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7 Low-Maintenance Pets for Lazy Parents

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guy-with-outdoor-cat

OK, OK — maybe not “lazy” in the true sense of the word, but one self-sufficient living being in the house would be a nice change, right?

Before I had a toddler, the last pet I owned was back in high school. (If you think it’s wrong to compare toddlers and pets, you may have a point, but you’re incorrect.) Indy was a cat who spent most of her time outdoors, or curled up in sections of the basement. She probably hated us, but not so much that we couldn’t get in for a snuggle every now and again.

Now our family is someday-pet people: “Someday” we’ll take the time for a puppy, but “someday” is way in the future. That said, my son loves animals beyond reason and he loves unconventional animals. While I can’t get him his desired elephant, I did feel tempted to buy him a pet of some kind – a turtle, a tropical fish, the rad bug-eyed chameleon from our local pet store.

When we ran into Cole, age 5, the only other kid in the pet store, he was buying meal worms. But not for a lizard. His mother simply said that worms were the pet! You just throw a few carrots in with them, they eat, in a couple weeks, they go into a pupa stage and then turn into these beetles. After that, you just kind of let them go their own way.” An introduction to the life cycle via things that would eventually “go their own way”? Sold!

So if you can’t join me in the mealworm fan club, check out some other relatively easy pets you can’t botch too much.

Mealworms

Pros: Mealworms are cheap and extremely low-maintenance. For around $6, you can purchase 50 worms already packed in the bran in which they reside. Then all you need is a small, plastic ventilated container in which to dump the cuddly little guys.

Cons: Despite what that mom at the store said, the pupa stage could last either a few weeks or many months. (And they don’t do anything during that time, so I predict endless questions from my kid.) Also, unbelievable creepy factor since the only time I’ve seen these things, it’s been in a horror movie, eating clean the eye sockets of a decaying corpse. This is the closest I’ve ever come to living in an episode of “Creepshow,” but I haven’t had to clean up any poop so I manage my fear.

Sea Monkeys

Pros: The “monkeys” are brine shrimp whose eggs come in envelope so they’re small, which is nice. They’re readily available at toy stores and online retailers. They also have a retro feel (the boxes depict Sea Monkey families living in ‘70s-era harmony), low upkeep costs, and lower requirements.

Cons: Have you ever seen a Sea Monkey? That’s their problem—they hardly register on the cycle of life. As a kid, I tried to raise plenty and succeeded (although these reviewers had better luck). At the very least, time spent questioning their pets’ very existence will keep kids busy.

Budgie

Pros: A budgie is not a parrot and that’s good. Parrots are like living with a toddler for 20-some years. Budgies poop a lot, but the smell factor is low if you repaper their cages on the regular. (Hey, no pet is no-maintenance.)

Cons: They like company, and will make you that company if they don’t have a buddy, so you might want two, lest the squawking drive you mad. But then you’re a two-bird household. They’re also twitchy around loud noises and sudden movement so they may be best off in the care of older children.

 Hermit Crabs

Pros: It’s right in the name. They’re the Emily Dickinson of pets. Alone in their shells, these guys are quite happy. They just need daily fresh food and water and regular misting to keep them moist.

Cons: They do like new digs on the regular, so kids will have to monitor their growth and make sure new shells are on hand. (Don’t worry though, molting just sounds grosser than it is.)

Betta Fish

Pros: Nemo they are not, but they also don’t require Nemo’s fancy tank set-up. They’re happiest in small, filterless bowls. An aquatic snail added to the bowl will help keep it free of algae, but water changes will be needed.

Cons: They are not Nemo. They are the aquatic equivalent of the Real Housewives and they didn’t come to their bowl to make friends. Don’t make the mistake of buying two Bettas, as they will fight to the death.

 Guinea Pigs

Pros: Less nippy than a hamster and available for cuddles, unlike many of the pets on this list. They’re social, too, so good starter pets for kids who need to embrace the concept that furry friends require everyday attention and love.

Cons: As herd animals, it’s best to adopt two. Two males will fight, however. These guys require daily fresh water, hay and veggies, and their cages must be cleaned regularly. They also require daily exercise, so kids will need to run them around outside their cages.

Outdoor Cat 

Pros: Cats are independent to begin with and a neutered and spayed one who spends half his or her time out of your house is like having a part-time pet.

Cons: You’ll still be cleaning a litter box and you might sometimes wonder if your pet is still, in fact, alive, or if it’s left you. (Thus, an outdoor cat is a concept best left for older kids to understand the concept.) There’s also the risk that it will, indeed, get hurt. Plus, “look what the cat dragged in” takes on the literal meaning when it leaves you a dead rat on the doorstep.

Someone Else’s Dog

Pros: It’s a dog—man’s best friend—but without the full-time responsibility. No, really. There are two ways to do this. If you have a friend with a well-trained older dog, you can volunteer to be their regular dog sitter. This eliminates the need to train a pooch and means you get to enjoy a dog’s company without taking on a lifetime of responsibility before you’re ready. Dog shares are a step up from this, and with one, your family and another family can each take custody of the pet on a part-time basis.

Cons: This is not your dog, so the bond isn’t going to be the same. However, for busy families, dog shares offer some of the same joys with half the headaches (hopefully) and costs.

Photo credit: Phil Roeder

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