Tips for Choosing a New Family Pet

Mighty Mommy has some savvy tips on choosing the right pet for your family.

Cherylyn Feierabend
4-minute read
Episode #29

I love animals. Prior to meeting my husband and having children, I had three cats and a dog. These pets were my children as far as I was concerned. All of that changed the moment I became pregnant. Now I have two children and two cats. My dog was not a child-friendly dog nor was one of my cats. I had to make the choice to find new homes for them. The cats have acclimated as well as can be expected, but now my daughter is three years old and she really wants to play with them. My cats are 15 years old and the idea of playing with a very rambunctious little kid does not appeal to them. This situation has prompted me to today’s topic. What do you do when your kid starts asking for a pet?

What to Do When Your Child Asks for a Pet?

The first thing to consider when making the decision to adopt a new pet into your home is whether or not you want to be responsible for it. Your child may promise you repeatedly that she will be responsible for the care and feeding of her new pet, but ultimately, this responsibility belongs to the adult. You may believe that your six years or older child is going to keep her word to feed and clean whatever animal you bring home for her and she might even do it for quite a while. Children have so many new things going on in their lives from day to day. There is just no way to know how long caring for a pet will keep a child’s interest. Do not bring a pet into your home unless you are ready to be responsible for its care regardless of the promises made by your child.

The next thing I believe you should think about when taking in a new pet is your current lifestyle. Does your family like to go out of town for the weekends? Are your trips pet-friendly or do you have an available pet-sitter? Some animals can be left alone for a couple of days and some need to have people around all of the time. Are you in a climate where you can leave your pet outside? Do you have the extra finances available to care for the pet appropriately? These are all very important things to consider as well as pet allergies and home maintenance. You already have children. Are you really prepared for the additional responsibility?

It may seem that I’m discouraging the idea of bringing a pet home, but that isn’t the case. I believe that all factors should definitely be considered before making this change to your household, especially when children are involved. If you have a rambunctious toddler or are currently traveling a great deal, you might decide that the time isn’t right for a new pet. If you have a couple of pre-teens who are ready to learn about caring for an animal, it might be exactly the right time. Caring for an animal can be a wonderful learning experience. Children can learn about birth, death, illnesses, responsibility and respect for other living things. Pets can provide a friendship like no other. Kids can tell their pets anything and know that their secrets are safe. When treated properly, a dog, cat, or even a pet rat can provide unconditional love and cuddles.

Things to Consider

When we think of pets we often think of dogs or cats, but there are many other options to consider, especially for first time pet owners. If your child is still a toddler or at a stage you feel is not quite mature enough to properly handle a larger animal, you might want to start with a lower maintenance pet. There are some wonderful new ant farms you can buy that will fascinate any toddler. Since the ants are enclosed and living off the materials inside the farm, you can keep them out of reach when you aren’t available to closely supervise your child. When you do bring the farm down to eye level, you have a wonderful opportunity to teach your child about the ant society. You might also consider a small aquarium. Talk to your local pet shop to find out which fish will be the most sturdy with the least amount of care. Fish are fun to watch and have a wonderfully soothing effect on people. Children will still need to be supervised around the aquarium, but even a toddler can help you feed your fish daily and begin learning about responsibility.

If you’ve decided to bring a dog or cat into the home, I’d recommend contacting a local no-kill shelter. Find out which animals are the most child-friendly. Depending on your child’s temperament and age, you may want to get a larger pet. Aggressive children may hurt small animals. Of course, if you feel your child is going to be aggressive around an animal, you should wait until your child is older. Even if your child is not normally aggressive, you will want to supervise your child around pets. The most docile child can still make an error in judgment when playing. 

Pet Rules at Home

Once you have chosen your pet and are ready to bring it home, you’ll want to go over some very specific rules with your child. 

  • Be gentle with your pet.
  • Never hit your pet. Teach your child how to stroke gently from head to tail only. Never pet your animal from tail to head.
  • Walk calmly around your pet. Do not run or move quickly as it could startle the animal.
  • Do not sit on or lie on your pet.
  • Do not bother your pet while it is eating.
  • Do not feed your pet anything other than pet food. Some human foods are bad for animals.
  • Keep all outside doors closed so that your pet cannot escape.
  • Do not pick up the animal.
  • Do not yell at your pets or put your face near your pet’s face.

These rules should be covered before the pet is brought home, but you will probably find yourself repeating them often. As an adult, it is your responsibility to ensure that these rules are enforced. Your pet will appreciate you for it. If everything goes well, your child may just have a new best friend and a new appreciation and respect for living things.
That’s it for now. Hope you enjoyed listening. I’d love to hear from you.

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