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Christmas gift ideas for kids who love animals and don’t have a pet

If you’re getting incessant requests for a furry companion, look to our guide for the best alternatives

Tara Breathnach
Wednesday 16 December 2020 08:58 GMT
We’ve got presents that will help your child to learn the responsibility of looking after an animal 
We’ve got presents that will help your child to learn the responsibility of looking after an animal  (iStockphoto/The Independent)

For some, owning a pet’s not an option for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean your animal-loving child has to go without the companionship of a furry friend entirely.

There are some lovely interactive toy animals out there which can help your child learn about caring for a pet, or are at least a good responsive alternative to the real thing.

And if you think your child’s really too young to have a cat, dog or rabbit around, a soft toy that will let them pull their tail and carry them around as much as they like is a great option.

There are also some beautiful books that share the wonder of the natural world so your little Dr Dolittle can grow up to enjoy wild animals too.

So if the constant asking for a puppy has got you keen to find an alternative – don’t worry, we’ve got some great options right here.

Read on for the perfect Christmas gifts for kids who love animals.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Interactive animal toys

Let’s face it: your child will never have a baby elephant as a pet, but the Juno My Baby Elephant (£39.99. M&S), suitable for children aged four years plus, will become their new best friend as they get to know her.

Juno becomes more responsive the more you interact with her 
Juno becomes more responsive the more you interact with her  (M&S)

She makes 150 sounds and movements, like waggling her trunk and flapping her ears.  

The more your child plays with her, the more she reacts. She also has a peanut and mouse you can use to play tricks with her.  

We bought this for our child and can confirm that she’s a toy kids love having around.

For another interactive option, we think Cubby the Curious Bear (£74.99. Amazon) could be worth a look. 

A great toy if your child loves cuddlies
A great toy if your child loves cuddlies (Amazon)

It’s best for children aged four and above, and like Juno, is highly interactive. Landing a spot in our round-up of the best gifts for seven-year-olds, our reviewer said: “Cubby can move its head, eyes, ears, nose, mouth and arms, and makes 100+ sound and motion combinations. For kids who love cuddlies, this is the stuff childhood wish lists are made of!”

For something smaller, but just as noisy, a Little Live Pets Rainbow Tweet (£14.99, Smyths Toys) could be a nice option.

Enjoy the sweet tweet of this songbird all Christmas long
Enjoy the sweet tweet of this songbird all Christmas long (Smyths Toys)

It’s a brightly coloured bird that sings, and has a voice memo option so your child can record messages and hear Rainbow Tweet repeat them back.

Good news too: the batteries are included so no need to worry about Christmas Day no-power mishaps (phew!).

Again we’re not suggesting your child will ever have a shark as a pet, but we’ve included this Baby Shark puppet (£20, Argos) for its interactive qualities. 

These soft puppets will get you singing that famous shark song all day long 
These soft puppets will get you singing that famous shark song all day long  (Argos)

It made it into our best toys for three-year-olds guide, though do note that you’ll need to be prepared to hear the infamous Baby Shark song quite a lot if you plump for this.

Our reviewer explained: “Move the mouth of the puppet to hear the entire Baby Shark song and thanks to its tempo control, you can hear the song at your preferred speed by moving the mouth fast or slow. 

"There are three colours to choose from – pink, yellow and blue. Bit of a heads up though, these can seriously entertain the little ones for a long time (i.e. for days) listening to the tune again and again at different speeds,” they added.

For slightly older kids (eight+) you could always opt for the classic Tamagotchi (£24.99, Amazon). 

Whatever you do, look after this virtual pet if your kid’s not around…
Whatever you do, look after this virtual pet if your kid’s not around… (Amazon)

Yes, they’re still going, and still driving parents mad – but kids love them.

The aim of the game with these pocket-sized virtual pets is to keep them fed, warm, and well rested so you don’t accidentally kill them off by the end of the day. You use the buttons at the side to feed and water them and the display keeps you up to date with their health.  

Our daughter became rather obsessed with hers over a long summer, but we advise against the perils of being put in charge of it if for any reason your child can’t have it for a day, because if it’s not looked after properly and something terrible happens. There will be tears and tantrums for a week.  

Vet sets

Melissa and Doug is a kids’ brand that appears in a number of our reviews, including best gift for six-year-olds and best gifts for eight-year-olds, and we loved the look of its vet set (£18, John Lewis & Partners) which has everything a budding vet needs to look after their animals and bring them back to health.

Your child can nurse any pet back to health with this comprehensive vet set 
Your child can nurse any pet back to health with this comprehensive vet set  (John Lewis & Partners)

It’s designed for children aged three years+ and has 24 items including a stethoscope, thermometer, ear scope, syringe, tweezers, bandages and ointments.  

We also really like the fact you get two plush animals with it – a dog and cat, so you don’t have to think about buying them separately.  

Cuddly toys

For really young children, a simple cuddly toy can seem just as good as the real thing (almost) and we can’t think of many better brands than Jellycat for the ultimate soft toy experience.

We featured a rather exotic flamingo swan in our round-up of gifts inspired by the 12 days of Christmas, but for more of a house pet option, how about this adorable Fuddlewuddle cat (£18.75, Jellycat) which meets EN71 European toy safety standards and is suitable from birth.

This supersoft kitty is suitable from birth
This supersoft kitty is suitable from birth (Jellycat)

Do note that it’s handwash only, so if there are any spills, don’t be tempted to tumble dry or we imagine he could lose some of his silkiness.  

Wooden toys

For a toy that features lots of animals in one go, a Noah’s Ark is a great option. This wooden Noah’s Ark (£33.49, Amazon) made it into our review of the best wooden and plastic-free toys.

The animals went int two by two…
The animals went int two by two… (Amazon)

Our tester said: “Ideal for preschoolers, it’s time to welcome aboard the animals, two-by-two. Naturally, there are 12 animals in total, plus Noah and his wife, who enter the ship via the foldable ramp.”

A rocking horse

A pony might be well out of your budget, but a traditional rocking horse is a great alternative. This pretty floral horse (Mamas & Papas, £100) is designed for children from 24 months and made it into our review of the best kids’ toys of 2020.

Rocking horses have been around for centuries but never seem to go out of style
Rocking horses have been around for centuries but never seem to go out of style (Mamas & Papas)

Our reviewer said: “Our 28-month-old tester loved rocking back and forth, and it’s no surprise it’s a comfortable seat. It’ll take you a few minutes to assemble the wooden rocking feet but it’s a robust ride, plus the fabric is easy to wipe clean. The classic playtime horse also looks beyond sweet in a playroom or child’s bedroom.”

Books about animals 

How about a book with 336 poems about animals to read with your child? That’s exactly what this gorgeous edition, Tiger Tiger (£16.75, Wordery) offers. It’s been written in conjunction with the National Trust and featured in our guide to the best toys for five-year-olds.  

This stunning book includes hundreds of poems all about animals
This stunning book includes hundreds of poems all about animals (Wordery)

Our reviewer couldn’t praise it highly enough, saying: “All [poems] are an absolute pleasure to share at bedtime, and the one per day format means that this book can be left on a bedside table to be dipped into little and often. The illustrations are beautiful; this is a sequel to the award-winning I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree, and is similar in style. A gift that is likely to be passed down.”

Usborne’s sensory board books are absolute classics for younger children. They have lots of animal books, grouped into farm animals, wild animals and pets, like this That’s Not My Puppy (Usborne, £6.99) for babies aged three months+.

Younger children will love these sensory books 
Younger children will love these sensory books  (Usborne)

They’re small enough for little hands and have 10 board pages with different textures on so your child can touch the varying materials and enjoy the sensations they get.  

There’s a consistency to these books that your child will love – "That’s not my monkey, his ears are too…" – and we’re pretty sure that when you’ve bought one, you’ll want the lot.

For more Christmas gift ideas, see our stocking fillers for kids guide or get inspiration for what to put in a Christmas Eve box

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