Before adopting or purchasing any pet, talk to all family members, discuss expectations and responsibilities, and take a realistic look at your family’s lifestyle. Ask yourselves these key questions before leaping into pet ownership:
- How much care will the pet require?
- What role will each family member play in the pet’s care? Who will feed the pet, groom and bathe it, clean its living space, and walk it, if need be?
- What kind of medical care will the pet need?
- How big will the pet grow to be?
- Do you have enough space in your home for the pet to live and exercise? If you’re thinking about getting a dog, do you have a yard, preferably a fenced one? (Cats, birds, rabbits, and other small animals can generally adapt to any space, but dogs need lots of room to run and jump.)
- Do you have another pet? How do you think it will get along with a new pet?
- Who will care for the pet when you’re away? (e.g., what will you do with the pet if you work long hours and the kids stay after school for soccer practice? What if your family travels a lot?)
- Does anyone in your family have a history of allergies or asthma? If so, talk to your doctor about the possibility of pet allergy tests to see whether anyone might be allergic to certain animals. Or consider a hypoallergenic pet who is less likely to trigger allergic symptoms.
If your kids have asked for a pet, forget about the extra work, says Dr. Hugh Wirth, author of Living with Cats and Living with Dogs, and consider the benefits of what a pet can teach your kids instead. “The greatest lesson from pet keeping is that animals are much like us,” he says. “They respond to our care, require food, water and shelter and also need regular grooming and clean living conditions.” He adds that a pet can help children develop emotions such as caring and empathy. “A pet needs gentle handling, as an animal can feel pain as we do, and acts adversely to those who accidentally or knowingly inflict pain – biting, kicking or crying.”
1. Small dogs make a good first pet
While many dog lovers and vets advise buying a Labrador as a family pet, Dr. Wirth advises choosing a smaller breed for your first dog. “Labradors and golden retrievers have a big reputation as the number one dogs for families with young children because they have a reliable temperament. Nonetheless, they’re big dogs and aren’t easy for children to learn handling techniques or grooming,” he advises. “For the first ‘learning dog’ I would go for one of the crossbred types like a fluffy Maltese or shih-tzu.” He adds that a breed of terrier would also suit a family with children over the age of five.
Ideal for: Children who develop strong bonds. The animal-human relationship is particularly intense with canines. Think “man’s best friend.”
2. Cats are great for small spaces
While many families might not have the space for a dog, Dr. Wirth says a feline friend is a great second option, particularly for apartment dwellers. He adds that they’re also low-maintenance animals – meaning less work for mum and dad. “Cats make excellent pets,” he says. “They’re self-sufficient, clean and highly adaptable to living conditions”. Dr. Wirth also advises choosing a kitten over a fully grown cat for small kids to bond with and choosing a basic shorthair cat rather than a shorter-lived pure breed.
Ideal for: Kids who are nurturing but who won’t mind being ignored by a pet that’s often aloof. Though cats are beloved by both genders, they tend to be especially popular with girls.
3. Rabbits should be treated with care
Rabbits aren’t as robust as cats or dogs and are therefore better suited to older children. “Rabbits make great first pets but they certainly are not as tough as a cat or dog,” says Dr Wirth. “They’re easily damaged by rough handling, so always choose a small breed for young children, so they don’t accidentally drop them.” He adds that, while many parents think rabbits require little work, hutch cleaning is a constant job. “They must be confined to a hutch at night and in inclement weather, so there has to be a commitment to clean the hutch daily.”
Ideal for: Families with kids old enough to handle them gently.
4. Guinea pigs are great for younger kids
If you’re unsure whether your little one can handle a rabbit, go for a guinea pig or other pocket pet instead. “Guinea pigs are very hardy pocket pets and are much easier to handle than rabbits,” reveals Dr Wirth. “They need to be kept in a hutch and can be kept together with rabbits.”
Ideal for: Families who want a pet but aren’t ready for a cat or dog.
5. Go for a goldfish rather than tropical fish
While fish are pretty to look at, and often fascinate pre-schoolers, the easiest fish to care for are the ones that live in cold water. “Fish are also good starter pets, but the coldwater varieties of goldfish are easier to maintain than tropical breeds,” advises Dr Wirth, adding that filtering and cleaning the water regularly is an on-going task. He adds that while kids will love to feed their fish, be careful to teach them that too many flakes will harm their pet. “Overfeeding causes pollution of the water,” he confirms.
Ideal for: Kids who are brand-new to pet ownership. A popular “starter pet,” the hardy goldfish can live up to several years in cold water with no heater or filter.
6. Ferrets make fine pets
This one might make you squirm, but Dr Wirth says that a ferret is a great for older children, making nests in piles of socks, and loving sleeping on a warm lap. “Ferrets are also good pocket pets, although mums often don’t like them, along with rats or mice. Their only problem is that they are great escapologists.”
Ideal for: Homes with older children. Ferrets require lots of time and attention and interaction with their human to be happy and healthy.
Information from kidspot.com