27/11/2014 09:19 GMT | Updated 26/01/2015 05:59 GMT

Children and Pets

I think we often underestimate the benefits that pets can bring to children. I often reflect about how my two boys benefitted immensely from our lovely cat Charlie - sadly no longer with us. He was an elderly stray cat we adopted and he showed them how you had to be tolerant and respect a pet's needs. In return Charlie offered devotion and a listening ear when life was 'unfair'.

So what are the benefits of children growing up with pets? There have been many studies about this. For example, a child with a pet at home takes less time off sick as well as having more involvement in activities such as sports, hobbies, clubs or chores. Pets can also help children understand nurturing. For some, pets increase opportunities to meet people, while others can be alone without feeling lonely.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg as the benefits cut across so many aspects of a child's emotional and physical development.

However, pets do need to be looked after in the correct way - it's a two way relationship. Although the owner who bears the legal responsibility is over 16, a child who pleads to have a pet needs to know that they'll have to do their fair share of messy tasks - depending on their age.

Perhaps they could help groom a pet - reinforcing the message of good hand hygiene and how to be gentle. Or they could take their dog out for a walk? Perhaps they could help clean out their rabbit's home?

And that's the key point - letting children know that having a pet is great but it's a responsibility too. Pets are not toys that can be ignored when you feel like it: we have to think about them and do the right things every day to keep them healthy and happy.

So how do we ensure that children know how to look after pets in the correct way? Well before even deciding to get one you need to gather information about pet care from websites like our own - Find out everything that's required before you take the plunge. Getting a pet on a whim can be a disaster, so be sure you can provide pets with everything they need.

There's also the wider concept of helping children of all ages understand pet care and their responsibility. But how does PDSA do that?

I was at a great function the other week - celebrating those lucky ones who'd won through the People's Postcode Lottery. Players of this lottery provide funding to various charities and PDSA is one of the grateful recipients. Their funding is helping us to reach over 50,000 children through our workshops and by developing pet care information to support what the children learnt from these sessions.

Today's children are of course tomorrow's pet owners. And its vital that they grow up understanding the benefits and duties of pet ownership. They need to know that pets are lovely but we need to look after them - that way responsible pet care should become second nature to owners of the future.