This article, written by me, originally appeared on Brie Brie Blooms. It appears here with minor changes, with permission.
Kids and pets: they go together like peanut butter and jelly, right? Families who have never even considered incorporating an animal into their lives may consider it once their children start the begging process. Any kind of pet requires some level of care, so at what age is a child ready for that responsibility? Since all kids are different, it can be difficult to determine a general guideline, but there are some important things to consider that can help us make a good choice when deciding whether to incorporate a pet into the family.
Step 1: Determine if the pet you are considering is in the realm of possibility. Housing pony in your apartment or a shark in your pool are suggestions that can be shot down without further ado.
Step 2: Research, research, research, and ask yourself some tough questions. Some things to consider:
• What type of daily care is involved?
• How much exercise does this animal need to be healthy and happy, and am I physically able and willing to spend the time an energy it takes to provide that?
• Will this pet make a mess (shedding, pooping, chewing, etc.), and am I willing to put up with that mess?
• What is the life expectancy of the pet, and will we be able to care for the pet for the duration of its life?
• Is this pet a safe choice for our family? What are the risk factors?
• Is anyone in the household allergic to this type of animal?
• What are the upfront and long-term costs associated with bringing this pet into the family? Consider food, supplies, vacation care, and veterinary costs. Is proper care for the pet in our budget?
• What will day-to-day life be like with this pet? Will this pet add joy or chaos to our family?
• Who will be responsible for day-to-day care of the pet?
• Can you provide the animal a safe, loving, healthy environment?
Step 3: If you've determined the answers to all of the questions above, and are confident that a new addition would be great for your family, then it's time to find the perfect pet.
Let's look at some common options.
It's a classic. What kid doesn't want a snuggly puppy? Puppies and dogs are lots of work, but the rewards are great. They truly can become members of the family.
Pros: Oh, so cute. High level of interaction, great exercise partner, excellent snuggle-buddy, playful.
Cons: Can be messy, require lots of interaction. Exercise requirements must be met for physical and mental health. May require training. Ongoing grooming and veterinary costs. You have to take Fido on vacation with you or find a pet sitter.
How do I get one? I'm an advocate for rescue. Most areas have multiple rescues to choose from. There may be certain cases where a particular breed may be purchased from a reputable breeder, but never, ever purchase a puppy or dog from a pet store, as they almost always have come from a puppy mill.
Upfront cost: $$$
Ongoing cost: $$$
Daily care required: Feeding multiple times per day, providing fresh, clean water as needed, meeting exercise requirements (depending on breed and age through walking, jogging, playing and other forms of exercise), high level of interaction with family, cleaning "accidents" or mishaps if untrained.
Periodic care required: Regular veterinary care, grooming, pet sitting.
Bottom line: The right dog with the right family is magic. It is likely that all family members will need to participate caring for a pooch. As children grow older, they can take on more responsibility.
Cats are great. They are as individual as we are. Some cats are low-maintenance, and some require more attention. How integrated they are into your family largely depends on their nature and your care.
Pros: Fun and often funny. Some will be highly interactive (never leaving your lap or quite playful), and some will disappear until dinner is served (you are their slave). It all depends on what you are looking for. Usually require a bit less maintenance than dogs do.
Cons: That litter box smell (in most parts of the country, it is best to keep a cat indoors), worried parents if an outdoor cat doesn't make curfew, sometimes they barf up hairballs, sometimes they scratch stuff up. They sometimes scratch and bite if they don't get their way.
How do I get one? Rescue, rescue, rescue. There are SO many kittens and cats of any age that need homes desperately.
Upfront cost: $$
Ongoing cost: $$
Daily care required: Feeding once or twice, providing fresh, clean water as needed, scooping the litter box.
Periodic care required: Regular veterinary care, grooming (varies, depending on coat) pet sitting.
Bottom line: Look for the right fit. Cats are as individual as we are. If you adopt a cat that fits with the lifestyle you want, you'll have a great buddy.
SMALL CAGED FURRIES
Rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, hamsters, and gerbils all fall into this category. Though personalities will vary amongst breeds and individual animals, the general care and time commitment is similar.
Pros: These pets are cute and entertaining, and, depending on type, can even be trained. They don't need walks, and they won't take over your house (unless they escape, heaven forbid).
Cons: Frequent cage clean-ups and difficult–if not impossible–to potty train. Often shy and skittish, at first and can be slow to warm up. These animals often make quite a bit of noise gnawing on things hopping about or running in an exercise wheel.
How do I get one? Your best option is always to rescue, but small caged animals aren't as abundantly available as dogs and cats. If you've checked your local rescues and the type of pet you want is not available, make sure the pet store you purchase from is reputable.
Upfront cost: $$
Ongoing cost: $
Daily care required: Providing fresh food and water and interaction, as well as a means to exercise (large pen or running wheel).
Periodic care required: Veterinary care as needed, Cage cleaning every few days, depending on the individual animal. Pet sitting required for extended trips.
Bottom line: In reality, small caged animals are more work than they are thought to be. They can be great "starter" pets for children, but once the initial infatuation wears off, your child may lose interest.
Birds come in all kinds, from the small, quiet, finch to the exotic, chatty, parrot. if you are truly a bird lover, you should have no trouble finding the perfect fit.
Pros: Beautiful and fun to watch and interact with (depending on species). Songs can be soothing to listen to. You can put them to bed.
Cons: Birds can be messy and loud. Birds who squawk can be disruptive. Time consuming to train. Some will bite.
How do I get one? Bird rescues exist, and they are great places to find an avian family member. Rescues will know the individual personalities of birds and can help you find a great match. Purchasing a bird through a reputable pet store is a second option.
Upfront cost: $$-$$$$
Ongoing cost: $$
Daily care required: Providing food, fresh water, and treats, as well as daily interaction and cage maintenance.
Periodic care required: Regular veterinary care, wing clipping, cage cleaning (as well as the area around the cage) pet sitting.
Bottom line: In order to be a successful bird parent, you have to be a bird person. They can be great pets for children, depending on the type of bird you are considering, but require quite a bit of attention and parents will definitely have to help quite a bit, initially.
REPTILES, AMPHIBIANS, AND SNAKES
Reptiles, amphibians, and snakes make excellent pets for children, as long as they are handled properly. They are unique and fun to learn about and care for.
Pros: Most are relatively low-maintenance, and they provide a unique educational experience for children. Some can be quite interactive. Great for kids with allergies.
Cons: They aren't very cuddly. Some must be fed live prey. They can carry disease that may be transmitted to humans, but, if handled properly, this is not an issue.
How do I get one? Always turn to your local reptile rescue, first, but if you can't find a good fit, get a recommendation for a local reptile breeder. These people are usually "reptile nerds" and will provide you with an education and recommendation about the right fit for your family. They are a wealth of knowledge. Though there is nothing wrong with purchasing a reptile, amphibian, or snake from a pet store, I'd make that option number three.
Upfront cost: $$-$$$$
Ongoing cost: $-$$$
Daily care required: Feeding (varies, depending on type), providing fresh water (depending on type), interaction (depending on type).
Periodic care required: Veterinary care as needed, aquarium/habitat cleanup, pet sitting for extended trips.
Bottom line: Do your research. Each type of reptile, amphibian, or snake requires a different environment, feeding schedule, and care program. These animals also vary widely in how interactive they are. They can be an enriching educational experience and a lot of fun, but be sure you find the right fit.
Perhaps one of the best "first pets" for young children. You can get a beta fish in a bowl, or you can spend a million dollars on a custom salt water tank.
Pros: Beautiful and soothing to watch. Quiet. Low maintenance (unless you go nuts).
Cons: They are quite sensitive to their environment, so you have to be careful. Basic fish are pretty easy, but if you want a full aquarium, you'll need to educate yourself thoroughly before embarking.
How do I get one? Typically, fish come from a reputable pet store.
Upfront cost: $-$$$$
Ongoing cost: $-$$$
Daily care required: Feeding and visually checking on the health of the fish and condition of the tank.
Periodic care required: Tank cleaning, pet sitting for extended trips.
Bottom line: If you're looking for a first pet for your child, a beta fish is a no-brainer. They are typically pretty hardy, and they don't require an elaborate aquarium set-up. If you're into something more involved, maintaining an aquarium is a great family hobby.
WE THINK WE'RE READY! WHAT, NOW?
Consider the family routine when determining if your child is ready for a pet. Who will be responsible for the pet's care, and how will it be determined that the job has been done? Although your five-year-old may swear she'll feed the fish every day, she may be distracted. It's best in cases like this to actually witness your child feeding the fish. Provide her with a checklist, and even consider a pet-related reward for a job well done. Maybe she receives a new decoration for the tank after a month of excellent care. If your child falls down on the job, it is ultimately the responsibility of the parent to make sure the animal is cared for. It's not fair to Fido if he has to wait two days for water because no one has noticed his bowl has gone dry. Having a pet can be a great way to teach a child responsibility, but kiddos–some even into their teens–need supervision when it comes to animal care. It is ultimately on our shoulders, as parents, to make sure the animal is well cared-for.
Pets can provide us with love, entertainment, and a great deal of enjoyment as they become part of our families. They help teach children responsibility and caring, and give kiddos a greater sense of belonging and friendship. When considering any pet, it's important to know that you're making a commitment to the animal for the life of that creature. Rescues become overcrowded when people are impulsive about bringing a pet into the family and then have a change of heart. It's just not fair to the pet, so be sure to do thorough research and know what you're getting into.
Pets add a great to family life when you determine that your child and your family is ready for the adventure. There is a great fit out there for all animal lovers.
Does your child have a pet? Tell us about your experience!
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