There comes a time in most parents’ lives when their offspring announces they would like a pet. This often comes in the form of a dewy-eyed plea along the lines of “Can I have a puppy for my birthday, please?”, followed by promises that they will take care of it and love it to the ends of the earth, and mom and dad won’t need to do a thing. Because we were all children once, these promises will sound familiar; and we’ll remember that apart from the odd exception, the infatuation with a new pet can wane over time, especially when the puppy turns into a boisterous dog, or the kitten’s tiny paws develop the razor-sharp claws of a cat. When your child starts asking for a pet, what’s the best way to deal with their request?
The responsibility of pet ownership
If you’ve had pets before, you’ll appreciate what’s involved in looking after them. Some need more time and attention than others, but all will require knowledgeable care and involve a certain degree of cost. Before you even consider the possibility of having an animal join your family, you need to be sure you can afford to pay for its food, shelter, and veterinary treatment, and that there will always be someone around to check it as frequently as it requires. You should find out what a prospective pet will cost per week, how much insurance would be, and how they need to be cared for. If you’re researching online, use authoritative websites with advice written by experts. Many owners are extremely knowledgeable about pet care, but if you are starting from a position of knowing very little, you need to be sure that what you’re reading is accurate information.
Children and animals
If your child is going to have a pet, then it’s perfectly reasonable to expect them to take on the responsibility of caring for it. Looking after a pet will teach them many valuable lessons about respecting animal life, how different species live, and the ways animals differ from humans. Your kids will develop empathy, learn how to spot the signs that something is wrong, and understand the importance of keeping their promises and not shirking their responsibilities. A pet can often be a treasured companion and friend for a child, enriching their life and bringing a great deal of happiness to their childhood. However, care of a pet should never be left entirely to the kids, because they won’t have the skills and knowledge – at least at the start – to cope without supervision. You should always check on the pet every day yourself, and supervise how it is being looked after and treated, just to make sure the animal’s welfare is taking priority.
What sort of pet should you choose?
If you have checked your finances and can afford a pet and you have the time available to look after it properly, then you can start thinking about what your best choice of pet would be:
• Guinea pigs, as well as hamsters and gerbils: These are often thought of as a good choice for first pets because they are easier to look after than cats and dogs, are small and cuddly, and not too expensive. It’s probably the savviest pet to own, both for these reasons and because they have a relatively short lifespan, so if the magic of pet ownership does wear off for your child, you won’t be stuck with an animal to take care of for another ten years or more. However, just because they are small and kept in a cage doesn’t mean they can be forgotten about. They will need good quality guinea pig food, a constant supply of fresh water, and clean bedding. You’ll need to be vigilant and spot any signs of ill health quickly, as their little bodies are less resilient than those of larger pets. They also need mental stimulation and physical exercise to keep them happy, and you should take care to give them everything they need just as you would a larger pet.
• Puppies and dogs: Puppies are one of the pets kids most frequently request, and after all, who can resist the cuteness of a puppy? There are two points you need to bear in mind though. First of all, the fantastically cute little puppy is going to grow into a dog, and some breeds can be a fair size when fully grown. If you’re thinking about buying a puppy, you need to do some research on the breed to see how big it’s going to get and what its temperament is likely to be. Some breeds are far more laid back than others, and you want a calm, tolerant breed of dog for your children. Dogs are the most demanding of pets because they will require training to ensure they are obedient and know their place in the family, a lot of attention, and regular exercise. Taking on a puppy is a major commitment and only a good choice when you are already an experienced dog owner.
• Kittens and cats: Again, kittens are adorably cute and pretty irresistible, and you can cuddle and play with them as much as you like when they are little. They won’t become as big as many dogs (unless you get a Maine Coon or a Bengal!), and they don’t need the time and attention that dogs do, but adult cats are very different from kittens. They will only interact with you when they choose to, and some aren’t very sociable at all. You can’t train them in the same way you can a dog, because they are solitary creatures who don’t recognize humans as their leaders. Kids sometimes have difficulty understanding why they can’t play with their cat whenever they want and why it spends so much time away from them, and while it’s good for them to learn why cats are different if theirs is not much of a lap cat it can be quite disappointing for them.
It could be argued that not having a pet at all is the truly savvy choice! However, there are multiple benefits to owning animals both for you and your kids, so it’s worth considering whether having a pet is right for your family.