Are You Ready for Your Child's Pet?

Are you ready for your child's pet?

Children and pets seem to go together like ice cream and cake.

In many families as soon as a child begins to realize that there are puppies and kittens in the world, the nagging begins.

Little girls want a “kitty” and little boys beg for a “puppy.”

Mom and dad start out saying “NO” and slowly begin to say “maybe” and finally the day comes when they say “yes,” providing the child promises to take all the responsibility for the pets care.

There lies the first mistake, do not expect the child to care for the pet entirely, cause that’s never going to happen and don’t expect your child to be responsible enough to train the dog or empty the litter box every day.

I urge and beg you as a parent to keep saying “NO” unless you are willing to be the person in charge of the pet with a little help from your child.

Keep this mantra in mind "Am I willing to take charge of this pet."

If you have never had a pet of your own or the memory of your childhood pet is rather dim, give serious thought to the responsibility of pet ownership.

Finding the right kitten or puppy is the easy part, raising them can be considered like having another child.

Pets take time, patience, some training, food, toys, vet bills, love and respect.

It is not a matter of getting a pet, plopping it down on the floor and expecting it to grow into a version of Lassie or Morris the cat, without a good bit of help from you and your family.

Children and pets are a good thing, a child can learn many future social skills by having and helping care for a pet.

Before you and your family embark on the hunt for the perfect pet there are many things to consider.

As a pet lover and a mother of 6 children we have had many pets come into our lives from the normal run of cats and dogs, to chipmunks, baby squirrels, baby birds, fish, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, turtles, hamsters and many mice, each requiring their own special care.

In most cases it was our children who came home with the critters and Mom who ended up taking care of them (to my delight.)

So rule #1 is be certain that you (Mom or Dad) love pets and are willing to shoulder the responsibility of your family’s pet.

The next important thing to consider is the age of your children.

Very young children (ages 1 – 4) need to be supervised around a pet (never left alone) as they are too young to understand that pets need to be handled gently. Children of this age cannot control their aggression or anger if the pet doesn’t do what they want.

Puppies or kittens can be a poor choice for children of this age as the pet could unintentionally hurt the child or the child could hurt the pet by squeezing too hard or dropping the pet. An older animal (a year or so) would be a better choice and an animal that has been around young children is even a better choice.

Young children (5 – 11) have a better understanding regarding the handling of small pets, but still need to be supervised. Even though these children are at an age to take care of a pet, do not expect them to be completely reliable. They will need to be reminded to change the water, change the litter, feed the dog or cat and play or exercise the pet.

It is the responsibility of the parent (parents) to be the role model in giving the pet proper care. Children are mimics and learn by observation and attitude.

Most older children (teens) are poor choices for guardians of household pets. The teenage world is filled with school, sports, music, and friends. Do not expect your teen to be responsible enough to tend to the pet chores on a daily basis, a few times a week would be a major miracle.

Pets help children develop self-esteem, compassion, empathy, and they can learn some of life’s lessons regarding illness, accidents, death and how to cope with grief. They will benefit from exercise and playing with their pet, and they will also learn about love and loyalty.

In choosing a dog for your family look closely at the different breeds, some breeds are not child friendly.

Your family’s activity is also another thing to consider as there are some dogs that are great “couch potato dogs’ and some dogs require a great deal of exercise.

Time is another thing to consider, do you and your family have time and the patience to train a puppy? Puppies require a lot of time and patience. Can you handle “puppy messes,” toys all over the house and the miss-laid items that get chewed?

Sometimes older dogs (1 year or more) are a better choice. The chewing stage has passed (somewhat), housebreaking will have been taken care of and hopefully the dog will have had some obedience training.

An added plus if you pick a shelter dog is you have saved a life and as a result your family will get so much more in return.

A dog or cat can add so much to your family’s life and your child will benefit from the experience. However, there are some general ground rules every family should teach the children especially the younger ones:

  1. Younger children need to understand that they must use their “real voices,” no screaming or yelling at or around the new puppy or kitten. Older dogs depending on the breed may take the screaming or yelling as an invasion of its territory and try to defend it by biting.

  2. NEVER leave a young child alone with a puppy, kitten, dog or cat. You never know what will excite or scare a pet when a child does something unexpected. Most dog bites and serious cat injuries come from family pets that are left alone with young children.

  3. Make certain the children understand they do not disturb the cat or dog when the pet is sleeping, eating or drinking.

  4. Make certain the cat or dog has a safe place to go to get away from the children. Your pets need a “time out,” too. Make your dog’s crate a safe haven that the children, DO NOT DISTURB.

  5. Teach the younger ones not to pull tails or ears, not to hit or slap the pet, to not lay on the pet, and to not put their faces in the dog’s face.

  6. Teach the children how to pet “nicely.” It is a good idea to teach them to pet a dog under the chin as some dogs might snap if they see a hand coming down on the top of their head

  7. If a puppy or a kitten is your choice of a pet, let the younger ones only handle the pet if they are sitting on your lap or on the floor with you supervising.

  8. Do not let the younger ones walk the dog on a leash alone. You never know what will excite the dog and make it go running off, possibly dragging the child.

  9. Do not let the child chase the kitten, the puppy or the dog around the house. A frightened cat (kitten) could scratch or bite. A dog (puppy) may turn around and nip or grab onto the child’s clothes and start a bad habit.

  10. Obedience school is one of the first things you should do for your dog as soon as it is old enough. All family members should learn the basic commands. One person learns them and teaches the rest.

    However, DO NOT allow the children to run around the dog, yelling “sit, sit” or “stay, stay,” whenever the whim strikes them. The dog will get confused and the training will possibly go out the window.

    The child (children) need to learn the commands are to be used only when necessary.

  11. Teach the child (children) that the dog or cat is to be treated with respect, handled gently and is to be considered a member of the family.

If you are considering a pet for your family and you have never bee a “pet parent” you might find the following articles I have written helpful, just click on the following titles:

    Thinking of getting a cat

      A Dog to Fit Your Lifestyle
        Getting Ready
          Getting a New Puppy/Dog