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Pets and Children

Having a pet can be good for your child’s mental and physical health. However, you need to think about what owning a pet will mean to your family. It is important that you chose the right kind of pet, and that you have realistic expectations of your child, yourself, and the pet. Even if you think your child is old enough to care for a pet, you must oversee the pet’s care and be responsible for the animal.

What are the benefits?

Pets offer friendship, unconditional love, and fun. Pets can comfort your child with touch and be a way to start conversations with other people. They can help your child deal with stress, and feel safer and more secure.

Helping care for a pet can help teach your child responsibility. Depending on your child's age, you can assign tasks to help care for the animal.

Having a pet can help your child learn to care for others. Taking care of a pet may make your child more aware that other people and animals have needs, and that he can help.

There may be health benefits from owning a pet. Walking or playing with a dog are great ways for both the dog and your child to get exercise. Pets can help your child get away from the computer and the TV and move around. Pets can help children learn about health. Going to veterinarian appointments can help teach preventive care and how to treat illness or injuries.

Reading about the kind of pet they have or attending training classes for the pet can help children improve learning skills.

What are the drawbacks?

There are many costs when you own a pet. Plan for the costs of shots, vet bills, neutering or spaying, food, household cleaning or repairs, and pet care when you are away from home.

It is also important to think about how much care the pet will need. For example, some dogs need a lot of walks and play, while others don’t. Many cats are used to staying indoors, while others like to roam. If your child forgets or doesn’t want to do the care tasks, you are the one who will need to make sure the pet is taken care of. Make sure you have the space you need for the pet you choose. If you rent, check your rental policy to see if you are allowed to have pets.

Make sure that all family members agree to having a pet. Also, make sure that no one is allergic to the pet. If your child takes drugs that suppress the immune system, he needs to be careful around pets to avoid injuries. If someone in your family is allergic to dogs or cats, you may find that they are not allergic to animals like hamsters or birds.

Some children are very shy and afraid of some animals. Other children have no fear of animals and can be at risk for bites and other problems. If you are thinking of getting a pet, make sure that your child knows the right ways to treat animals. Read books or visit shelters to give children some practice being around the kind of animal you are considering before you bring one into your home.

Besides providing love, joy, and comfort to a child, pets can also mean fleas, chewing on household items or favorite toys, and noise. It is best to be prepared for these things.

Think about how your child will feel if a pet is ill or injured, or may need to be put to sleep.

How can I help my child be a good pet owner?

Think about the kind of animal that will be right for your child. Puppies or kittens will need to be trained, which will take time and patience. An older animal that is already trained may be a better choice for your family. A pet like a goldfish can be a good way to teach your child about taking care of a pet. If your child is under 5 years of age, it’s best to avoid turtles, snakes, lizards, rats, hamsters, ferrets, and baby chicks and ducklings as pets. These kinds of pets may carry germs that can cause severe diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps in children.

It's best to bring a new pet into your home when your family has the time to adjust, such as when you have vacation time at home. As cute as a puppy from Santa sounds, the holidays can be stressful both for the pet adjusting to a new home, and for your family, who will be too busy to give the pet the attention it needs.

Before bringing home a pet, talk with your child about the kind of care the animal will need. Make a list of chores that need to be done for the pet’s care. Make sure your child knows what to do and when to do it.

Children learn the right ways to treat an animal by watching the way that you treat the animal. Show your child the best way to gently pet an animal. Always supervise toddlers and preschool children around all animals. Young children can’t always control their impulses. Hitting, pulling ears, or even hugging a pet too hard, can hurt the pet and be dangerous to your child. Remind your child and his friends how to act around pets, such as not to wrestle, hit, poke, scare, chase, or pull on ears or tails. Never allow your child to mistreat or abuse an animal. If your child is very aggressive toward a pet, seek professional help for your child and find the animal a new home.

Teach your child to recognize when animals are upset. For example, when dogs show their teeth or pin their ears back or when cats’ hair starts standing on end, it’s best to leave the animal alone.

Always make sure that your child washes his hands after touching or playing with a pet.

Clean and disinfect the area where the pet goes to the bathroom. Make sure this area is away from where children play. Also, keep feeding areas away from small children. The food can be a choking hazard to small children. In addition, the animal may not react well to having someone near their food. Do not allow your child to disturb an animal when it's sleeping or eating. Pets need "down time" just like children do.

Good veterinary care is important. Get shots and medicines to prevent infections and parasites as recommended for the pet. It is best to spay or neuter your pets. Spaying and neutering helps dogs and cats live longer, healthier lives. They are also less likely to bite, run away, or get into fights.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-09-29
Last reviewed: 2014-09-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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