Growing up, I was always surrounded by lots of pets. Having now had kids of my own along with a house full of animals, I decided to write this article to help you decide for yourself. Is sharing a house with children and pets really a good idea?
Should you get a pet for your kids? There are many advantages for kids owning a family pet. From unconditional love and affection to various health and social benefits. Pets can also help teach empathy and responsibility to children. However, it’s highly unlikely that a child will take sole ownership of looking after an animal.
Many kids will be eager to have a new pet in the house. They will probably give you a lot of fun reasons why they should have one and a lot of them will be valid! Pets can be great fun to have around. However, sometimes the true value of owning a pet can be quite intangible for a parent. Below are some of the benefits of pet ownership, both for little ones and parents.
Benefits Of Family Pet Ownership
- Allergy Prevention – Research has shown that growing up with a pet can help a child build a stronger immune system. Children who have exposure to dogs and cats during the first year of their lives, can build up tolerances to allergens and are less likely to develop allergies later in life. They are also less likely to suffer from respiratory infections.
- Stress and anxiety relief – Animals are often used to help various groups manage stress levels. One such group is PTSD sufferers. Animals can provide great comfort and improve self-esteem among kids. They have been shown to reduce anxiety levels, help with loneliness and alleviate separation anxiety.
- Physical Activity and Fresh Air – Studies have shown dog owners to be far more likely to get their recommended daily exercise. I can certainly testify to this, being someone who likes to veg out at home, probably more than I should. Owning dogs gives me a good reason to get out of the house regularly with the kids. Spending more time outside is good for lots of reasons, one of which is raising vitamin D levels.
- Social Interaction – Pets can be a great facilitator when it comes to making new friends. They can serve as great icebreakers, enabling us to talk to people who we may not otherwise. They are particularly helpful in this regard, for children with autism and those who may find it more difficult to communicate with their peers.
- Responsibility – As my kids grow up, there are plenty of situations in which they must learn to become more independent and take care of themselves. From learning to dress right up to driving a car for the first time. When it comes to caring for other living beings, opportunities are not always so abundant and it isn’t always so natural. In this respect, having a pet can be a great responsibility for a child to take on. Caring for pets is a great way to practice nurturing and to play at being a parent, for boys and girls.
- Security – This one probably just applies to dogs (unless you decide to keep a wildcat or a bear). An insurance company in the UK interviewed ex-criminals. When asked about the biggest deterrents for burglars, barking dogs were way up at the top with CCTV, while burglar alarms were only thirteenth on the list. Another added security factor is for those times when you have to walk alone in the dark or somewhere unsavory during the day. Having a dog with you can make you feel a lot safer.
It’s clear that there are plenty of benefits that come with bringing a pet into your home. Apart from those outlined above, they will make you laugh and smile on a daily basis, but that’s not to say that it will all be sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. While in my opinion, the many advantages vastly outweigh the pitfalls, there are definitely some considerations that you should take into account. I have listed a few of them below.
Potential Cons And Considerations For Children’s Pets
- Cost – Along with the initial upfront cost of buying a pet and any gear they might require, a lot of people may not factor in the ongoing costs. Things such as food, pet insurance or unexpected vet bills to name a few. For some pets, these costs will be a lot higher than for others. It’s important to take them into account when making a decision on which pet is right for you.
- Travel – If like my family you travel away from home a lot, you will always need to make arrangements for your pets when leaving home. Most pets do not travel well, particularly on airplanes. Even if they did it can be a big hassle, especially if traveling abroad. Depending on the country you’re traveling to and from there can be many requirements such as pet passports, vaccination records, and health certificates. The pet may also need to be quarantined for a period of time. Ultimately, it’s best if you have someone you can rely on to take care of your pets when you are away. Even then it can be quite hard on some animals to be separated from their owners.
- Pet waste – It’s very easy for us to get wrapped up in how cute our little furry, scaly or feathered friends can be, but at some point, everyone has got to go! Whether it be your lawn, litter box, terrarium, aquarium or cage; they ain’t gonna clean it up themselves! The fact of the matter is that someone will be coming face to face with pet waste and on a fairly regular basis. If you have a weak stomach, your life may become a bit of a misery.
- Time and Commitment – All be it on a slightly smaller scale, having pets can be much the same as having children, in that they are a consistent and ongoing commitment. For the most part, they will need your care and attention every single day. Dogs, in particular, will require a lot of your time, especially in the first year if you choose to get a puppy. Other pets such as birds, rodents, and reptiles can be slightly easier, but they will still require feeding regularly and their habitats will need to be kept clean.
- Allergens – While promoting a healthy immune system and building a resistance to allergies in younger children, you may have kids with existing pet allergies. It’s important that before bringing a new pet into your house, you establish whether or not your children may have an issue. It can be heartbreaking for the family and unfair on the animal to have to try and re-house a pet shortly after bringing them home. The good news is that it’s highly unlikely your child will be allergic to every type of pet.
- Home Wreckers – As much as a pet can bring joy into your house, they also have the potential to bring a little chaos. You have to remember that nature is not house proud! Every pet can have their own ideas of what is acceptable in your home. If you have kids you may already be accustomed to a little collateral damage. Having pets can be much the same so don’t be surprised if the dog pees on your slippers, the cat scratches your favorite furniture or the rabbit gnaws through your TV cable!
When Is The Best Time To Get A Pet For My Child?
If you’ve decided that getting a pet is the right move for you’re family, it’s important to think about timing. Most pet interest groups will say that you should wait until your child is at least 5 years old before bringing a new pet home. Carefully consider your child’s level of maturity and your lifestyle before making the plunge. Below are some considerations and some suggestions of pets for certain age ranges.
Pets For Infants And Toddlers 0-2 Years Old
While there can be benefits for a baby to have cats or dogs around from a young age, bringing a new pet home at this time is not recommended.
New pets can be particularly demanding and new parents usually have a lot to deal with already. The pets will always take second priority and there is a chance they could develop behavioral issues if they do not receive enough attention or training early on.
You should also bear in mind that children up to 2 years of age are generally most at risk from dog bites. If you do already own a pet, you will need to ensure that they adjust to the arrival of a new family member. Some common sense precautions must always be taken, such as never leaving the pet and baby alone in the same room.
Pets For 2 to 4-Year-Old Children
Children this age will, for the most part, be unaware of the dangers that pets can pose, if not treated in a respectful manner. They can also be unaware of the harm they themselves can inflict on smaller animals. So again, it’s generally not recommended to get pets for children in this age group.
If however, you do decide to get a pet for your child at this time, you should probably start with something small and self-contained in a protective enclosure. This will keep both the animal and your child safe from one another while giving your child the opportunity to observe and be curious.
Many people think Hermit crabs are good “starter pets” for kids in this age group. I would strongly advise not to get one.
Almost all Hermit crabs have been captured from their natural homes as they do not breed well in captivity. Also while in their natural habitats, they can live for 30+ years, however once captured, they rarely live longer than 1 year.
Again, despite recommendations, if you have your heart set on getting a new dog to grow up with your little one and you’re certain that you can give it the time that it needs, a larger dog is probably the best option. Larger dogs are generally more patient and have more stable temperaments. They are also less likely to get injured by an inquisitive and unpredictable child.
I for one, currently have a Labrador and a Yorkshire Terrier. The Yorkie tends to get quite jumpy and nervous around my youngest so I have to keep a close eye on them when they’re together, particularly when it’s the pets feeding time. My Labrador, on the other hand, has been sat on, had its tail pulled and dare I say it, lost a few whiskers before and yet she never bats an eyelid when it comes to my kids.
While it isn’t recommended to feed a dog too much people food, one great advantage of having a dog at this stage is that you can say goodbye to the hassle of mopping up food from the floor and dealing with the kids left-overs!
Pets For 5 to 8-Year-Old Children
Around this time, children are probably ready for a new pet at home. They can begin to take on some pet care responsibility, as long as parents still consider themselves the primary caregivers.
It’s a better time to think about getting a cat or a dog at this stage.
Dogs are more likely to share a close bond with your kids. “A man’s best friend” is a true statement about dogs, but “a human’s best friend” is equally apt. Children will always have a friend in the dog.
Cats, on the other hand, can also make very good companions. One big advantage of cats over dogs is they are far more independent. They will not beg you to take them for a walk every day, making them ideal for those with less time on their hands. They are very clean animals and will practically house train themselves. If they’re outdoor cats, you will most likely not even need to use a litter box. Just ensure they’re not using your neighbor’s flower bed!
Guinea pigs make great pets for children of this age. They are very affectionate little animals, squeaking with excitement to see their owners. When they’re happy they will literally jump for joy (called popcorning). They are a little more robust for handling than most other rodents and slightly less easy to lose, making them the rodent of choice for younger kids.
Another regular suggestion for kids this age is goldfish. However, goldfish need a fairly large tank with a filter and preferably some real plant life. They will require a fair amount of work to keep them clean and healthy so they can flourish. Unfortunately the term “goldfish bowl” doesn’t do them any favors as a bowl is certainly not sufficient for their well-being.
If you do choose to go with fish, Betta fish may be more suitable. Betta fish are also known as Siamese fighting fish. They are vibrantly colored little creatures with beautiful, long tails and they are comparatively low maintenance. A fairly small tank with a place to hide if they’re feeling timid should be a sufficient habitat for them to live relatively happily. An aquatic snail can be a welcome addition to the tank, which a lot of kids will also love. They will help to keep the tank walls clean by eating the algae. However Beta fish will generally attack anything else that swims, so keeping them together with other fish is not advised. They’re not called ‘fighting fish’ for no reason!
Pets For Children Aged 9+
Kids this age will generally like any pet that they can keep in their rooms. From gerbils and hamsters which are fairly easy to care for and are fairly low cost, to reptiles which can be more expensive and have more complicated dietary requirements.
If your child is insisting on a lizard or snake then some of the cheaper and comparatively lower maintenance options are leopard geckos or corn snakes.
One major benefit with snakes is that, when mature enough they generally only need feeding once every 10-14 days. This means you can go away on vacation and you probably won’t have to make special arrangements.
Birds can be considered a little noisy and messy. However, budgerigars or cockatiels can make great pets for kids. They handle better than some other pet birds and they can also learn to talk! It will take time and a lot of patience but this can be hours of fun for your kids. Repetition and rewards are key for teaching a bird to talk.
If your kids have their heart set on a particular pet, always research the animal of choice to ensure you can provide a good level of care and to avoid upset further down the line. It’s also important to consider a pet’s lifespan. Parents may be left looking after the animal for years after the kids leave home or at least while they go to college!
In summary, pets can be a fantastic addition to any family and I highly recommend that you get one. If you select the right pet, your kids will grow strong bonds with them and form memories that will last a lifetime.