The 7 Best Pets for a Child with Autism

Animals provide much-needed emotional, social, and physical support for children on the autism spectrum (ASD).

Jane Pardo
Updated February 23, 2023

Dogs, cats, guinea pigs, and rabbits are some of the best pets for a child with autism. These animals help build a child’s sense of responsibility and self-confidence.

So, don’t be afraid to let your furry friend work some magic on your family! Discover how pets can help improve the overall well-being of your autistic loved one and make life easier at home.

Benefits of a pet for an autistic child

Studies have revealed that pets benefit children with autism in many ways.

Reduce loneliness and problem behavior

Research suggests that a strong human-animal bond can help autistic kids feel less lonely.

  • Autistic children develop valuable companionship with their pets, resulting from the unconditional love and nonjudgmental nature of animals.
  • They display decreased problem behaviors and autistic severity.
  • They experience less stress and fewer meltdowns.

Improve social interaction and communication skills

Researchers believe animals are excellent conversation starters, encouraging autistic children to become more talkative and interact with other people.

  • A study involving 99 children from 15 classrooms revealed that children with ASD exhibited better social behavior and became happier in the presence of guinea pigs compared to toys.
  • Another study revealed that social skills training with dogs greatly benefited autistic kids.

Reduce anxiety

Animals can have a calming effect on autistic kids, especially during stressful moments.

  • The simple act of petting an animal can help alleviate stress and provide emotional support.

Encourage empathy and a sense of responsibility

Animals could be a great way for autistic kids to learn about empathy and show compassion to others.

  • Your child will learn to take responsibility and consider the needs of others as they develop a routine of caring for their pet.
  • They may even feel a sense of pride for helping raise their pet.

7 best pets for children with autism

Here are some of the best animals with characteristics that fit children with ASD.

1. Dogs

A young boy hugging a dog

Dogs are the most popular therapy animals for autistic children for a good reason.

They are generally outgoing and playful buddies that love hanging out with family members.

The Labradoodle, Labrador Retriever, Saint Bernard, Golden Retriever, and German Shepherd are the best dog breeds for autistic kids.


  • Many highly affectionate, calm, friendly, and social breeds
  • They will adore your autistic child wholeheartedly
  • Sturdy breeds tolerate roughhousing and big hugs
  • Less-allergenic breeds like the Labradoodle are great for children with pet allergies


  • Highly energetic dogs are among the worst for autistic kids, for those with low muscle tone
  • Extremely fragile dogs injure easily
  • Can bark noisily

2. Cats

A girl petting a cat on her lap

Cats can provide unconditional love and calm companionship.

They are typically more independent than their canine counterparts, although they can be just as affectionate.

Maine Coons, Siberians, Ragdolls, and American Shorthairs are some of the best cat breeds for autistic children.


  • Some breeds are very patient, tolerant, and social with a laidback temperament
  • Many highly intelligent, trainable, and playful breeds
  • Some are quiet and undemanding
  • You can choose a less-allergenic breed like the Siberian


  • Can bite and scratch when provoked
  • Some have a high prey drive and need lots of mental stimulation
  • Can be destructive to furniture without engaging playtime

3. Guinea pigs

A girl petting a guinea pig

Guinea pigs are small, fluffy animals that are naturally friendly and gentle.

The main reason parents choose guinea pigs for their autistic children is that these animals don’t need much commitment.

Short-haired guinea pigs are perfect if you want an easy-to-care-for pet.


  • Relatively low maintenance (no need for walking; they can be bathed and groomed a few times a year)
  • Calm, friendly pets with a quiet and relaxing presence
  • Cuddly animals who would love to burrow their way into your child’s arms
  • Soft, entertaining vocalizations


  • Their cages require daily cleaning (although this can help promote a sense of responsibility in your child)
  • Their bedding must be changed daily
  • Must be in pairs as they can get lonely and miserable alone

4. Rabbits

A girl petting a white and gray rabbit on her lap

Like guinea pigs, rabbits are safe, adorable companions for autistic children.

They are excellent if you want a small, playful, and quiet pet.

The Sussex, Himalayan, Californian, and Thrianta rabbit breeds are great for children.


  • Relatively low maintenance (no need for routine walking, bathing, or grooming)
  • Affectionate, friendly, and love to explore
  • Easy to toilet train and generally clean (with smell-free, non-messy droppings)
  • Usually very quiet with soft humming or chattering sounds when happy
  • Trainable with little effort (you can teach a rabbit to give your child a kiss for a fun bonding session)


  • Enclosures need daily spot cleaning and weekly deep cleaning
  • Must have one or more rabbit companions
  • Males and females require separate housing, as rabbits are incredibly social
  • Can chew and destroy furniture if not well-trained

5. Fish

A small gold fish swimming in water

A pet fish is an excellent introductory pet for children with ASD.

Freshwater fish and live-bearing fish can be wonderful starter pets for your child.

Consider guppy fish if you want hardy fish with brilliant colors to stir your child’s interest.

The platy and swordfish are also top beginner choices available in numerous varieties.


  • Relaxing and therapeutic to look at
  • Demands no attention
  • Various types of fish and tanks to fit your home and budget
  • The aquarium doubles as lovely decor
  • Your child can get creative decorating the tank, like adding pirate-themed accents


  • Cannot provide tactile and social interactions that build communication skills
  • Requires regular maintenance, including changing the water, monitoring water chemistry levels, and cleaning the filtration system

6. Domesticated rats

A white rat inside a cage with other rats

Rats are surprisingly very intelligent and social creatures.

They love to play, and they adapt easily to different environments.


  • Friendly, clever, and easy to teach complex tricks (trainable to a high level using clicker training)
  • They can be highly affectionate, showing their love by nibbling, licking, or grooming you
  • They enjoy most foods we eat, so your child can sometimes share a healthy snack
  • Fairly low maintenance
  • They are clean animals that spend much time grooming their fur
  • Your family can go on a short weekend getaway without worrying about your pet rat (leaving food and water is enough)


  • They chew on things like cords without mental stimulation
  • Prone to health problems, like respiratory tract infections
  • Very short lifespan, living only 2 to 4 years
  • Too small for younger children

7. Hamsters

A hamster running inside a hamster

A hamster can be an exciting pet if your autistic child tends to be calmer and knows how to handle the animal gently.

Syrian hamsters are bigger than other hamster breeds, making them ideal for children.


  • Low maintenance and inexpensive to raise
  • Fun to watch (hamsters love to climb, dig, and run around in their cages)
  • Your child may enjoy helping design the hamster’s cage and interior
  • Quiet and adorable


  • Nocturnal, so they are mostly awake at night
  • Can bite and chew on cables
  • Not sociable
  • Delicate and fragile (they initially don’t like to be handled)
  • They have a short lifespan of 2 to 3 years

How to choose the right pet for your autistic child

Not all animals are suitable pets for children with ASD.

It’s best to introduce your child to different animals one at a time and observe their behavior to discover what they love the most.

You can take them to pet shops, zoos, and friends who are pet owners.

Additionally, consider the following factors when choosing the best pet for your autistic child.

  • Sensitivities: Find a pet that doesn’t trigger your child’s sensitivities. For example, a soft-coated animal is ideal for an autistic child with touch sensitivity.
  • Type of support your child needs: The right pet matches your child’s unique needs and temperament. For example, you could choose a large, hardy dog for mobility assistance.
  • Preferred animal: Perhaps you noticed your child’s fascination with golden retrievers. In this case, you could get the animal they already love, all other things considered.
  • Ability to care for the animal: Can your child safely handle the pet? Would they be able to help do tasks like feeding and cleaning the enclosure? You must ensure the pet is well-cared for throughout its life.
  • Your child’s maturity level and where they lie on the autism spectrum: Give your child a pet they would genuinely love and care for without treating it like a toy. Avoid giving small pets like hamsters, guinea pigs, or small dogs to young children aged 7 and below.

Remember that your autistic child can lose interest in the animal over time. This means you must be ready to take care of the pet when your child no longer wants it.

Building a positive relationship

Once you’ve chosen the best pet for your autistic loved one, the next step is to help your child understand their responsibility in caring for the pet.

Teach your child to handle the pet properly.

Animals can be entertaining, but they are not toys.

  • It’s essential to teach your child how to be gentle and responsible, especially with small pets.
  • They must respect the pet’s boundaries and understand when to leave the animal alone to avoid provoking it.

Tell your child that the pet is a new member of the family that deserves the same love and respect you give each other.

Final thoughts

The best pet for a child with autism fits their quirks and brings out the best in them.

With a well-loved pet, your autistic loved one will gain a trusted companion and learn to build meaningful relationships.

Written by Jane Pardo

Jane Pardo

Jane Pardo is a senior contributing writer who lends insight into topics regarding pets for autistic children.