When I was a little girl, I thought of myself as a total animal person, a real Disney-princess-talking-to-the-forest-creatures type. We couldn’t have cats or dogs because of my parents’ allergies, so I made up for it by keeping a menagerie of mice, hamsters, birds and reptiles. I swore to myself that when I got old enough to live on my own, I’d basically have 101 dalmatians (or whatever could fit into an NYC apartment).


Somehow along the way, I grew up not to be a dog OR a cat person. At the moment I can’t deal with late-night, wintry dog walks or even scooping cat litter. But I know that being a happy pet owner doesn’t have to involve these mainstream animals. Hayden Panettiere knows too. The Nashville star has Tweeted adoring pics of her with her cute-but-surprising pets — not dogs and cats, people, but corn snakes. Proof above.

I spoke with Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP and owner and medical director at New York’s Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics to round up six low-maintenance pets and provide tips on how to care for the perfect creature for you.

1. Small Mammals


… also known as rodents, which sounds far less cute. “Hamsters and rats are fairly easy to care for,” says Laurie Hess. “They need a safe cage, appropriate bedding and a balanced pelleted diet supplemented with some table food.” Hamsters are super cute running on their little wheels or filling their cheeks with corn kernels, but I cannot get into rats. I live in New York City. Owning a rat in NYC is like keeping a raindrop in Seattle.

2. Betta Fish


I speak again from personal experience when I say that a betta fish (also known as Siamese fighting fish) is a low-maintenance yet delightful little pet to have around. They’re inexpensive and very beautiful, with shimmering fins that look like they’ve been cut from vibrantly colored velvet. They like to be alone, and a small bowl with pebbles and a decoration will do them just fine (no filters or ultraviolet lights needed). They eat a teensy amount of fish food per day, meaning that an average-sized bottle will last you, like, a year.

3. Lizards


Lizards seem like a chill enough, low-maintenance pet (it’ll be like having the Geico lizard with you all the time, just without the constant, accented chatter), but be careful when you’re choosing which type to bring home. “Most lizards are not that low maintenance,” warns Dr. Hess, explaining that “many require UV light, special heat lights to maintain their body temperatures at a certain range, special cage substrates, humidification and special diets (including live insects and produce for some).” Eep! But Dr. Hess adds that leopard geckos “are in the lower-maintenance end of the lizard spectrum.”

4. Snakes


I’ve never been thrilled with the idea of owning a snake, but it totally works for Hayden Panettiere. And Dr. Hess says snakes can be low maintenance – if (and this is a pretty big if) “you are willing to feed rodents; ideally freshly killed or thawed/frozen,” she says. Um, yeah. No.

5. Birds


“Budgie” has become a sort of a catch-all phrase for little birds, but there is a difference between, say, a canary and a parakeet. “Small birds such as finches and canaries are more to be observed and require less care,” says Dr. Hess. I can vouch for finches and canaries as being cute and endearingly chirpy (also, if you get two, they keep each other company). Parakeets (a.k.a. budgies) are a little more high-maintenance. “They do need daily attention, feeding, and ultraviolet light,” explains Dr. Hess.

6. Snails


You might be thinking, “snails… wut-wut?” Or “Mmmm, escargot.” But I can tell you from personal experience that snails make pretty cute pets (and just look at SpongeBob and Gary the Snail!). They need a minimal habitat with soil and water, and spend their days being lazy and eating kale (it’s like every day is Sunday for them!). Also, if you use non-toxic acrylic paint, you can DIY your snail’s shells with your favorite color, a skull and crossbones, or whatever colorful design strikes your fancy.

Do you have a low-maintenance, exotic or otherwise off-the-beaten-path pet? Tell us about your cuddly creature in our comments!

(Photos via Getty iStock, featured photo via @haydenpaniterrier)