgrade that fake ferret for a real one. Ferrets require a time commitment to really understand and exercise them properly, but if you can do that, you’ll get a really delightful companion out of it.
As with all pets, they should be supervised when playing with young children and may have an adverse reaction to being handled too intensely. But if you can be gentle and give them great training and plenty of stimulation, you’ll love having a ferret in your home.
With their puffy cheeks and tiny adorable bodies, the chipmunk charm is totally unavoidable. Like other small critters, they can be housed in cages but will need plenty of opportunities to be let out and roam.
Their general curiosity means that you’ll want and need to cover any small spaces where they can hide their tiny bodies. And be aware that they do love to use those big cheeks to chew anything in their path, so keep anything you want to keep unchewed out of reach. You should know that unless you’ve raised it from a small age and used to human touch, they will not be open to getting or giving cuddles.
But they will enjoy your company and have fun clinging to various parts of your body like you're a human tree, making them fun little companions to have.
This particularly awesome breed of pig is pretty popular for some oinking good reasons. They are surprisingly intelligent, affectionate and — wait for it — relatively clean animals to care for. They can be trained to walk on leashes, use a litter box and even do a few tricks.
Most breeds can grow to be rather large and need plenty of space to graze and exercise; otherwise, they’ll become destructive. But there are smaller potbellied pigs on the market that can more easily adapt to smaller living situations, assuming they still get proper stimulation and care.
Despite the fact that the charmingly oversized ears on these critters are basically begging to be adored, these animals aren’t commonly domesticated. They must be carefully socialized if they are going to be kept around humans.
But, because they’re so small and extremely smart, they can provide similar companionship as a little dog in your home. They’re naturally nocturnal but will pretty easily adapt to the schedule of their owner.
Just looking at a picture of a scorpion, the thought of keeping one in your home doesn’t exactly appeal to most people. Yet, scorpions — especially the more docile Emperor Scorpion breed — are becoming more popular in families all over. They don’t love being handled and have been known to pinch and sting (though the sting doesn’t typically need medical attention unless you’re allergic to bee stings).
They’re otherwise pretty easygoing in terms of care. Put them in a safe glass environment that meets their specific heat and food needs, and you can easily teach children about the wonders of desert animals and how to respect different animal needs and boundaries.
As with all exotic pets, not everyone agrees that a Kinkajou is a great animal to have around the house. But, if you’re interested and willing to properly care for a fascinating animal that on average lives 20 to 25 years, these rainforest dwellers are a pretty cute choice.
Just make sure you have plenty of space for a proper cage, and train them to get used to you, so they don’t, like other wild animals, lash out in fear.
Different wallaby breeds will grow to different sizes and, as a result, require significantly different care. But if you have the time and energy to care for one, these animals can be loyal and playful pets.
Ideally, rearing one from a young age will help it to bond with you. And they’re not typically aggressive or territorial, so they can easily fit into larger family units without too much worry.
These small parrots are some of the most popular birds people choose to take care of and for obvious reasons. They don’t typically grow to be too big, so they’re satisfied in smaller living situations, unlike other larger birds.
They are generally easygoing and docile, often letting you and newcomers gently pet them while they curiously hop about. They even like playing with toys and don’t make a ton of loud noises like their parrot counterparts, so they can make polite neighbors even in close living quarters.
If you want to awe your family with an underwater creature, the blue crayfish is an excellent choice. Their color alone is gorgeous to marvel at. And unlike many other fascinating-looking fish, these animals are fine in freshwater tanks (rather than more complicated saltwater homes).
They have relatively easy diets that you can find in most pet stores and are generally hearty critters. Plus, they’re just gorgeous.
These active and attention-loving animals have a lot of challenges faced by their species. Assuming you’re able to responsibly raise and care for them, though, they can make engaging companions. They used to be pretty common decades ago, but you may have a hard time finding or legally owning one now depending on where you live. Their genetic diversity is being threatened, and they’re so smart that they don’t always understand why they’ve been plucked from one pack and put into another.
But, let’s say one happens to fall into your lap, or the opportunity to foster or save one of these animals comes up. You should do it because they are absolutely incredible creatures. You can train them to listen and respond to you. They don’t get along with other monkeys, but if raised from a young age to know your family as their own, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t intrigued by your exotic pet.
With their flat bodies and distinct coloring, there’s no denying that these underwater animals are absolutely fascinating. As their name implies, they can and do sting and shouldn’t be handled regularly. But they can also adapt to well-crafted freshwater aquariums.
If you are willing to invest the research, time and care they need, you get the reward of having an incredibly unique and fascinating animal to watch and learn from in your own home.
If it’s good enough for Britney Spears to dance with at the 2001 VMAs, it’s good enough to have in your home, right? While not everyone may be on board with having a snake in their home, the Burmese python is the snake to get if you’re interested. They’re gentle giants that don’t tend to be nearly as aggressive as their intense exterior might imply.
If handled from a young age, they can actually get very much used to human attention. They do require specific housing and food needs (that aren’t for the faint of heart). But their size and majesty alone are worth any of the trouble. Plus, if you recall, they make pretty cool-looking dance partners.
These active, fluffy, adorable little critters love having friends around. So, if you can, try to get at least two at one time so they have a little pack. They’re nocturnal by nature and like the cold. They tend to keep themselves relatively clean, but they’ll need their spacious cages to be cleaned regularly.
With some treats, they can learn to be your best friend — and maybe even do some basic tricks for you. And once they get used to you and form a bond, you’ll both love taking time to stroke their extremely soft and beautiful coats.
Hopefully, it’s obvious, but llamas aren’t exactly apartment pets. If you live on a big property and are looking for some entertaining four-legged company, though, they might be right up your alley. They’re easy-going, generally friendly creatures who people find to having a calming presence. Plus, they’re smart and trainable, which means they overall can make surprisingly good therapy animals.
They don’t immediately bond to humans. But, if you hang around and give them attention and (eventually) affection along with their food, they’ll soon associate you with all good things, and you can reap the benefits of some llama love.
The name is as unique as the animal itself. These aquatic creatures are technically a type of salamander, except they’ll typically remain underwater their entire lives. A big tank with plenty of shade that they can have all to themselves is recommended to keep them happiest.
And while the gilled may never cuddle with you like a traditional pet, they will surely be interesting to look at with their unique shapes and ongoing metamorphosis.
Just because they look like a cat doesn’t mean these exotic beauties will act like one. If you’re able to own one (you’ll probably need a permit and will need to do a ton of research to create a safe, outdoor environment for them), they are incredibly gorgeous and fascinating creatures.
They’re playful and can be more affectionate then you’d likely expect, especially if raised from a young age. They’ll bond usually with just one human. But if you’re the human, you could have an amazing connection with a really incredible animal.
A few years ago, the slow loris was all the rage in exotic pet care. One look at their face, and you can easily understand why. They’re incredibly adorable and have charming personalities. If you already have a slow loris or know someone who does, you know that under the proper care and attention they can be happy household companions.
But, don't be mistaken, it’s incredibly hard to set up a proper household for these pets without stressing them out or leaving out some major need they have. Plus, they can have venomous bites that can kill even humans (though they can be clipped to not be dangerous).
So, this animal is on this list more as a cautionary tale in case you hear that these are great family pets. Because their big eyes and adorable features make humans want them around, keeping them in captivity — unless done with incredible research, training and care — isn’t the best idea.