When you kids ask for pets - do you quake in fear? Or do you step back and woonder whether it might be a good thing? If you can afford it, then think about it - pets can be a great addition to your family, and teach the kids some great lessons.

It’s a moment we will probably all experience as parents, the day when our children suddenly decide they want a puppy, a cat, a gerbil, a goldfish, or perhaps, if we are lucky, a low maintenance stick insect ;-). I have heard of some more exotic requests, you know, like a lion cub. It is probably best not to go there though….. *run for the hills* But for those of us not used to having animals, are pets for kids really such a bad idea? And what do we do when we get asked that question?

I’d advise taking a deep breath, keeping calm and doing some homework.

First of all, it may just be a passing phase. Some pets are bought in haste, only to be abandoned a short time later when the owners realise they made a huge mistake, or their child loses interest. Remember, a pet is for life. So it is always wise to take your time over the decision; pets become part of the family, so it is worth making sure that they are really wanted, and will be looked after properly.

What can pets for the kids being to your home?

The right pet can be a blessing, and a much treasured family member, providing unconditional love and companionship. Your children learn to be responsible and care for other living beings. They also gain confidence and skills. For instance, they can share the responsibilities of animal care. Caring for a dog involves feeding, grooming and teeth cleaning. Younger children may help with grooming bathing and feeding, whilst older children share the role of dog walking, cleaning up and all other duties. Other pets, though sometimes not as demanding as a dog, still require care and attention. From feeding the fish, to handling the rats, and de-fleaing the cats. With a pet comes responsibility, which is no bad thing at all.

Some family homes are bursting at the seams with people and pets; so do decide if you are happy to stop at one, or you want to have the flexibility to get more. We have two cats, and they’re great to have around. Cats come and go, but they’re also friendly, sociable and ours enjoy being cuddled, but not squished – so we do need to remember to watch out for younger children who often don’t realise they’re being a little rough.

How do you decide which pet is right for your family?

Can you afford the pet you want? Cost is the first consideration because this is one of the main reasons why pets are later abandoned. After that, how much input and time can you devote? For larger animals such as dogs, they need a lot of care with daily grooming and walks. These are the sort of jobs that might begin to invite a chorus of groans at home, so be prepared to keep a lid on stress. If a holiday is on the horizon, there will be kennel fees to pay too.

On a smaller scale, many younger children hanker for gerbils or guinea pigs. These small furry animals are non-aggressive and far easier to care for. The costs associated in caring for small pets are generally less than for dogs too.

Remember that while your child has promised you faithfully that he or she will take care of the pet, we, as parents remain responsible. If you’re not prepared to step up to the plate, forget it. And believe me, you may very well have to take over. As parents we’re the supervisors – well, someone has to do it *it is a tough job*

Pets for kids ARE for Life

Animal experts recommend that for first time pet owners with young children, they begin with small animals. In general, they’re easier to care for and cost less to keep. Mistakes can be messy and the last thing you want to do is take on an animal that turns out to be too much and has to be re-homed. Your children may well be upset and you wouldn’t want them to blame you.

Check out the animal shelters near you

If you decide that you’d like a dog, it’s worthwhile checking with animal shelters to see if they have any for re-homing. Often you find young, healthy animals with a good temperament. If you buy a puppy, try to find a reputable breeder. In the UK, the Kennel Club is useful for finding breeders and you’ll find organisations for other breeds, such as the Labrador Society from a quick internet search.

Our cats are from Woodgreen Animal Shelter. When we got them, they give wonderful advice to us as first time pet owners. Both before we took the cats home, and even afterwards too. They never put a healthy animal down either, so have always got a good range of ages, types, personalities and breeds of animal in every shape or size.

The other consideration with dogs is breed. Certain breeds are known for being child friendly. Whilst that’s true, it’s also best to never leave babies and children alone with dogs.

Pets mean responsibility, but the benefits of pet ownership can be worth the effort depending on your family circumstances. Children often regard their pets as their friends, who bring them comfort and joy.

Both my kids always comment on how our cats, Donkey and Shrek *cough*, come and see them when they are crying. They are adamant it is to comfort them, and just believing that, whether it is true or not, has tried many a teary eye in our house.

Pets have brought children out of their shells, and have been of great benefit to those with disabilities. Animals are often so trusting that they can help our children to build confidence.

So, if you’re stressing about whether to buy a pet or not, give it some careful thought and talk it through with the children, warts and all. And just remember to breathe.. . . . 

Photo credit: artur84 / freedigitalphotos.net