The Right Pet for Your Child’s Age
Thinking of adding a pet to the family? Make sure you’re bringing home an animal who is appropriate for your child’s age.
Infants cannot handle or take care of pets. So, if you already have a family pet when your child is born—or if you adopted soon after—make sure to formally introduce your infant to your pet. Supervise them as they get to know each other, gradually increasing the length of time they spend together.
Toddlers are curious and will pull at an animal’s fur, limbs and ears in an attempt to make contact through touching. Make sure that the pet you’ve adopted can handle being touched in this way. As your pet and child spend time together (always under your supervision!), take great care that your child doesn’t hurt your pet by grabbing. Also be sure that your child doesn’t grab your pet’s food and water dishes, your cat’s litterbox or its contents. If you have fish, keep small hands away from aquarium wires and out of aquariums!
At this age, your child is learning about contact and empathy. ASPCA experts recommend a guinea pig for a pet. Guinea pigs like to be held, seldom bite and will whistle when excited or happy, to the delight of most kids. Your child can also help with responsibilities by filling the water bottle and food dish.
Kids this age have inconsistent attention spans and are best off with small pets such as gerbils and goldfish. Supervise them during play sessions and while they do chores such as cleaning cages, filling water bottles and bowls, measuring food and scrubbing cage furniture and toys. This is a good time to develop good hygiene habits around pets with an emphasis on washing hands and surfaces when done handling or playing.
Kids in their early teens have a great interest in animals and a good capacity for responsibility. They are ready for pets such as dogs, cats and rabbits and can handle feeding and walking the pet, cleaning the cat’s litter and cleaning out the rabbit’s cage. Although kids in this age group can be reliable, adults should always check that pets have adequate food and water and that the cage or litterbox is clean. Kids can also participate in dog training classes, which can be an excellent learning opportunity for them.
Teens tend to be very busy, and animals will have to compete for their time and attention. Recommended pets are birds and aquarium fish. They’re old enough to take on all of the responsibilities of caring for their pet, with adult supervision and guidance. They may even spend their allowance on treats. Parents should note that dogs and cats acquired at this time will probably stay in the home when the child leaves for college.