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Photograph: Jason Little
The Chicago Pet Lover's Guide >

Seven Starter Pets, Ranked

Kids not ready for a dog or cat? Kayla Strauss, owner of the Looking Glass Pet Shop in Evanston, gives the lowdown on these popular alternatives.

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BETTA FISH

Pros Doesn’t need interaction; lives in a small tank; can perform tricks. “My sister taught hers how to do flips using food sticks.”
Cons It’s a monster — prone to killing other bettas.

CORN SNAKE

Pros Easily handled if you want to touch a snake, but isn’t needy
Cons Eats mice, “which you have to thaw out like a dinner steak”; escape artist

HAMSTER

Pros Small enough that tykes can handle; fun because it likes to climb
Cons Tends to bite (but its teeth are tiny); speedy and can run away; smells bad. “I’ve only met a few I like, and they were older.”

RABBIT

Pros Easily trained to use a litterbox; cuddles up like a cat. “I had five of them, all at once, all in one bedroom. They were great, if you don’t count them eating the linoleum tile.”
Cons Chews things (see above); requires constant attention

PARAKEET

Pros Lots of personality; will “talk” and sing
Cons May also scream; very sensitive to vibrations, fumes, temperature, you name it

AQUATIC TURTLE

Pros Cool to feed and watch swim; low daily maintenance
Cons Needs a large space with weekly water changes; lives 20 to 30 years. “My mom gave mine away because it was a lot more work than we expected.”

HEDGEHOG

Pros Eats cat kibble; big personality
Cons Poops a lot, so cage must be spot-cleaned daily; runs many, many miles a night on a hamster wheel, which is noisy

Illustration by Colin Hayes

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