Most children love animals, and most eventually want to have a pet. Here are some things to consider before you bring home your child’s first pet.
Never Bring Home a Pet on Impulse
Always do your homework first. Pets are living creatures and all require special care. Be sure you are able to provide the care necessary for the pet you are considering.
Having a pet involves both physical and financial responsibilities. It is an obligation that can last for many years, depending on the type of pet you decide to adopt.
What Is the Best Pet for a Child?
There is no right answer to this question. It depends on the child involved. While dogs and cats are natural choices, there are many other types of animals that make wonderful pets for children as well. Small mammals such as hamsters, guinea pigs, ferrets, rabbits, mice, and even rats can make great pets. Snakes and reptiles are another option. Birds can be good pets too and there are a variety of species from which to choose. Fish-keeping is a fun hobby and an aquarium can make a beautiful focal point in a room as well.
First, consider what type of pet your child is drawn toward. Some children find snakes and reptiles frightening, and these animals may not be a good choice for a child that is scared of them. Other kids find these animals fascinating and would enjoy having one in their home. For some children, fish may not provide enough interaction. Consider your child’s personality and his/her likes and dislikes when considering what type of pet to adopt.
Consider also the effect the animal and its care will have on your child. For instance, many snakes require live food and watching a snake kill and eat a mouse may be too traumatic for some kids. Hamsters make great pets but they tend to be active at night. The noise these animals make moving around their cage and using exercise wheels and other toys may make it difficult for your child to sleep if the cage is housed in your child’s bedroom. Birds, particularly larger birds, have strong beaks capable of cracking nuts and seeds. They can cause serious injury to small fingers inserted unknowingly into a cage. Learn about the feeding, care and behavioral characteristics of the pet you are considering before you decide on the best pet for your child.
Helping Your Child Prepare for the Pet
Teach your child how to interact with pets. Children need to know that it is inappropriate to pull the hair, ears or tail of any animal, regardless of species. Some species have special handling requirements. For instance, rabbits have very powerful hind legs and can suffer back injuries quite easily. It is important to remember this and handle them appropriately so nobody (pet or child) gets hurt.
Teach your child how to understand your new pet’s body language. Of course, you’ll have to learn how to do this yourself before you can teach your child. For instance, a dog that has his ears down and back, is yawning frequently and seems to be moving in slow motion is frightened and may react out of fear if pressed. For a cat, a rapidly twitching tail, hair standing erect along the backbone, or an arched back indicates that the cat is aggravated and should be left alone.
Young children should be supervised when interacting with pets of any kind. Teach your child good hygienic practices also such as proper hand washing. This will reduce your child’s potential for exposure to transmissible diseases from your pet. For instance, turtles can carry salmonellosis; dogs and cats can carry roundworms. Hand washing and other hygienic measures can protect your child from these diseases.
Be Prepared to Take Responsibility for the Pet
While it is appropriate to expect your kids to assume some responsibility for caring for the new pet, understand that as the adult the ultimate responsibility for the pet’s safety and well-being rest with you. You may need to help your child in caring for your new pet. You will definitely need to check to make sure that any pet chores assigned to your child are carried out as expected. Otherwise, the pet will suffer.
You will also need to accept responsibility for the financial obligations involved with your pet’s care. This includes the cost of housing, food, bedding, toys, veterinary care and other paraphernalia. If you are unable or unwilling to accept these responsibilities, you should not bring the pet home.
In some circumstances, you may also need to consider long term plans. Dogs, cats, some species of birds, and many other types of pets can live for many years. What will happen when/if your child grows up and moves out of the house or goes to college? Will the pet go with your child or will you retain ownership of the pet?
Having a pet can be a rewarding experience for a child. Doing some research beforehand and being prepared for the pet you ultimately decide to bring home will make the transition smooth and guarantee that all parties are happy with the choice.
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