The best pets for children
Keeping a pet can be a very rewarding experience for a child and can help to teach about responsibility and friendship. Having a pet to interact with and care for, can help develop valuable life skills. Studies have shown that children who have been brought up around pets tend not to develop allergies to animals in later life.
Whilst the new pet ‘belongs’ to the child, it is the adult’s responsibility to ensure it does not become a neglected, ignored and miserable animal. So when choosing a pet for a child, it should also be one that the adult is happy to deal with. There are a number of other points to be considered.
Are you buying a pet for a child or a pet for a household with children?
In practice and in law the adults in the household will be the ones in overall charge of the pet’s care, so it is important to choose a pet that suits the whole household. For instance, if the children are at school and the adults are out at work it’s not a good idea to have a puppy that will be left alone all day. Puppies need lots of care and attention and may develop destructive behaviour and become distressed due to boredom and loneliness.
After settling into the new household, an older dog is more likely to tolerate longer periods left alone, but will still require human company for decent periods every day, as well as daily walks and play. A good way to encourage and teach children to interact with a family pet is involvement in grooming and daily playtime.
Cats make good pets for children as they generally require less mental stimulation than a dog. Cats are very happy to sleep for hours every day, whilst owners are out, as long as they have human company and attention once the owners are home. Indoor cats should have plenty of toys to entertain themselves and to provide exercise. Kittens in particular love to play and will usually have children laughing and playing very quickly. Remember that indoor cats will require their litter tray cleaning out daily.
Often the choice of pet is an emotional one, made on the spur of the moment at the pet shop, breeder or rehoming centre. However, time spent on research won’t be wasted. Why not give the child the task of researching their chosen pet before you make the final decision. You could choose some library books or go on the internet together to read all about pets and their different characteristics and needs.
If you are thinking of owning a dog then it is important to research the breed thoroughly and make sure you can provide the right specific environment to suit the dog.
Where you live
If you do not have much space at home or live in a flat without access to a garden, then perhaps a dog or cat is not the right pet for you. Some landlords have specific rules about pets as well, so it is important to find this out before going ahead.
No matter what the breed, temperament, age or history, a dog should never be left alone with children, even 16 year old children.
When walking near roads children should be shown how to control their dog safely and the use of the lead. Also talk about the danger of following dogs onto frozen ice.
Not only does your pet need training, but children will need to be shown the appropriate way to behave towards their pet. For example, showing them the importance of consistent, positive reinforcement-based training, respecting the dog’s personal space, especially at times when the pet is tired, ill, hungry or needs a quiet area to rest.
Owning a larger pet can be expensive. Pet insurance is available for dogs, cats and rabbits to help with veterinary fees should they become sick. There are daily costs involved as well that need to be considered, such as food, toys, beds, possible kennel or cattery fees, the cost of yearly vaccinations and also the one off costs such as neutering and microchipping.
When choosing a dog or cat most people opt for a puppy or kitten, perhaps preferring to train them from scratch to fit in with their particular lifestyle. A puppy or kitten may require lots of work getting them toilet trained and puppies will benefit from training classes whilst they are young. Involving children in the training can aid bonding and help to reduce some behaviour problems that can occur later on.
It is worth considering that the rescue centres are full of older dogs and cats looking for homes.
With these older animals there are pros and cons. On the positive side they are toilet trained, may have basic training skills and are generally calmer and readier to fit into a household. This reduces the need for extensive training and avoids the excitable phase that puppies go through which may involve chewing, biting and jumping up.
An older pet may also have reduced initial financial costs, as neutering, initial vaccinations and microchipping may already have been done. However, this needs to be balanced with the fact that an older pet may have, or develop, health issues that carry an emotional and financial burden.
Where to look
Research into the particular type or breed of dog or cat you are looking at will help with the decision about which pet and which breed. A reputable rescue centre is a good place to go to as they have many types and breeds of pets looking for homes and will have the expertise to help you make the correct choice. Look for the rescue centres in your area and pay them a visit with your child. The best, such as Dogs Trust, are designed to be child friendly and their expertise in helping you choose a child friendly pet that fits with your lifestyle and budget is invaluable.
We strongly recommend that you do NOT get your new pet from someone you don’t know, such as via the internet or small ads in the paper, unless they are from a Kennel Club accredited breeder. Not only have many come from ‘puppy farms’ with poor welfare standards, but often become seriously ill or indeed die within a short time of being homed. This can prove both expensive and traumatic for parents and children. Ask to see the mother and the litter in their home environment and never let a ‘breeder’ deliver a puppy to you or ask you to meet at somewhere like a motorway services or supermarket car park.
Do your research
It cannot be stressed enough that research and preparation are extremely important when choosing a pet for your child, but once you have taken the step and are a pet owner then the benefits and rewards to the whole family are huge and your pet will become a much loved member of your family!