Cheap Toy Pets and Stuffed Animals

Children (most typically girls) aged 5 to about 7 or 8 are often hooked on all things pet-related, and there's no shortage of cheap toy pets for the 2010 holiday season. The ones below garner enthusiastic endorsements in reviews we found online and in talking with adults and children. It's the "cool factor" that will have the little people in your life squealing with delight upon receiving these cheap toy pets and creatures.

See full Buying Guide

Our Top Pick

Kung Zhu Battle Hamsters

Kung Zhu Battle Hamsters Review

Buy on  $12.99

Some parents complain that these cousins of the wildly popular ZhuZhu Pets aren't durable or go through batteries quickly, but the children who play with them overwhelmingly love them.

Our Picks
Kung Zhu Battle Hamsters

ZhuZhu Pets, the wildly popular pet hamster toys from Holiday 2009, just got a little tougher. This year, Cepia LLC came out with Kung Zhu Battle Hamsters, combatant mechanical warrior rodents that duke it out with one another when they meet. Like ZhuZhu Pets, their quarrelsome cousins activate when you press their buttons. Push their nose and they "talk." Push their back and they scurry around. If you let them cross the threshold of a Kung Zhu Battle Arena or swipe them over a Tablet of Zhu (each Kung Zhu hamster comes with one), a code activates, turning them into fighting machines. At this point, simply let them run into one another and their sparring instincts take over.

Kung Zhu hamsters come in two varieties -- Special Forces and Ninja Warriors -- and can be outfitted with separately-sold combat armor or vehicles.

For our testing, we chose Sergeant Serge, a green Special Forces fighter with an army star on his back and chevrons on his forehead. We equipped Sergeant Serge with Ambush Body Armor and released him to our child toy testers. As big as ZhuZhu Pets are with elementary-aged kids, it was no surprise that all our testers squealed with delight when the Kung Zhu hamster was set loose. One 5-year-old boy chased him across the floor and under the branches of his Christmas tree, trying to trap him under boxes and catch him with his bare hands. Our 7-year-old toy tester attempted to pit Sergeant Serge against his 5-year-old sister's pink ZhuZhu Pet. While they didn't fight, even after the pink pet was run across the Tablet of Zhu, the kids had great fun watching the hamsters collide and bump each other off mom's coffee table.

Our small toy experts didn't have anything bad to say about Sergeant Serge. That said, they occasionally seemed frustrated when he scampered under furniture or got stuck. Mostly, they giggled at his noises and unpredictable movements. Both of our male toy testers said the Kung Zhu pet was their favorite toy of those they tested.

When it comes to online toy reviews, feedback is mostly positive on Kung Zhu Battle Hamsters (starting at $9, Amazon). Some parents complain that they aren't durable, or go through batteries quickly, but the children who play with them overwhelmingly love them. As this Buzzillions mom points out, though, kids rarely stop at one.

One word of warning: as bloggers on MomLogic and The Hunter's Wife caution, Zhu Zhu and Kung Zhu pets are prone to getting tangled in hair.

FurReal Friends Newborns

In our FurReal Friends Newborns review, we tested a button-cute Dalmatian (starting at $13, Amazon) from the newborn line of mechanical pets with our 8-year-old toy reviewer. Her initial reaction was to "ooh" and "ahh" as the puppy stretched and wriggled and wagged. Soon, however, she honed in on what her automated doggie couldn't do. "I wish he could walk," she lamented. The pooch scored points for snoring when he went into sleep mode, which our tester thought was adorable. She was disappointed that he didn't open his mouth to take the bone included in his packaging, however. This sentiment is echoed in other FurReal Friends Newborns reviews, including one on Amazon that similarly notes the Newborn Piglet's push-button oinking, bowing, and tail wiggling isn't sufficiently entertaining for children older than six or seven.

Parents of toddlers and preschoolers, like these posters on Target and Amazon, say their tots grow attached to their furry friends. A FurReal Friends review on Epinions, on the other hand, reports that older children quickly lose interest because of the limited possibilities for interaction with these toy pets. Our eight-year-old toy tester was ready to move on to other toys after running through a couple cycles of tricks with her FurReal Friends newborn.

There's no denying the cute quotient of these precious pets, and with prices starting at around $12, they make affordable gifts. Most FurReal Friends reviews agree that younger kids find them quite captivating. One last note: while their fur is soft, the internal mechanics keep Fur Real Friends from being as cuddly as they look.

Pillow Pet Pee Wees

Pillow Pet Pee Wees (starting at $20, Amazon) are the smaller, younger siblings of the wildly popular 18-inch Pillow Pets. Measuring 11 inches wide, Pillow Pet Pee Wee reviews indicate that these foldable plush animals are just right for smaller heads and hands, and make compact travel buddies. They also cost less, selling at right around the $13 price point, while the larger version retails at just under $20.

We had our 8-year-old toy tester check out the Pee Wee version of Ms. Lady Bug, a fuzzy black and red insect, to see how she stacked up to her larger counterpart. All in all, the Pillow Pet Pee Wee reviewer's feedback was positive. Our tester, already a fan of the original Pillow Pets, liked the cuddly cuteness and petite size of the pee wee. She did express doubt about whether or not the pet would be too small for sleeping.

While the 18-inch pillows may be best for big kids, parents' Pillow Pet Pee Wee reviews on sites like Target and Walmart say the 11-inch size is perfect for toddlers. Other than a few Pillow Pet Pee Wee reviews on Amazon that describe these toy pets as small, we found no negative comments about the Pee Wee Pillow Pets.

Pillow Pets are a simple and straightforward phenomenon that doesn't look to be fading into obscurity any time soon. Both the original 18-inch pets and their 11-inch Pee Wee pals are almost universally loved by their owners. For those looking to cash in on this trend for less, the new Pee Wee Pillow Pets are a good entry-level option.

Oomfy lg

Oomfies (starting at $20, Amazon) are ultra-soft stuffed wild animals with stories designed to melt your heart. Each Oomfy represents a real, orphaned animal that has been rescued and rehabilitated and comes with a book recounting the animal's tale. Oomfy Corp. uses at least 10 percent of its profits to fund animal rehabilitation and eventual release and donates 10 percent of its products to children in need, according to its website. The plush toys are made from machine-washable 100% organic cotton and non-toxic, Azo-free polyester. They are also free of button eyes or plastic pellets that could find their way into little mouths.

By now you're probably either thinking, "You had me at orphan," or glancing at the menagerie of fuzzy friends on the family room floor, skeptical about another addition. Adopting a pet -- real or not -- is a big decision, so we gave an Oomfy to our 8-year-old toy reviewer to test its appeal.

Our Oomfy of choice was Thandi the Monkey, a 20-inch, plush, green simian whose real-world counterpart was hit by a car as a baby. Our child tester immediately cooed over how soft Thandi was and cuddled the stuffed monkey close. She was particularly enamored of its rainbow tail. Then she read the story. Who wouldn't be moved by the picture of an infant Thandi with her arm in a cast? Or relieved at the happy ending, when Thandi grew to become a mother herself? Our tester was captivated.

Oomfy reviews are limited, but a parent who posted on Amazon reports that a stuffed hedgehog has become one of the family. Another was surprised at the interest her young children took in their Oomfies, and in animal rescue as a result.

Our assessment: Yes, Oomfies are simply eco-friendly stuffed animals with endearing back stories. Yes, they may clutter up your house or end their days lounging on a high shelf. On the other hand, they just may become your child's best friend. We recommend these adorable do-gooder gifts for young wannabe veterinarians and animal lovers of all ages.

Buying Guide

Cheap Toy Pets and Stuffed Animals

Last year's popular ZhuZhu Pets (starting at $10) are as big as ever, and Cepia LLC has just introduced a new addition to the happy hamster family, a line of baby hamsters (starting at $7). Littlest Pet Shop, often considered a cheap toy for girls, has been around since 2005 (Hasbro first sold the little toy pets and play sets in 1992 but pulled them four years later) and remain a hit with the elementary-school age group. Now Hasbro has extended the line with Littlest Pet Shop Online (LPSO) Starter Packs (starting at $7). These cheap toy pets include a 30-day premium membership to LPSO, allowing the younger set to try out virtual pet ownership in the online world. And if your budget has some extra padding, Pillow Pets (starting at $20) -- cuddly stuffed animals that fold up into a pillow -- are another in-demand cheap toy, according to a Toys R Us manager. (This cheap toy for girls or boys is also known as My Pillow Pets.)

Several new products that seemingly fall into the cheap toys for boys column may also appeal to an action-oriented girl. The same company responsible for the ZhuZhu Pets craze has launched a line of sparring, motorized rodents this year -- Kung Zhu Battle Hamsters (starting at $9) -- that can be outfitted in armor or battle gear and accessorized with military vehicles and training arenas.

The HEXBUG Nano (starting at $8) is a tiny robotic insect whose movement replicates that of a real bug. These tiny robots swarm with other HEXBUGs and negotiate their way around objects in their path. A variety of other HEXBUG insects, including the HEXBUG Original Robot (starting at $10) and the HEXBUG Ant Robot (starting at $12) are also available.

Cheap toys in this category are relatively trendy. Although ZhuZhu Pets and Bakugan game figures are likely to be past their prime in a year or two (remember the Beanie Babies of yore?), part of the fun of these playthings is collecting them, showing them off to friends, and maybe engaging in a trade or two. For the most part, these cheap toy pets and creatures have little educational value, although one parent posting a toys review on RadioShack says the HEXBUG Nano inspires both creativity and scientific curiosity. Other toys, like Kung Zhu Pets, Zoobles (see our full Zoobles review), and Littlest Pet Shop, also allow for free-form pretend play. We found few complaints in toys reviews about poor durability, but it would be foolish to expect heirloom quality and staying power from these cheap and fairly new-to-the-market toys.

That said, toys reviews do grouse that batteries in toys like ZhuZhu Pets and HEXBUGs are quickly drained, so you may want to stock up if you're considering these cheap toy creatures. Another adult shopper comments in a toys review on Amazon that you should be wary of Pillow Pets knockoffs when shopping; generalizes the concern to all kinds of cheaper knock-offs.