Baby pats a big dog by Penn State

Should I get my child a pet?

Most parents have been in this situation. Your child adores cute furry creatures and has been begging you for a cuddly companion for ages. In truth, you’d like one too as you remember what it was like as child and the joy a pet can bring to a family. On the other hand once you have your own little ones the thought of having more things to look after can be exhausting, quite frankly.

Here we weigh up the pros and cons for you.

The pros of buying a family pet

There are many proven benefits of having a pet. They bring a huge amount of happiness and joy and are great for learning vital personal skills. Making sure your little furry friend is fed and looked after teaches responsibility, and how to nurture a living thing which is smaller and more vulnerable. A child that helps with looking after their pet finds out about the importance of nurturing, providing shelter, exercise and love.

Research has shown that children who have pets have higher self-esteem because they develop an affinity for another living thing that loves them back. 

Early exposure to animal bacteria can also mean immunity to common allergies – though some youngsters may be pre-disposed to an allergy. A study carried in 2012 in America found children who live with a dog get ill less often, have fewer respiratory problems and less frequent ear infections. Brushing or stroking a pet can also lead to lower stress levels.

The cons of having a pet

Remember, too, not all animals or breeds are child-friendly. Some will be too aggressive or high energy, while others might not want to be picked up and played with. Then there is the issue of scratching and biting, and the potential for carrying diseases that can harm children.

Looking after a pet is a long-term commitment - some cats can live until at around 18 or 19 years old so you need to be in it for the long haul. 

Plus it means extra expense for food, equipment, pet insurance and extra logistics as you'l have to arrange someone to look after it if you ever want to go away.

As a family, you need to ask yourselves whether you’re all willing and able to provide the right amount of care. No matter how much your children promise they'll take care of a pet, the bulk of the work will often fall to an adult carer.

The practicalities of pet ownership

Before you make a decision about what sort of animal to bring into your lives, think about the practicalities. Is your flat, house and/or garden big enough? Will you need space to allow your pet to move around freely? How much looking after will they need? Is there a litter tray or pen that needs to be cleaned regularly? Is anyone in your family allergic to animal fur or the dust from a moulting coat?

Find your perfect animal match

Once you’re sure that a pet will be welcome addition to your family, you’ll need to decide what animal to choose. There are benefits and challenges with every pet so here are a few pointers to help you:

Dogs: This is the classic family pet but dogs come in many shapes and sizes, and not all are suited to children. Experts say that, generally speaking, mixed breeds are easier to look after than purebreds, and a large dog will be more tolerant of a child’s play. When looking for your perfect puppy, make sure you get as much information as you can from the breeder, pet shop or shelter before bringing them home

Cats: Cats make good pets as they don’t require as much attention as dogs. If you make sure they’re fed, watered and have a litter tray, cats will usually come and go as they please, in between finding a comfy place to have a nap. Generally, cats aren’t as tolerant as dogs of a small child’s play, and some breeds are more child-friendly than others, so do some research first.

Fish: An aquarium or fish tank is often seen as an ideal first pet in the home. It is generally low maintenance and looks nice, and it teaches even very small children about responsibilities. Watching fish swimming is said to have a calming effect, so that’s another plus point with children around.

Guinea pigs: These are also low maintenance pets, and are good-natured and ideal around children.  But gently does it with guinea pigs. Small children need to take particular care as these furry creatures are small and fragile.

If you decide to choose a pet for your family, by thinking about what will suit your children best and what level of care you can provide, you’ll be sure to choose the right companion and positive addition to your household.

Try this PDSA calculator that will match your lifestyle and budget with the right pet for you.

Written by Dorothy Lepowska-Hudson

Where next?

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