A Guide to Getting Your Child a Pet

If you are considering adding a family pet to your home, consider your child’s age and personality and how much work your child would reasonably do to care for an animal. Most pets require some form of adult supervision, and you shouldn’t just assume your child is doing the right thing and taking proper care of it. Unless your child is older and quite responsible, you should assume that caring for and feeding a pet will be the responsibility of many members of the family.

There are pros and cons to owning almost any pet, so think carefully about how much time and money you’re willing to commit to owning an animal before purchasing one. Keep in mind that routine veterinary care should be a regular part of any pet’s life and can be expensive, especially if there is a problem. Some animals, like fish, don’t necessarily need veterinary care per se, but that doesn’t mean their requirements for survival still need to be met.

Here are some ideas for family pets to consider:

Reptiles: Do not buy a reptile for a child under the age of 16! We’re not attacking turtles, snakes, and lizards, as they make fantastic pets, but these are creatures that harbor the potential for salmonella. A young child may excitedly grab his pet turtle and then put his hands in his mouth after touching it without washing his hands. Reptiles are strictly for older teens who understand a sense of responsibility and will wash their hands after handling them to avoid life-threatening illness.

Rodents – Hamsters look cute and fluffy, and you can get them all kinds of neat housing with fun climbing tubes and a running wheel. However, what most people don’t realize is that hamsters bite hard. If you are interested in a pet that is in the rodent family, consider a gerbil instead, as they are much more docile and fairly easy to care for. Beware of a younger child holding the tiny creature too tightly, and make sure an adult is present, as you’d be surprised how easily a rodent can slip out of a child’s grasp and quickly get lost in a house, never to be found again. For a teenager, you will find that rats actually make great pets to care for and can become relatively tame. The only negative is that if your teenager is not responsible for cleaning the cage every week, the rat poop and pee can take on a foul odor that will permeate the room quickly. Keep in mind that rodents breed quickly, so buy only one unless you want the babies to overrun you quickly. Also, do not mix rodents from different litters, as they can become very aggressive towards each other.

Dog: Don’t expect a child of any age to walk, brush, or clean up after a dog or cat. It is a great responsibility that the whole family must take care of. If you’re not willing to pitch in here, opt for an easier-to-care-for pet. Do careful research on dog breeds by checking if they are compatible with your family. A Labrador is certainly an easy-to-train dog who is good with children, but are you prepared to deal with loose hair all over the house? Sure a Husky has adorable blue eyes and a goofy face, but do you have the experience to train a dog that is considered stubborn and high energy and requires a lot of exercise?

Cat – If you have a busy family that spends long hours at work or away from home, a dog may not be the best option, as they are pack animals and want to be part of the family unit. If no one is home for 8-hour periods, a dog is likely to get bored, destructive, and not think to rip up that beautiful couch. In this case, opt for a house cat who certainly doesn’t mind being left alone and taking long naps while waiting for you to come home. Keep in mind that most cats do not like to be treated roughly and are not really suitable for a home with very young children or babies. A cat will not hesitate to scratch or bite a youngster that is pulling on its tail. Shelters have a large number of kittens looking for a good home, so don’t hesitate to adopt one.

Fish – Although you can buy a fish for just a few dollars at a pet store, the hobby can be expensive when you consider the costs of a tank, filtration, heating, and other accessories that many types of fish require. Also, partial weekly water changes are necessary and can be messy if handled by a careless youngster. Don’t be swayed by the idea that those attractive African cichlids or neon tetras can live in a fish tank on the counter. Many of these fish require specific water conditions, so unless you and your child are ready to commit to a pet like this, try something else. However, if you are looking for a super easy fish to care for, nothing beats a Siamese Fighting Fish (also known as a Betta). They are brightly colored and super hardy as long as you change the water weekly, use a dechlorinator for your tap water, and feed them properly. Oh, and just keep one male in a bowl, they don’t call them fighting fish for nothing!

Birds: A lovely parakeet can be a fun pet for a child and can be relatively cheap to keep. Cages come in all sorts of price ranges to fit any budget, and seed is inexpensive. Budgies can be trained to talk and sit on your hand if you keep them young and persistently work with them. If you plan to let them out of their cage, it’s best to learn how to clip one or both wings so the bird can slide to the floor and not fly into the walls or windows and seriously injure itself. A small, delicate bird like this should not be squeezed or held by a small child because it could hurt the little creature. And you’d be surprised to note that even a bird as small as a parakeet can make a sound when it’s startled. Parrots are definitely not pets for young children, as they can be very aggressive and easily bite the finger of an unsuspecting child who pokes a curious finger into the cage. Parrots require expert handling to bond with one person in the home, and can be downright unpleasant with other members of the family. These birds are long-lived (over 80 years is not uncommon), and they can also be noisy and messy as they drop their food. Lovebirds, cockatoos, and other similar birds can also make good pets for a child with a strong sense of responsibility.

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