There will come a time when your child will beg for a pet. Is your child really ready? Are you? When our family cocker spaniel, Toxie, passed on a year after my dad did in 2014, I have to admit the void was overwhelming.
But when my kids practically begged me to get a new dog, I put my foot down. I refused. Visions of giving the dog a bath, cleaning pee and poop, walking the dog, hair on the sofa, bed, and food haunted me. So, no. But what if the hubby came home with this bundle of joy?
Deep inside, though, I believe I have always been ready to have a new dog. I don’t have small kids anymore and we just need a new one, period.
But what about if your little ones (and I mean really little ones, like 4 and below?) want to get a new pet?
Talk about family planning
I didn’t go this route, although I highly recommend that you do. My friend started preparing her 4-year old son for a dog two years ago. After almost a year of research (or probably just putting it off), she and her hub finally decided on a Bichon Frise because it is a cheerful dog who loves playing games, snuggles, and is hypoallergenic which is perfect for their daughter who has asthma. Her husband wanted their daughter to be an animal lover. She wanted her to handle responsibility.
Pet relationships can give a child powerful lessons in respect, empathy, and love that last a lifetime.
Research shows that kids who grow up with animals have more self-esteem, higher IQs, and better emotional health as adults. But you have to choose a pet wisely. Lots of people simply bring home the cute thing in the window with no thought to how it’s going to fit into the family.
What kid of animal should you bring home?
Here is your family-pet primer (and don’t you blame me when you decide to get the iguana).
Fish and Hermit Crabs
Good for kids: ages Infant and up.
Fish and hermit crabs rank low on the cuddly scale, but they still help kids tap into the bond between humans and nature.
Fish are more interactive than many people think – koi and Oscars can be trained to to eat right out of your child’s hand!
You might want to skip the goldfish though. They produce so much waste that cleaning the tank can become a real chore. Guppies and tetras are better starter fish. With hermit crabs, kids 5 and up get a great intro to science when the crabs change shells, which they do as often as every two days.
There is a reason you see fish in dentists’ and lawyers’ offices. They are naturally soothing. They’re also low maintenance, thus great for busy families.
A fish or crab doesn’t offer the same emotional and physical comfort as a furry pet, so your child is less likely to treat it as a confidant.
Care required: Hermit crabs like fish, thrive in groups. So get a few (you’ll need a two-to-five-gallon tank). Tanks for both pets need cleaning weekly. What your child can do: Toddlers can help with feeding and older kids can clean out the tanks with supervision.
Guinea pigs, Hamsters, Gerbils and Rabbits
Good for: Kids ages 8 and up Source
Because they are so small and soft, it’s easy for those mammals to be mishandles and even hurt, so they’re not ideal for young kids. These animals thrive on being held, touched and spoken to, so kids can enjoy an affectionate relationship with them.
Since each type has different traits – hamsters, for instance, are nocturnal – kids learn to appreciate and respect differences in others.
Most of these little furballs only live for five years or so. They require a special diet and cage setup (See “care required,” below). and gerbils and hamsters can cannibalize each other if their cages become overcrowded or male dominated, which can be a traumatic scene for young kids.
Care required: These active animals need room in their cages to run around. They also need fresh vegetables for snacks, as well as supplements. Rabbits should be spayed and litter box-trained, and your house has to be rabbit-proofed. What your child can do: With supervision, kids can clean cages and feed these animals, with practice, 9-or-10-year-olds can handle them alone.
Good for: Kids ages 8 and up.
Because they can be unpredictable and quick to nip, birds are not good pets for young kids. Children adore the smaller varieties, like parakeets and cockatiels, because of their clever mimicking skills. But your family had better love birds, because large ones can live 50 years or more, and small birds live 15 to 20 years. And since birds travel in flocks, you need at least two so they have company.
Birds are highly intelligent and easily tamed and trained. But best of all, they are quirky. They are funny and gorgeous to look at. And you can’t beat the fascination factor when kids see the birds fly.
Birds are a lot of work. Even with daily cleaning, cages can be an eyesore when birds mess their bedding.
Care required: Buy the largest cage you can. Birds should be let out to fly around the house at least once a day. (Watch out for droppings!) They also need a fortified seed mix, fruit, and veggies. What your child can do: Birds love chitchat, so your child should talk to them daily. Older kids can handle a tamed bird with supervision, and kids of any age can help clean the cage.
Cats and Dogs
Good for: Kids ages 5 and up.
Dogs and cats give kids what no human relationship can – absolutely unconditional, 24/7 love. They have this secret bond that is so profound, parents can’t even touch it. wait until your child is 5 before you get a cat or a dog though: before that, kids don’t understand that animals have feelings, and your child may inadvertently hit or hurt the animal. It is also crucial that you find an animal with a temperament hat meshes with your entire family. Generally, smaller breeds aren’t as found of kids as larger dogs are. An animal that is at least 8 months old is often a better choice than a pup or kitten because its personality is established, so you know what you’re getting. Be sure to research each breed’s habits. Beagles bark more than almost any other breed, and Siamese cats are really noisy at night.
Dogs and cats are loyal friends so they can teach kids devotion and steadfastness.
These pets require lots of attention. So if your family tends to be out of the house a lot, they are not for you.
Care required: Cats and dogs need daily exercise (15 minutes of playtime for cats and at least one walk a day for dogs), and regular vet visits. What your child can do: A 5-to-8-year-old can help with feeding, and brush the animal with supervision. By 12, most kids can handle all the care.
Kids love the idea of these unusual pets, but veterinarians warn that they can be a hazard to the entire family.
- TURTLES, IGUANAS, AND OTHER REPTILES. Reptiles can secrete salmonella bacteria, putting all but the most meticulous hand washer at risk
- POT-BELLIED PIGS. Years ago, these intelligent swine were media darlings, squired around by celebrities . But many grow to 200 pounds or more and can become very aggressive toward children and anyone else they outsize.
- MACAWS, PARROTS AND OTHER LARGE BIRDS. These birds tend to bond with one person, so they are not great for families. And when they get angry, their bits are powerful enough to take off an ear or finger.