Small animals like rabbits, hamsters, and chinchillas are becoming increasingly popular to keep as pets. Kids adore these little furry animals, but parents don’t need much persuading either. The truth is, no matter what age we are, it’s difficult to resist the charm of a small and cuddly pet.
The cuddliest small pets are Havana rabbits, Siamese cats, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. If you’re looking for a child-friendly small pet, guinea pigs are ideal. But if you want an apartment-friendly pet, hamsters and toy dogs are a better choice.
All small pets look sweet, but some are not particularly affectionate. So, if you are looking for a very cuddly small pet, choose wisely. Whether you’re looking for a kid-friendly or an apartment-friendly pet, we’ve got it covered.
Small and Cuddly Family-Friendly Pets
According to the American Pet Products Association, around 67% of US families own a pet. While cats and dogs are the most common pets, small furry animals such as rodents and lagomorphs are becoming more popular.
Undeniably, families with children are often drawn towards smaller pets as they seem more manageable for kids to look after. After all, if kids are introduced to a pet that they can easily cuddle, they are more likely to take responsibility for its care.
Pets can benefit children in many ways. Not only do they teach kids a sense of responsibility, but they also help to reduce anxiety and enhance motivation. In fact, according to TandFonline, kids who own a pet are also more likely to show empathy towards others. Not to mention, small furry pets also bring a lot of joy into the household.
1/ Guinea Pig
If you are looking for an outdoor pet that’s safe around children, guinea pigs (Cavia Porcellus) are a great option. Gentle by nature, these small animals are adaptable, friendly, and fun to observe. They have small button eyes, soft fur (in various colors), and they make adorable little squeaking sounds. They are definitely one of the better-looking rodents.
Guinea pigs originate from South America and were first domesticated in 5000 BC. They are not as popular as some other small pets, perhaps because they are an outdoor rather than an indoor pet. These little creatures are very sensitive to noise so they could only live indoors in a very quiet house.
Also, keep in mind that guinea pigs need a friend to live with. Like rabbits, they’ll become sad and lonely if they are forced to live alone. According to the RSPCA, guinea pigs should be provided with:
- A hutch that is at least 1.2m x 60cm wide – Don’t keep the hutch inside a garage as the car fumes will be deadly.
- A larger run or enclosure so that they can explore the garden. Allow them out daily and supervise them at all times.
- Hay, leafy vegetables, and guinea pig pellets – they are herbivorous animals.
- Long-haired guinea pigs need daily grooming whereas short-haired ones won’t usually need grooming.
These lovely animals are mellow and gentle but may nip if they feel threatened. So, children should be encouraged to gradually build trust with their new pet and be patient when handling it.
Bear in mind that guinea pigs can live for up to 8 years. They will often outlive a child’s interest, so it helps if multiple members of the family are interested in caring for the pet.
2/ Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (English Toy Spaniel)
King Charles Spaniels are one of the gentlest and most affectionate dogs you will find. It is very rare to see them being aggressive towards a person, or even towards another animal.
In fact, they will ‘talk’ to every person and animal they meet. This endearing quality is what makes owners so proud to have them. Indeed, King Charles II was absolutely devoted to his dogs and talked about them endlessly.
According to Pedigree, these dogs are ideal for first-time dog owners because they are obedient, easy to train, and eager to please. So, if you are looking for a small, family-friendly dog, this could be the perfect breed.
Classed as a ‘Toy dog’, King Charles Spaniels rarely grow taller than 33cm. This makes them the perfect small pet for cuddling. In fact, these dogs will ask to sit on your lap and will happily sleep there for hours.
Although gentle, these dogs are far from boring. They are energetic and playful, so they get on well with kids. They will happily catch a ball or run around with the kids in the yard, yet they don’t need a massive amount of walking. This is what makes them a family-friendly, fun, but a relatively low-maintenance dog.
One thing you should know about King Charles Spaniels is that they require quite a lot of grooming and can be prone to ear infections. Aside from this, they are lower maintenance than many other dogs.
3/ Siamese Cat
Siamese cats tend to be small and lithe, so they are ideal if you’re looking for a small, huggable pet. These special cats are one of the most affectionate breeds of cats you will find. They absolutely love being around humans, so you are bound to enjoy a lot of affection.
Siamese cats are docile and friendly, so they tend to get on with people of all ages, including children. Having said that, it’s important to teach children how to stroke cats to ensure they are not being too rough.
Most Siamese cats love human contact, so they’ll love to curl up on your lap and perhaps also your pillow. But the best thing about Siamese cats is how vocal they are; families can have lots of fun ‘chatting’ to their Siamese.
These cats tend to prefer being indoors so they can make good apartment pets (more apartment-friendly pets later).
4/ Syrian Hamster
When it comes to child-friendly pets, Syrian Hamsters (Cricetinae) have to make the shortlist. These cute and furry animals are popular pets for families because they are gentle and easy to handle. Having said that, they tend to suit older children (8 years+), rather than very young children. This is for two reasons:
- Although hamsters are easy to pick up, they are fast-moving and can be easily dropped by very young children. Kids should be shown how to handle a hamster and taught not to hold the hamster too high above the ground in case they drop it.
- Hamsters are most active in the evening, so young children will be tucked up in bed by the time their hamster comes out to play. It’s important not to wake a sleeping hamster because it may nip.
Hamsters aren’t as affectionate as some of the other animals on this list, but they are gentle. Most hamsters are happy to be stroked and will greet you in a friendly way (especially if you have a tasty treat).
Because they are small and delicate, hamsters can teach children patience and gentleness. However, very active children might find hamsters a bit boring, so make sure your family knows what to expect from a hamster. These furry animals live for a maximum of 3 years, so many families consider them a good “starter pet”.
Hamsters don’t need much room and should be kept alone. This makes them great pets for families who are short on space!
Apartment-Friendly Pets that are Cuddly
In the US, around 20% of the population lives in apartments. Keeping a pet in an apartment can be challenging; not just because apartments tend to be smaller than houses, but also because apartments rarely have secure access to the outdoors.
Thankfully, there are some small, huggable pets that can live comfortably indoors. The Syrian hamster is one example, but there are some other good apartment pets that are cuddly.
5/ A Pair of Chinchillas
Like guinea pigs, chinchillas are energetic, furry rodents that originate from South America. They are playful, intelligent, and friendly, but they tend to be less cuddly than guinea pigs, so aren’t necessarily the best pet for kids. They haven’t been domesticated anywhere near as long as guinea pigs, which probably explains why they are less affectionate towards humans.
But don’t be put off. Although chinchillas aren’t that cuddly, they show their affection in the following ways:
- Jump and climb on you
- Greet you and enjoy ‘playtime’
- Enjoy being stroked (especially after you have had time to build trust)
- Lick/groom your hand
- Fall asleep on you
- Talk to you – Chinchillas make adorable squeaking sounds
Like rabbits and guinea pigs, chinchillas need the company of their own kind. They should usually be kept indoors (especially if you live in a cold climate), so this makes them a good apartment pet. Having said that, you should have enough space to comfortably house 2 chinchillas.
According to the Blue Cross, a pair of Chinchillas must be given 1 x 1.5 m floor space, x 1.3m tall with shelves at different heights. The height of the enclosure is important because chinchillas love to jump.
Chinchillas are very intelligent animals so they should be let out to ‘play’ at least once a day. Also, bear in mind that they can live up to 15 years, so you’ll need to be committed.
6/ A Pair of Mini Lop (Holland Lop) Rabbits
Mini Lop rabbits (also called Holland Lop in the US) are one of the smallest breeds of rabbits (weighing a maximum of 4 lbs. or 1.8kg). They are a friendly breed and are often referred to as “lap rabbits”. They are also very easy to litter train, which makes them a great small pet to keep indoors.
Having said that, they are also very active and intelligent, so it’s important to give them enough space. A healthy-sized apartment would be fine, but if you live in a very small apartment, you may struggle to accommodate rabbits.
If you have a spare bedroom, make this your bunnies’ room. That way, you can provide a large cage inside the room, and also let them have a (supervised) run around the room at least once a day. Be sure to remove all electrical wires to keep your rabbit safe.
Mini Lops tend to be friendly, but, as with all animals, it depends on the personality of the animal and how they are raised. To increase your chances of finding a friendly rabbit, don’t adopt one that is less than 8 weeks old. Also, check that the breeder has handled (socialized) the rabbit from a young age.
7/ Chihuahua Dog
Granted, dogs aren’t usually considered to be “small pets”, but these special canines are tiny. Their height ranges between 15 and 23 centimeters, and they can weigh as little as 2 lbs.
These adorable dogs are known for being great apartment dogs because they don’t need much space. Added to which, they don’t need to go on long walks, so they are quite low maintenance pets.
Chihuahuas are friendly and sociable and will often curl up on your lap and go to sleep. Many will also paw your arm and ask to be stroked, which is just adorable. They can be a bit wary of strangers, but they quickly become devoted to their owners.
It’s important to say that Chihuahuas are not great with very young children, especially if they are boisterous. Also, these dogs cannot be left alone for more than a couple of hours as they tend to become very anxious.
Small Pets that Show Affection
When it comes to the most affectionate pets, dogs are probably top of that list. In fact, research shows that dogs are emotionally intelligent and can read human emotions.
But dogs aren’t the only furry animals that can show affection towards humans. Small pets such as rabbits, ferrets, and cats can do this too.
8/ Rabbits (Havana, Dutch, Rex & Himalayan)
Most rabbits aren’t too keen on being picked up, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t affectionate. Many pet rabbits are soft, gentle, and friendly creatures.
The gentlest and most affectionate breeds tend to be Havana, Dutch, Rex, and Himalayan Breeds. Lionhead rabbits have a very fluffy, cuddly coat but they do tend to be shyer so you will need to be patient when building a bond with a Lionhead. Having said that, each rabbit is different, and their temperament will partly depend on how they have been raised.
If you want to raise a cuddly rabbit, interact with her regularly but don’t force her to endure too much handling. Instead, sit nearby your rabbit and let her approach you on her terms. Also, let her hop away if she wants to. After all, your rabbit needs to be able to trust you before she can show you true affection.
When you think of cute and cuddly pets, ferrets might not be the first animals that come to mind. But don’t be too quick to dismiss these adorable creatures. If you are looking for an affectionate and interesting animal, ferrets could be right up your street.
The ferret (Mustela putorius furo) is a mammal and it belongs to the same family as the weasel. It can live indoors or outdoors, but it needs plenty of space to play.
These are an affectionate animal, but they are known for causing mischief:
- Ferrets love to burrow so you might find yours digging into the laundry basket or the waste bin.
- They also love to move things around, so don’t be surprised if things go missing.
- Ferrets are escape artists so their enclosure must be secure. Some people let them loose in the house, but only in certain rooms (and under close supervision).
But, when tired, a socialized ferret should come for a cuddle on your lap and may even fall asleep on you. In fact, ferrets grow very attached to their owner and can build a strong, loving bond if you treat them nicely.
It’s true to say that baby ferrets will often nip because they are scared and are still getting used to being handled. If this puts you off, consider adopting an older animal from a ferret rehoming charity.
Perhaps the cutest thing about ferrets is that they love to sleep in hammocks. Hang one in their enclosure and see how adorable it is to watch them sleep!
10/ Singapura Cat
The Singapura is the smallest cat breed, so it’s ideal if you want a small and friendly pet. These lovely cats are curious and playful, but they also thrive on human interaction. For this reason, they make a great family pet.
Perhaps the only problem with this animal is its price tag. A pure-bred Singapura cat costs around $800+ and there are not that many people who breed them. Other small breeds of cat to consider include Siamese, Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, and Balinese.
If you don’t want to opt for a pedigree, you can also find small-sized mixed breeds. In every litter, there is usually 1 cat that is smaller than the others. So, when looking for a cat to buy/adopt, keep your eye out for a small-sized feline.
Advice on Keeping Small Animals as Pets
These small pets mentioned all have unique care requirements. Even so, here are some tips to remember when keeping small animals:
- Toy dogs can live comfortably in small apartments but remember to take them for a walk once a day and give them plenty of attention.
- Some small animals such as rabbits, chinchillas, and guinea pigs need to live in pairs. It would be cruel to only have one.
- Lots of small animals enjoy being petted and cuddled but don’t force them to be cuddled when they don’t want to.
- Small pets (especially exotic pets and pedigree breeds) can cost more in vets bills than standard pets. Also, it may be hard to find a vet that specializes in your type of pet.
- Just because a pet is small, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a good fit for young children. Ironically, some of the bigger pets (like cats, and toy dogs) are better pets for kids because they are better adjusted to living with humans.
Above all, it’s important to consider whether you have enough space for the pet. While these animals are small, they still need space to express their natural behavior. Ironically, space is probably the most important thing to consider before taking on a small furry animal.