“Mom, Dad, may I please have a pet?” If you’re a parent, you’ve heard this question before, but there’s much to consider before saying, “Yes”.
What’s the right pet for me?
An animal will change your whole life, but does it make sense for your children to have a pet? On the one hand, animals can become loyal companions while children learn responsibility and important social skills. Pets can be great entertainment, too.
On the other hand, taking care of a pet requires time, space and money. What if your child loses interest in the animal and you have to take care of it? Or what do you do if your new goldfish winds up belly up in the aquarium after just a few days? Are you ready for that difficult chat about life and death?
So before you commit to a decade of scooping poop from your yard, or changing the litter box, make sure you clarify pet ownership expectations. Does your child want a playmate, or simply an animal they can watch?
Before adopting a pet, you might want to look at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®) and the Humane Society. They offer great resources to help your family decide what kind of pet is best. They also can tell you about options for pet adoption.
Fur, fin, or feather?
If you decide to get a pet, here are some popular options.
FISH: Americans have more fish than any other pet, and beta fish are among the easiest and most economical pets around. So they’re a great starter pet.
They don’t require a filtered aquarium, are relatively easy and inexpensive to feed, and beautiful to watch. They don’t live very long, so if you decide that pet ownership isn’t for you, you’re not committed to a parakeet that could live up to twenty years.
BIRDS are another popular pet. Some can be trained to fly to their owners and they can really bond with humans or other birds. Others don’t really need socialization. If you want pet birds, be sure to have a large enough cage, and keep it clean. If you let your bird fly, watch it carefully!
GUINEA PIGS: Looking for something a little more fluffy? Guinea pigs are great to watch, but they don’t like to be carried around and pet. They’re also relatively easy to care for, but keep the cage fresh and clean! A dirty guinea pig cage will stink!
CATS are very cuddly, easy to pet, and can be great with children. Cat ownership can help teach children responsibility, and give them a new friend. Most cats can’t be trained, and they have strong personalities. So an overly timid cat might not be the best fit for a household with little ones. All things considered, cats make great pets for those who want a relatively independent, low-maintenance pet that can be held and cuddled.
Dogs also make wonderful pets for children. Certain breeds of dogs are more child-friendly than others, so it’s also important to keep the age of your dog and child in mind.
For example, Labrador retrievers are playful, loyal companions for older kids, but a teething lab puppy might mistake your toddler’s arm for a chew toy, so you have to be careful!
Factor size and activity levels into the equation, too. A Basset Hound might be content to loaf around the house, but a Rhodesian Ridgeback requires lots of exercise.
Some dogs need lots of exercise and training, and as much as your child might promise to do pick up the poop or take Fido on walks, chances are, you will be picking up the slack. Children usually can’t independently look after a dog until they are twelve or thirteen years old, and even then, they’ll often need extra help from their parents.
More to think about
Even after you decide on a pet, researching the specific breed of species you want is so important, since they differ so much! Some breeds of dogs are perfect for houses with children, whereas others might be dangerous. Some types of fish are easy for just about anyone to keep alive, but certain varieties of tropical fish might require a lot more attention. So even if you’re a “dog person” or “cat person,” do your research, but also expect surprises.
Sometimes “research” could be something as simple as talking to other friends or family members who have particular pets. Just starting a new chat about pets on your FamilyApp message board could be a great first step!
Pets are not toys!
No matter what animal is ultimately chosen, parents should teach their child one thing above all else: Pets are living creatures with feelings and should be treated with respect. It is important for children to learn how to handle the animal properly and to know when it wants to be left alone. Even a tame animal can scratch and bite when harassed!
On the other hand, parents should also keep in mind that children can be dangerous for animals. A child pulling a cat’s tail can cause pain and potential long-term damage. A hamster that falls to the ground in a moment of carelessness might never recover.
The perfect pet?
We still haven’t answered the question about the perfect pet for children, because THE perfect pet doesn’t exist. In order to make a good decision, a lot of thought is necessary. You need to think through the amount of effort, time, activity, and money you will need to care for an animal properly.
If you realize that you made a mistake and your new animal isn’t a great fit for your family, send it to a shelter, or try to find another place to care for it.
Hopefully by taking a thoughtful, well-researched approach to pet ownership, you can introduce a wonderful companion into your family who will love you for years to come.