Many children go through a phase where they decide they want a pet. While many kids these days are raised with pets that were part of the household before they were even born, even these kids may come to a point where they want to raise a kitten or puppy of their own. Having a pet is seen by many parents as just a normal part of growing up, but before you decide to pick up that cute little furball from the breeder or the pound, ask yourself these questions to determine if your family and child are ready for a new pet.
Will a pet fit into everyone's lifestyle?
Even if you already have pets, it’s important to determine whether a new pet will really fit into your family’s lifestyle. This question is even more important if you don’t have any pets at all yet. The number of pets that are abandoned every year because families who adopt them find that it wasn’t a good idea is tragic. The ASPCA estimates that 5 in 7 million animals are taken to shelters every year, and nearly 1/2 of them are given up by the owners. About 50% of those pets end up euthanized, so it’s important that you determine your family and child are really ready for a pet before adopting one.
Cats are often a good option for on-the-go families, since they’re more independent, but if you go many places where you could take a smaller dog with you, or if you’re home often, a dog could also be a good option. Of course, smaller pets like hamsters and even goldfish can be a good option for very busy families, as well. If you question your family’s ability to take care of a very high-maintenance pet like a dog, consider other, lower-maintenance options before you completely discount the idea of getting a pet.
Is your babe really Interested?
Once you’ve determined if your family can fit a pet into its lifestyle and afford a new pet, you need to look at the child who is asking for a pet. Some children are only vaguely interested in having a pet, maybe because they saw one on television or their best friend has a dog. Most kids will fawn over a fluffy kitten or a playful puppy, but is your child ready to love a pet for the long haul?
There are a few ways to tell if your child is really interested in having a pet. One way is to keep putting him off for a few months to see if he keeps bringing up the idea – and not just after he plays with the next door neighbor’s new cockapoo. You’ll also want to have several honest conversations with your child, and you may even want to set up some milestones that he’ll have to meet before he can get a pet (such as keeping his room clean for a month, earning good grades, or other indicators that he’s willing to work for the opportunity to have a pet).
One other suggestion is to see if your child is interested in getting an adult dog or cat from the local Humane Society rather than a puppy or kitten. Even if you end up getting a baby pet, your child’s willingness to get an older pet instead will show that he is interested in having a pet for its own sake, rather than just having a puppy or kitten that will only stay little for a few months.
Does you babe already have Chores?
You’ll definitely want to make sure your child is responsible enough to help care for a pet. A chore chart can be a good way to gauge this responsibility in elementary aged children and even older kids. If your child doesn’t already have a few chores – making her bed, unloading the dishwasher, brushing her teeth, picking up her room, etc. – then give her some to do. Taking care of a pet is tons of work, and you want to make sure she’s up for it by ensuring that she can handle other responsibilities.
Again, requiring that your child do certain chores for a certain amount of time before getting a pet can ensure that she is really interested in getting a pet. It also will help you make sure your child will be able to feed the dog, clean the litter box, or take the puppy on a walk.
Does your babe like Pets?
This is less likely to be a problem for older kids, but believe it or not, it can be an issue for younger children, especially if they have not been around animals much. It’s very easy for a child to mistreat a pet, and this can quickly turn in to a dangerous situation, as pets who are mistreated are more likely to bite or scratch a child.
How your child treats his toys will give you some indication of whether or not he can be gentle with a pet. If you aren’t positive that your child will know how to treat a pet, spend some time around animals before you bring one home with you. Teach your child how to properly pet his grandmother’s cat, how to play with the neighbor’s dog, or even how to feed animals at a petting zoo before bringing home a new pet. And once you do bring home your new pet, never, ever leave your small child alone with the animal until you’re sure (at least as sure as you can be) that your child will not mistreat the pet and that the pet won’t snap at the child.
Deciding to bring a new pet into your family is a big step, and you want to make sure your child is really ready for it – especially if it will primarily be his or her pet. Asking yourself these questions and waiting until you can answer “yes” to all of them will ensure that your child’s experience with his or her new pet is a positive one full of fun and memories.