8 Popular Small Pets and Why You’d Want to Own Them

Updated September 19, 2021
Girl embracing guinea pig while lying at home

There are so many wonderful small pets that it can be difficult to choose just one. However, since they don't require much space, perhaps you don't have to limit yourself to a single pet. This list of popular small pets from different branches of the animal kingdom describes the unique characteristics that make them so popular and any drawbacks you should be aware of before bringing one home.


Beta Fish

Bettas, also known as Siamese fighting fish, are fascinating fish long admired for their beautiful fins and coloring. These fish have been available as pets for decades, and you'll find them in pet shops, aquarium stores, and even in the pet supply section of stores including Walmart and Meijer's. They come in a rainbow of colors with various types of fins, including veils, crown tails, and double tails, to mention a few.

Why Bettas Are Popular Pets

Aside from being popular for their beauty, bettas are also relatively easy to care for. Unlike fish that need filtered aquariums, bettas can survive quite nicely in large fish bowls. That's because they are equipped with two ways of breathing -- their gills and their labyrinth organ, which located just behind the top of their heads. You still need to clean their bowls and perform a 25 percent water change weekly or every two weeks, but this is a relatively easy task.

Potential Drawbacks of Bettas as Pets

  • You can only keep one betta to a bowl, so you'll have to maintain multiple bowls if you want to keep more than one.
  • Males are especially territorial and will fight and tear each other's fins to shreds if they have to share the same space. One may even kill the other.
  • Bettas are jumpers. Unless you cover their bowls with some type of lid, they can jump out and may die before you find them.

Guinea Pigs

Peruvian Guinea pig

Many small rodents and similar animals are kept as pets, and Guinea pigs make some of the best pets of all. The adorable creatures originally come from South America, but they have been completely domesticated for the pet trade.

Why Guinea Pigs Are Popular Pets

Unlike hamsters, mice, and rats, Guinea pigs rarely bite. Their personality is almost equal to that of a dog's in that they'll readily come to you for affection once they get to know you. They may also whistle at you in excitement when you approach their habitat.

Guinea pigs are popular because there are so many breeds to choose from. For example, the American breed variety has a short, glossy coat that requires very little to no care on your part. In contrast, Peruvians have long coats that grow in a series of rosettes; Silkies also have long coats that grow straight or with a slight wave. Other breeds have wiry or curly coats, and one unique breed, called the Skinny Pig, has almost no fur at all. Beyond that, these beautiful animals come in many colors and coat patterns. There's a look to please just about anyone.

Potential Drawbacks of Owning a Guinea Pig

  • Unfortunately, Guinea pigs are susceptible to breathing problems, so you have to make sure their habitats are well ventilated without being drafty.
  • Although they do tend to choose one spot for the majority of their eliminations, they will still soil around their entire living quarters.
  • They can also be quite messy and kick their litter and stools into their food, water bowls, and even outside their cage. You need to choose a cage that has a deep litter tray and use a water bottle with a drinking tube rather than an open bowl.
  • You'll need to clean the cage thoroughly once a week to keep the litter fresh and dry or it will develop a strong urine odor.
  • Long-haired Guinea pigs also require regular grooming to keep their coats in good condition. This includes daily brushing, a monthly bath, and the occasional trim.

Leopard Geckos

Leopard gecko on a branch

Leopard geckos are named for their beautiful pattern of dark spots that overlay their golden-tan skin. There are also a number of amazing color morphs available. These reptiles remain fairly small as adults, but can grow up to 11 inches long.

Why Geckos Make Popular Pets

Unlike some other popular lizards, such as iguanas and chameleons, geckos require less living space. A 10-gallon aquarium is sufficient for a single pet, although bigger is still better. In addition to their attractive exteriors, they are also fairly laid back and easy to handle if you get them used to handling from the time they are young.

Potential Drawbacks of Geckos as Pets

  • Owning a gecko is fun, but it's also a lot of work.
  • Geckos require specific conditions in their habitat to keep them healthy. This means more work on your part, in addition to regularly cleaning their enclosure.
  • You need to provide a heat gradient so they have areas to warm themselves or cool off as needed.
  • They are nocturnal, and bright lights stress them; therefore, you need to provide hiding places.
  • Geckos need higher humidity when they are shedding, so you must provide a moist hiding place, and you may even need to help remove some of the old skin if they don't do it themselves.
  • Their tails will fall off if they're injured. They will grow back, but they're usually stubbier than their original tails.
  • Two males living together will usually end up fighting when they reach sexual maturity. It can be difficult to sex these lizards until they're around 3 to 4 months old, so if you decide you want two juveniles, you could wind up with two males and need to re-home one.
  • Geckos need live food, such as crickets, so you'll need to make frequent trips to the pet supply store.
  • Perhaps the most important drawback of all, these lizards can carry salmonella. You need to wash your hands every time you handle them or touch things inside their habitat.

Red-Eared Slider Turtles

Red-Eared Slider Turtle

Red-eared sliders are semi-aquatic turtles, so they need a habitat with fresh water. Their striking appearance and relatively mild temperament make them a good choice for a pet, if you're willing to put in the effort it takes to care for them.

Why Turtles Make Popular Pets

Red-eared sliders are prized for their beautiful striped skin and red ear color, as well as their playful personalities. They seem to be more interested in their human caregivers than many other turtle species, and since they are so active, they're very entertaining to watch.

Potential Drawbacks of Red-Eared Sliders

  • It takes a lot of equipment to maintain a large, healthy habitat for these turtles. The initial cost of setting up is expensive, and you'll need to purchase even bigger tanks as your pet grows. Sliders can reach 12 inches long at full adult size.
  • Sliders foul their water very quickly, so you have to break down the entire tank once a week, clean it, and replace all the water.
  • Usually mild-mannered, sliders can become aggressive at feeding time, and they can even bite if they feel threatened.
  • These turtles, like most reptiles and amphibians, tend to carry salmonella, so hygiene is important when handling them.

Netherlands Dwarf Rabbits

Netherland dwarf bunny resting in palm of hand

Rabbits have always been popular pets, but Netherland Dwarf rabbits are one of the most popular breeds of all. They typically only weigh about 2 pounds as adults.

Why Dwarf Bunnies Make Popular Pets

Obviously adorable to look at, Netherlands retain the look of baby rabbits even as adults, so their cute factor never fades. These rabbits have fairly calm and friendly personalities that make them easier to keep than some other breeds. They're also so intelligent that you can train them to use a litter box. Netherland Dwarves are widely available at pet supply stores, and you can usually purchase them for around $20 in most cases.

Potential Drawbacks of Netherland Dwarf Rabbits

  • Netherland Dwarf rabbits are known for having genetic dental problems, so you could spend a great deal of time and money on veterinary visits.
  • They are also quite sensitive to temperature changes, so they're not as hardy as many other rabbit breeds. You should definitely keep them indoors.
  • Males may become a bit aggressive as they grow older, especially if they feel threatened.
  • Like all rabbits, they defecate a lot. Unless you are able to train your dwarf rabbit to use a litter box, this means a lot of cleanup work for you.


Standing Ferret

Fondly referred to as "cat snakes," ferrets resemble a long, slinky cat. These fun creatures were originally domesticated to hunt rabbits, but quickly earned their place in the home as a pet. Ferret enclosures must be large with multiple tiers, though they cannot thrive in a cage -- these spunky pets need to run around the home for exercise and enrichment.

Why Ferrets Make Popular Pets

These smart, social pets are popular for a number of reasons. Ferrets can be very affectionate and bond with their owners. Although they do sleep for a significant portion of the day, like a cat, they are also very playful and high-energy, similar to a kitten. Ferret owners can easily litter box train their pets.

Potential Drawbacks of Ferrets as Pets

  • Ferret ownership is prohibited in some countries and specific U.S. states. This is because if they escape or are let out, they can pose a threat as a pest and compete with wildlife.
  • Their musky odor takes some getting used to.
  • Ferrets require exercise and interaction.
  • Health problems, such as heart disease or insulinoma, are common in ferrets.
  • They can work their way into small crevices and get into trouble or escape.
  • Ferrets are notorious for being little thieves and enjoy collecting and hiding items.
  • They require routine vaccines, just like a cat or dog.


Two parakeet preening

If you prefer feathers to fur or fins, the parakeet is a popular pet choice. In fact, parakeets are considered the most popular pet bird amongst bird owners in the United States, and for good reason. These birds are sometimes called budgies or budgerigars and can live up to 15 years with proper care. Budgies come in a few different color variations, typically featuring green, blue, black, and yellow feathers.

Why Parakeets Make Popular Pets

Parakeets are fairly low-maintenance, hardy birds with minimal health problems. They are affectionate and gentle, making them a good choice for supervised children. Many owners keep budgies in pairs as they are social creatures. These birds are readily available at pet stores and are relatively cheap at around $25. Many parakeet owners teach their budgies commands, and some can even be trained to talk.

Potential Drawbacks of Parakeets as Pets

  • If they don't get enough attention or interaction, they can act out.
  • They can become depressed if they're the only bird in the house.
  • Parakeets like to chirp and sing, which could deter owners who prefer a quiet pet.
  • They require a large enclosure with varied climbing surfaces.


Man Holding Tarantula

Not for the faint of heart, the tarantula makes for a unique yet docile pet. Although these exotic spiders aren't ideal for owners who want a pet they can cuddle, many hobbyists enjoy breeding and raising tarantulas. There are more than 800 species in existence, but several of the popular species kept as pets today originated in Central and South America.

Why Tarantulas Make Popular Pets

Tarantulas make popular small pets because they require very little attention. These nocturnal spiders spend most of their day resting or hiding and do not necessarily like being touched; therefore, you won't need to spend time training or playing with them. They do not require much space in your home, as a 10-gallon aquarium should be adequate depending on the type and size of the spider. Tarantula owners enjoy watching their pets in action while hunting and eating.

Potential Drawbacks of Tarantulas as Pets

  • Tarantulas do not enjoy being handled; therefore, they are not good for children or any adult owner who wants a hands-on pet.
  • They may bite when they feel threatened.
  • These spiders have very long lifespans for a small pet -- males live around 5 years, whereas females can live to be 25 years old. This could be a drawback, as it's a significant time investment, or it might be viewed as an advantage.
  • They require live food, such as super worms, crickets, pinkies, or even adult mice if the tarantula is large enough.

What's Your Favorite on This List of Small Pets?

Hopefully, one of the pets mentioned here has sparked your interest and inspired you to explore further. If not, there's no shortage of small pets to investigate. A quick look at your local pet supply store will give you even more ideas about what's available. Also, consider searching for small pets in need of a home through your local shelter or Petfinder.

Just make sure you do your research before you bring a new pet home. That way, you'll know what to expect from your small friend, and you'll know what care they need to keep them healthy.

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8 Popular Small Pets and Why You’d Want to Own Them