2 Important Tips for Adopting Your Child's First Pet

There are all kinds of reasons to let your child have a pet. Many parents feel that pet ownership helps children learn responsibility, and there are studies showing that children who grow up with pets also develop better social skills, more empathy, and a greater ability to nurture. However, that doesn't mean getting a pet should be an easy decision. You're not giving your child a thing, you're taking another living creature into your family—one that you, as the parent, will also be responsible for caring and providing for. Take a look at some tips that will help ensure that pet ownership is a positive experience for you, your child, and the pet that you choose.

Make Sure Your Child Is Ready

If you ask five people how old a child should be before adopting a pet, you're liable to get five different answers. Some will point out that many children do fine in homes where the pet has been with the family since their birth, others will argue that the child should be old enough to play an active role in caring for the pet. There is value to both of these arguments.

The most important thing, for everyone's safety, is to ensure that your child can follow rules about interacting with the pet. If a pet was with your family from your child's infancy, or if the pet adoption preceded the child's birth, then your child would have grown up seeing how you interact with the pet and hearing the rules—this wouldn't be something new that you introduced when they got old enough to potentially hurt the animal or put themselves in danger. Furthermore, the pet would have watched your child grow and would recognize them as a member of the family. But since you're trying to introduce a new pet, you may want to wait at least until your child is past the unpredictable toddler years before bringing an animal into the home.

You want your child not to pull the animal's tail, squeeze it too hard, sit on it, or otherwise tease or aggravate it. Any child may try these things once—children are curious. But if your child is old enough or mature enough to obey your instructions right away and comprehend and follow simple rules, they're probably old enough to safely interact with a pet at home. You know your child best. If you suspect that you're going to constantly be reminding them not to tease your pet, they probably aren't ready.

Consider Starting Small

Often, when a child wants a pet, they'll promise the moon and stars just to get you to consider it. They'll swear to clean up after it, feed it every meal, play with it every free moment, even give every bath. But no matter how much your child loves their pet, the novelty wears off eventually for most children. They may not neglect their pet, but they certainly won't do everything—you'll be doing some of the work. Plus, your child's school, social, and extracurricular obligations may eventually interfere with their commitment to care for a pet.

For all these reasons, you may want to consider starting with something other than the usual dog or cat. Depending upon the breed, a dog could be with you 14 years or more. Spayed or neutered housecats can also live 14 to 16 years or longer. Depending on your child's age, the pet may still be living with you when your child is old enough to move out, and you have to be honest with yourself about whether you like that idea or not. The simple fact is that when you adopt a pet, you're making a commitment for the lifespan of that pet, and it may make sense to start with a pet that has a shorter lifespan. If it turns out that your child is up to the task—or if you find that you yourself really want another furry companion—you can always add another pet to your family later.

A hamster is a good starter pet for many children. They're easy to care for, fun to watch, and can live up to about 3 years. Guinea pigs are from the same family as hamsters, but you may prefer their more aggressive and docile temperaments to the more aggressive hamster. They have an average lifespan of between 5 and 8 years. Gerbils, rats, and rabbits are also popular pets for children.

If you opt for a small pet, be sure that you find a vet clinic near you that treats these animals. No matter what kind of pet you choose, make sure that they get regular vet visits and that you and your child both know how best to protect your pet's health. Click here to read more.