Family-Friendly Pets: Age Appropriate Animal Ownership

By Martha Michael >>>

Remember when you brought your baby home from the hospital for the first time? You were careful when you picked her up gingerly and cuddled with her, careful to see to her every need.

Pets are the same way. They need the care and tenderness human babies need – someone to feed them, clean up after them and train them.

We would never hire a 5-year-old to babysit, so why is it – when it comes to pets – we encourage babies to take care of babies?

A kitten for Katie, a puppy for Parker. The only thing cuter than photos of animals are photos of animals in the arms of children.

What could seem more natural?

Far from it. Not all animals are kid-friendly.

Cats

Many a little girl or boy will beg for a kitten, and often families will choose one as a first pet. It’s not a bad idea, but there are caveats – first, not to make a child under six years of age responsible for a kitten.

Getting a painful scratch is a common problem, considering kittens are unable to retract their claws until about seven weeks old, according to PetPlace.com. Aside from the obvious, it adds another setback to pet ownership, because the child becomes afraid and may refuse to consider a future relationship with a cat. Also, kittens or cats should be adopted in pairs, say rescue groups. It’s good for the felines themselves – social interaction, exercise and mental stimulation. But additionally, owners have the advantage of less destruction in the house, including rips on furniture or general annoyance, such as cats who wake them up in the middle of the night to play. They also clean each other, sometimes grooming each other’s ears and coat better than they can do for themselves.

Dogs

Many families are set on finding a canine companion for the kids. If so, there are features you want to be aware of, according to PetMD:

Temperament
Size
Energy level

Perhaps even more important, you have to be sure it’s a good match for your individual family members.

If it’s a breed that requires extra veterinary care, can you fit that into your budget? If a dog has long fur, you must be aware there are additional grooming costs, and house cleaning is a more difficult chore.

In determining the age of dog that is appropriate for your children, be aware that puppies require a tremendous amount of care. It is almost like having a baby of your own. If you hope to adopt an older dog, be sure his personality complements your family’s lifestyle. Do you want a dog to bring on camping trips? Or are you a mellow family looking for a kick-back canine to just hang out?

Be sure the new dog gets along with your other pets also. Fighting dogs or angry cats are a real chore to handle.

There are best breeds for your situation as well, and PetMD has suggestions. Bull dogs tend to be affectionate and very loyal. They play hard – rough and tumble types, says the site. Newfoundlands are called “nature’s babysitter.” They are gentle and extremely intelligent. Also, several types of collies are good for families, because they are friendly and predictable. Many suggest this breed for families who have little experience with dogs.

“A dog is great for families who have a lot of time,” says Victoria Rubay, a veterinary technology student who works at K9 Loft in Pasadena. “Puppies and dogs require a lot of work. It’s like having a toddler all over again. They eat, play, poop, and sleep. They get on a feeding schedule and if you are out running errands you could find your couch or other things you left around the house chewed up. It is best to be around as much as possible with a dog.”
Your lifestyle has a lot to do with it for other pets also, Rubay says.

“If you are thinking of getting a pet and you and your child are busy, start off small,” she says. “Start with a hamster. They are low maintenance and you can leave them for a long time if you need to run errands. They are enough maintenance to learn responsibility, like cleaning the cage, feeding them, giving treats and buying accessories for the hamster. A cat would be ideal for a household with moderately busy activity. It is ideal to clean a litter box daily. It is also better to feed them meals versus getting a free feeder. It helps better manage the weight of the cat and portion control.”

Alternative Pets

Pot-bellied pigs became more commonplace in the last decade, because celebrities like George Clooney made them popular. There are some tremendous advantages to pigs as pets. They are actually clean and don’t tend to smell, unlike their reputation. Also, you won’t find the destruction of your yard and property you may find with a dog. They tend to live up to 20 years, which is longer than traditional pets. What you have to keep in mind is that they can get very, very large.

Rabbits are another dream pet for a lot of boys and girls. But they are extremely fragile and if they are picked up incorrectly they can kick out their back legs and break their backs. Children want a pet they can pick up, and bunnies are not fond of being held. Despite the fact a caged animal seems low-maintenance, rabbits need to get out and run around for at least five hours a day, says the House Rabbit Society. And you have to be sure they have hay, which is essential to a rabbit’s diet, according to the site. They need the roughage to deter the formation of hairballs and blockages.

There are pets without the furry features, but may be good starter animals for kids. A fish takes a minimum level of responsibility, especially if mom or dad cleans the water. If you have the yard space, chickens are another possibility. Kids can hold them, plus they get a farm experience collecting eggs. A lot of reptiles are available, but a good one is the tortoise. They are active and they can take extreme temperatures. Note to parents: They can live 50 years or more.

“Both age and parents factor into getting a pet,” Rubay says. “If you have a baby or toddler and want to get a pet, it might not be the best idea quite yet. The best age to have a pet is between 5-10 years of age. Working at a daycare for dogs, I see 5-year-olds who are gentle with their dogs, because they were taught to be. But children younger than 5 seem to not be as aware that their animal is a living thing and not a toy.”

Sure, a pet is a cute addition to the family. And it may appease your kids’ begging, while teaching them responsibility. Just be a wise old owl and make sure it’s the right time. You may need to spend a few more years letting your kids be the cutest ones in the house.