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Selecting the Right Pet for Your Family

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Animals are wonderful additions to a home. Pets can teach kids about responsibility, encourage exercise, and provide companionship. Even small animals such as fish, hamsters, birds, and reptiles are interesting and fun. And small pets may provide more learning opportunities as their care is specialized. Caring for a pet can increase a child’s independence, self-esteem, and sense of responsibility.

Before getting a pet, remember that caring for a pet is a lifelong commitment. Don’t surprise a family member with a pet. Have a family meeting. Discuss the option of getting a pet. Talk about different pets. Maybe you don’t have a yard, and a dog isn’t a great option. Or maybe someone in the family is allergic to dander, and a lizard is a wonderful choice. Agree to which pet you’d like to get.

Discuss caring for the pet. Will siblings divide up caretaking responsibilities? Research the animal. If you’ve decided to get a dog, what breed would be a good fit for your home and family? If you want a smaller pet, where will you keep it? Do you have the money to take care of a pet? Discussing the options and doing research is half the fun! Below, you’ll find some common questions that pop up when deciding to get a pet.

Is my child too young for a pet? You know your child best. Many experts agree children should be at least six before considering a pet. For the animal’s well-being, make sure that your child understands the concept of “gentle” and will listen if you need to intervene and take over pet handling. Sometimes kids are accidentally too rough with animals, especially smaller pets. Be ready to supervise handling and caretaking if you have a young child. Observe your child’s behavior around other families’ pets. This could give you a clue as to her readiness.

What type of pet can we afford? When deciding on a pet, you need to consider all care requirements such as food, housing, grooming, and vet visits. Some animals such as reptiles, birds, and amphibians require specialized care that can be more expensive and harder to find. Also, the costs of enclosures, lighting, and special foods can get expensive, so make sure you can afford everything you need to keep your pet healthy.

Is a young animal a better option for a pet than an older one? Young animals may be a better fit for a family with older children, as they take more care and training. Puppies and kittens need potty training. They are also more likely to bite and scratch than older dogs and cats. Also, baby animals are more fragile, and young children can accidentally injure them. If you are intending to get a dog or a cat, check local shelters. Many shelter animals are potty trained and comfortable around kids. That might be an ideal fit! You can also find small animals at shelters, too, such as birds, rabbits, and rodents.

Should we get a pet if we like to travel? Consider how much you like to travel and how long you are away. If you don’t have family or friends to care for your pet, sitters can be costly. In addition, small animals may need more specialized care. Do you have a care option for travel times? This is an important consideration. Fish are fairly easy to leave, but dogs and cats can’t be left. Consider this when picking your pet!

Can I sneak a pet without telling my landlord? Even small pets can get you in trouble if there is a "no pet” rule. It’s better not to get a pet than risk losing housing or paying a fine and re-homing your pet. This isn’t a fair decision for the animal. The best choice is to wait until you have a pet-friendly housing option. Also, some communities have restrictions on the size or type of pets allowed. Some states also have pet restrictions. Do your homework on this one, so neither you nor your pet will suffer!

How will my kids learn pet caretaking? You are the best teacher. If you are terrified of snakes, don’t get a pet snake. Not only do you need to demonstrate how to care for and handle the pet, but you will be caretaking that pet part-time whether or not you want to! Have realistic expectations regarding pet care. Sometimes you have to get down and dirty when cleaning cages or litter boxes. Show your kids that it’s not a big deal, and discuss these aspects of pet care before getting the pet. Set up a system for care that is easy to track and understand. Use one of our pet care charts to create responsibility and accountability. We also have family chore charts which may work as well.

Pets can provide so many positive experiences and learning opportunities. If you do your research and approach getting a pet responsibly, you’ll be ready for a wonderful new addition to the family!