Pet ownership is a huge responsibility – many pets can live for at least ten years and your family situation might change enormously during an animal’s lifetime. Think carefully about what sort of pet would suit your family setup. For example, an adult dog who loves children might be a better choice than a puppy. Certain breeds are known to be more suitable for families, so do your research to find out what could work for your household.
1. What kind of pet would be best for us?
2. What can my child cope with at this age?
Think about your child’s level of understanding and their physical stage – young children often have sudden, jerky movements which can unnerve animals. Small creatures like gerbils can be hard for children to handle and rabbits don’t always enjoy being picked up and cuddled. Cats can dodge marauding toddlers, but remember they may defend themselves if they feel too suffocated with ‘love’! Hamsters are nocturnal and can be noisy and active at night – worth considering if they’re going to be kept in your child’s bedroom.
3. Which pet would suit our lifestyle?
Think through how much time you’ll need to devote to your chosen pet and how this will fit in with your family’s existing commitments. If you work during the day, consider how long will pets be left alone – will they have access to food and outdoor space? Plan for costs like pet insurance, medical procedures, vaccinations, food and equipment – they can really mount up, and it’s worth anticipating how they’ll affect your family budget.
4. How much can my child help out?
Involve the whole family in planning out who will be responsible for day-to-day pet care. Helping to look after an animal is a fantastic life experience for a child, and builds their sense of responsibility and nurturing – but be realistic about how much your little ones will be able to do themselves. Make sure you’ll be able to meet all your pet’s needs without overloading your already busy lives!
5. How would we handle the loss of a pet?
The death of a pet can be a child’s first experience of bereavement – really upsetting, but also a useful learning moment. When getting a family pet, plan how you’ll handle this with your little one if the worst happens, bearing in mind the life expectancy of your chosen pet. Learning to cope with sad feelings is important, and parents can use this opportunity to show their children that it’s normal to have such feelings and lay the foundation for how children deal with loss later in life.