Virtual Pets for Kids

All of the fun, none of the fuss

Inanimate pets have come a long way since the days of the pet rock. These days, virtual pets truly interact with their owners, requiring care and giving signs of affection. While they don't offer the warm fuzziness and true companionship of a live animal, they can help keep a child entertained. They are almost as good at teaching responsibility and commitment as the real thing, but should a virtual pet expire, there is only virtual heartbreak. Best of all, free virtual pets eat free virtual food and rack up free virtual vet bills.

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Desktop Pets

These pets are the least serious of the bunch. They live on your computer desktop, popping up now and then to interrupt your work. A simple desktop pet might be an animated puppy asking for treats and belly rubs. More complex desktop pets can grow and learn tricks, and suffer if you neglect them.

Online Virtual Pets

Virtual pets online take things one step further. Many websites exist where you can create simulated pets, from cats and dogs to mythical creatures. You must then log on frequently to visit and care for your pet. Records are kept to show how your pet is faring from day to day. Often there is a virtual pet store to buy food and toys, a virtual vet for checkups and medications, and even virtual obedience classes and competitions.

Neo Pets

One particularly popular website is neopets.com. This is a much more highly developed virtual-pet site than most, in terms of concept, graphics and community. The pets live in a universe called Neopia, complete with its own countries, history and holidays. Pet owners earn Neopoints through virtual competitions, investments and sales. They can then buy food and treats for their pets, and build them elaborate homes. There are over 50 species of Neopets to choose from.

Giga Pets

These pets from Hasbro are similar to desktop pets, but they live in a handheld device rather than on your computer screen. The palm-sized toy has a small LCD screen that displays a cat, scorpion, lizard or pixie, along with scores for health, happiness, hunger and discipline. The toy beeps when the pet needs attention, and it is up to you to figure out what it needs. Eventually, the pet will die from either poor health or old age, and then the game can be restarted.

Micro Pets

Rather than computer-based, digital creatures, Micro pets are actually interactive robotic pets from toy manufacturer Tomy. They really are tiny, at only one and a half inches tall. They recognize several voice commands and respond to touch, as well. Tomy has released several series of cute collectibles, from dogs and ponies to Disney characters. Micro pets were the holiday toy craze of 2002. They are no longer in production, however, making them collector's items now.