When choosing a family pet, it is wise to take into consideration your child’s abilities and level of understanding in caring of your family pet. The ASPCA offers some advice on choosing an age appropriate pet for your child as well as pointers on creating a positive relationship between your pet and your child.
Infants- If you already have a pet or if you acquire one while your child is an infant, be sure to closely monitor the time spent between your pet and baby. They need time to spend short amounts of time together in order to get adjusted to each other. The amount of time they are together can be increased over time, as they become more comfortable with each other. Before bringing a new baby home to your pet, some suggest leaving one of the baby’s blankets with the pet, so they can become familiar with the new smell.
Toddlers, Age 1-3- Most toddlers will grab and pull on the ears, fur, legs and tail of your pet. When adopting a new pet, keep this in mind and select a pet that has a high tolerance for this kind of interaction. If adopting an older pet, be sure to choose one with a history of living with children. Also, remember that your toddler will naturally be curious about the food dishes, water bowls, litter boxes, and fish tank equipment. Keeping these things out of reach will allow for a safer environment for your pet and child.
Young Children, Age 3-5– Your young child may be interested in helping to care for your pet and is learning to develop empathy. If you already have a pet, allowing your young child to assist you with feeding, brushing, and cleaning the pet will further develop these skills as well as strengthen the bond between your child and pet. When considering a pet for your young child, ASPCA suggests you consider a guinea pig for your family pet. They generally don’t bite, they love to be held, and they typically squeal or whistle when they are happy, which can be quite amusing for a young child.
Children Age 5-10– Children at this age are very interested in caring for their pets, with a parent’s supervision. As they assist in feeding, cleaning, and grooming chores, parents are encouraged to reinforce good hygiene for both the pets and themselves. When choosing a pet for a child at this age, the ASPCA recommends small pets such as gerbils or fish, as children this age tend to have “inconsistent attention spans.”
Pre-Teen Age 10-13– Preteen youths are often times very engaged in caring for their pets and are fully capable of doing so. At this age, a pre-teen is usually ready to care for a pet which requires a significant amount of care and attention such as: a dog, cat, rabbit, etc. Parental supervision is encouraged to ensure pets are not neglected. When choosing a pet for your child at this age, consider your child’s lifestyle and interests. Active pre-teens should be paired with active pets, such as a playful puppy. Children who are looking for a pet to love, groom, pet, etc. would be better paired with an older dog or cat that is friendly with children.
Teens Age 13-17– Your teen may love pets and be responsible enough to care for a pet on their own. At this age, one thing to keep in mind is that your teen may have a very busy lifestyle, with little time to care for a pet. Also, when selecting a teen’s pet, consider the expected life-span of that pet, and plans for that pet’s care when your teen leaves the home for college. Some pets such as: lizards and fish may be the perfect pet for your teen and their busy, on-the-go lifestyle.
By understanding how to create a positive relationship between your children and pets, you will allow for a happier, safer home for your entire family.
For more information on this topic and many others, please visit the ASPCA website at: www.aspca.org