Have Kids? Just Add Pets.

For many kids, the family pet is their best friend and plays a vital role in their formative years. Many families decide to get a “pet for the kids” and then end up being disappointed when things don’t go well. Pets depend on the entire family, especially the adults, to ensure that all their needs are met. Read on for help in making the right choices for your family.

What age should my child be before I add a family pet to the mix?

Some recommend that kids be 5-6 years old, but it really depends on your child and the type and the temperament of the animal you are looking to bring into your home. Keep in mind that children can share pet care responsibilities, but ultimately it is the adults in the household who are accountable for ensuring a pet’s physical and emotional needs are being met. Any pet who does not receive proper care may develop behavior problems and present a safety risk.

Puppies and kittens might be great for some families, but remember they have a lot to learn. They are more fragile and prone to causing play-related scratches and bites, which might pose a problem with young children. An adult animal with a history of living with children of a similar age to yours may be a good fit. Shelter and rescue staff, breeders and trainers can help you select a pet that’s suited for your family.

How can I help my child take good care of pets?

Children learn by example. It’s up to you to be a responsible caregiver and to model the behavior you wish to see in your child. Get your child involved before you get your new pet. Set up and enforce rules when your new pet comes home (examples: don’t pull on tails or ears, let the pet come to you vs. approaching the pet, etc.) Include your child in the adult pet care activities by explaining what you are doing and why. Involve your child in pet training activities so effective and humane communications are learned. Set the example by responding calmly when your pet scratches the furniture or soils in the house. Use the services of veterinarians and pet trainers to strengthen family-pet bonds and resolve issues.

How do I teach my child how to behave around pets?

Whether you choose to bring a new pet home or not, it is so important for you to teach your kids, no matter their age, how to gently and respectfully behave around animals. You’ll want to cover with your child things like:

  • Not bothering pets when they are eating, playing with their toys and sleeping/resting.
  • Recognizing “leave me alone” signs like hissing, lip curling, growling and retreating.
  • Asking permission from a pet’s owner before petting the animal.
  • Avoiding running around and yelling when playing with a pet. This often causes pets to become over-excited and risks injury. Identify rewarding games like fetch or catch with your dog or cat.

There’s a lot of information available at your fingertips. Explore, do your research, and identify what works best for you. For example, Family Paws Parent Education has articles and online webinars to help with preparing your family for a canine companion. Look to your shelter, breeder, veterinarian and more for additional resources.

Kids – check out the video below to learn more about being kind to your pets.