Children and Pets

Children and Pets

Many children love cute animals and are often intrigued by having a pet of their own. Whether it’s a cat, dog or hamster; caring for a pet can provide valuable life experience for your child as well as helping them to develop a sense of responsibility.

In this blog article, I outline what you need to consider before bringing a pet into your home and around your child.

Is having a pet right for you and your family?

  • You really need to think through the decision to introduce a new pet into your family – especially when you have very young children.
  • Taking care of a pet is a huge responsibility for both parents and children as many pets can live for at least 10 years (a tortoise can live for more than 50 years)!
  • Before you make a commitment to getting any kind of pet, consider all the options so that you know which type of pet will be right for your family.

Puppies:

  • Many families choose a puppy thinking they are safe, easy to train and will adapt quickly.
  • Puppies are also very cute, but fragile and need a lot more time and care to look after.
  • They are also prone to play-related scratching and biting, so you need to think very carefully about whether a puppy is the most suitable. Maybe an adult dog who is already trained and loves kids is a better option?
  • Some breeds of dogs like Vizslas or Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are known to be better for families, so ensure you get advice on which breed is best suited for you.

Cats:

  • Cats are more mobile than dogs so they’re able to jump out of the way of young children and may also pose less of a threat of seriously biting or injuring a child.
  • On the other hand, cats will defend themselves if they feel threatened or too suffocated with ‘love’ from children.
  • Kittens are also very cute but can be a lot of work just like puppies as you need to train them, so you should consider how much time you can donate to a kitten if you get one.

Rabbits, Gerbils and Hamsters:

  • They make very rewarding animals for adults because contrary to what many people think, they do not always enjoy being picked up and cuddled by young children.
  • Equally, gerbils can be difficult for children to handle for similar reasons to rabbits.
  • Hamsters are nocturnal so be prepared for them to sleep a lot during the day and then be active in their cages at night, which could disturb your child if the cage is kept in their room.

Who’s going to look after your new pet?

  • Having a pet is a big responsibility, so think about who is going care for it and how that will fit into your/their existing schedule? How much time will you/they have to tend to their needs, and will this be enough?
  • If you work during the day, how long will the pets be left alone, and will they have outdoor and food access? If you have older children, could they take on some of the responsibility?
  • Consider fostering a pet for a short period. Get in contact with a rescue centre or animal charity and see if your family can cope with the responsibilities of owning a pet before making a full-time commitment.

What’s the best breed for you?

  • Spend some time researching the characteristics and temperament of the pet you you are thinking of getting so that you can make an informed decision on whether or not it’s right for your family.
  • Some breeds are better around children than others.
  • If you are adopting/rehoming or fostering a pet, find out about their background and if they’ve previously come from a home with kids.

How much will it cost?

  • There are several costs implications to owning a pet that you need to consider including; pet insurance or medical procedures like neutering/spaying; micro chipping; vaccinations; grooming; food; equipment; toys and; vet bills.
  • Costs can mount up and if you have children, you’ll need to work out if you can you afford the extra household expenses?
  • Dogs with challenging temperaments or who are not house trained, may need professional help from a dog trainer. The costs of this will vary depending on a range of considerations but could run into hundreds of pounds.

Getting your new pet:

  • Check out animal rescue centres and animal charities that offer a variety of pets that need a new home before considering the breeder option.
  • If you are wary of getting an ex-stray who may have been mistreated, particularly where there are young children in the house, speak to the rescue centre or animal charity to find out more about the pet’s history and if they’ve had any behavioural problems.

Dealing with the loss of a pet:

  • The impact on your child of losing a pet is an important factor to consider because once they integrate into your family they will inevitably form a strong bond with your child by helping them with social skills and cognitive development as they play with them, talk to them, and even read to them.
  • The death of a pet can be a child’s first experience of bereavement and although it can be a very upsetting time it can also be a useful learning moment.
  • Take into consideration the life expectancy of your pet and try to plan ahead about how best to handle the situation with your child if the worst happens and prepare them accordingly.
  • The average lifespan of a dog is 13 years, whereas hamsters usually only live for 2-3 years, so the age of your child will influence how much they are affected by the loss.
  • Younger children may not fully understand the concept of death but will be aware the pet is missing.
  • Discuss and share your feelings of sadness openly with your child and encourage them to express their emotions by talking, writing or drawing. Show that it’s normal to have these feelings and help them learn how to cope with sad feelings as it can lay the foundation for how they deal with loss throughout their life.

Key points to remember:

  • Take your time and do your research on which pet and breed is right for your family
  • Do not impulse buy – choose the pet that best fits your lifestyle
  • Foster on a trial basis if you’re unsure
  • Think about the additional costs of taking care of your pet
  • Consider who is going to look after your pet

Having a pet can certainly be a benefit for young children, but as this article outlines there are many things you need to consider before deciding if this is right for you and your family.

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