Living with and caring for a pet as a child can be an incredible learning experience and can help a child form many positive personality traits—I know this from personal experience. When I was 13, I found a sick and crying pup on an empty lot next to our house, and nursing that puppy to health and then raising her definitely helped me foster a sense of responsibility and practice patience and compassion. Those are just some of the traits that a child can learn to develop through taking care of a pet. But not every pet is suitable for every child! There are a lot of things to consider before deciding to bring a live animal into your home. Here are some questions you can ask yourself before heading to the pet shop or animal shelter.
Do I want to be responsible for a pet?
Let us be realistic, when getting a pet for your child (particularly if they are under the age of 13), you are most likely going to be the primary caregiver. Ask yourself, am I able and willing to feed, clean up after, and supervise this animal to the extent that it needs? Even if your child helps with feeding, grooming, cleaning tanks, or other duties, it is unlikely that they will be able to do those things entirely on their own. Consider your ability to be a pet owner from the angle of wanting to be fair to both yourself and to the animal you are bringing into your home.
Can I afford a pet?
“Afford” can mean many things. Financially speaking, consider whether you can pay for vet expenses (vaccinations, spaying/neutering, emergency visits), proper housing and accessories (hutches, bowls, leashes, etc.) and appropriate food and nutrition. Think about your time as well, whether you can afford to spend the time regularly taking a dog for walks, cleaning a fish tank or, very importantly, supervising your child’s playtime with their pet. Also, consider what space in your house you can afford to use to accommodate cages, tanks, play areas, etc.
What kind of pet is right for my child’s age?
As was said earlier, not just any pet is right for just any age. Let us examine some appropriate pets for different ages:
0 – 5: Pets are not largely recommended for children around this age since they may not yet be able to tell the difference between a toy and a living, breathing animal. Improper handling could lead to the pet’s injury or death, or lead to your child getting sick or bitten. If you do want to have your child experience an animal at this age, a fish they can help feed and watch from a safe distance could be your best bet.
6 – 10: Parakeets, hamsters, reptiles (turtles, etc.) are ideal for this age range, as they are fairly low-maintenance and solitary animals. Children at this age are more understanding of the need to be gentle with animals and can also take on more care responsibilities.
11+: Most children at this age, when they are starting secondary school, are at a stage where they are beginning to understand responsibility and can take on pets that require more involved care, such as dogs, cats and rabbits. They should absolutely still be supervised when interacting with their pets though!
Would my child be a good pet owner?
The answer to this question would vary from child to child. Consider your child’s personality, likes and dislikes, and health requirements. Consider: are they the type to lose interest in a pet after a month? Would their responsibilities of care outweigh their enjoyment of the animal’s company? Do they have any allergies that an animal would aggravate? If possible, visit a friend or relative with a pet your child is interested in and let them have a sense of what living with and caring for that animal is like. Fostering a dog or cat would also allow them a “trial run” experience. If you want an experience without getting animals involved, you could talk with your child about animal care and do some research together, so they begin to understand what is involved in a life with a pet.
Growing up with a pet can be a fun, educational, and formative experience. Children can learn and develop lots of positive traits by taking care of another living thing, and those benefits are best gained by ensuring that your child wants a pet and is willing to take part in their care for the duration of the animal’s life. When it comes to dogs and cats, adopt instead of buying if you can! Shelters like the Trinidad and Tobago Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (TTSPCA) house many animals, which are ready for homes, and the staff are happy to help you find your new furry friend. Overall, when considering getting a new animal companion, doing your research and communicating with your child will make sure that you get the right pet to suit your budget, your home, and your child.