Every parent will have heard this question: “Please can I have a pony/puppy/hamster?” It might be a short-lived infatuation with a friend’s guinea pig or it could be a persistent obsession with cute puppies. But the truth is, it’s you the parent who needs to make the decision when or if you’re getting a pet and what sort of animal will suit your family’s lifestyle and time commitments.
Having a pet in the family has so many positives: a fun companion to run around with and force you outside, a loving friend to talk to and snuggle with after a bad day and a great way for children to develop empathy and nurturing skills. But however responsible and dedicated your children may be as pet owner-helpers, the fact is that daily pet care will often fall to you, the adult.
These five questions should help you decide if your family is ready for a pet.
1. Does your child seem relaxed and comfortable around animals? Are they excited by the possibility of a new family pet?
Getting a pet isn’t the cure for a fear of animals. If your child has an innate fear or has been affected by a bad experience, work on building up their confidence around animals by spending time with pets belonging to friends and family. Begin by introducing your child to calm animals, such as older dogs, rather than puppies. In time your child will be ready to experience all the joy that comes with pet ownership, so try not to force it too early.
2. What type of pet would best suit your family?
You may love the look of a particular breed of dog, but what really matters is finding a pet that’s friendly and happy around children, and suits your lifestyle, so lose all your preconceived ideas and do your homework.
If you are considering a dog as a pet, taking into account exercise levels, your lifestyle and outdoor space available is a good starting point.
A small pet can be a great starter pet for children. Some pets, including hamsters and chinchillas, are nocturnal which means that when your child wants to play, their pet is in a deep sleep and won’t appreciate being disturbed. Pets like gerbils and mice can be quick, squirmy and tricky for young children to handle without squeezing too hard. On the other hand, less popular pets like rats can actually make great pets and love social interaction with people. Even if you decide to choose a small pet, they still require research before purchasing and dedication to look after.
3. Do you have enough time to play with and exercise your fun new friend?
Different pets require different time investments to keep them healthy and happy. Dog walkers and friends may help out, but it’s simply not fair on a dog to be alone for a whole day so if you’re short on time, perhaps a dog isn’t the right pet for you. Other species of animals may be a better bet - self-reliant fish or gerbils for example. Speak to a veterinary practice to discuss the best pet to suit your family.
4. What sort of commitment is your family ready for?
If you want to develop a deep and decade-long relationship with your pet and really tune in with their personality, then a dog or cat is an ideal choice. However, if you’re hesitant about a lengthy commitment, a hamster might be better suited to your family.
5. Are you prepared for taking care of your new family member?
The smaller the animal the less of a financial outlay, although do consider the ongoing costs as even a hamster needs regular changes of sawdust bedding, food and veterinary care. The bigger your pet, the more they need to be fed. A cat, dog or rabbit will need regular vaccinations against common illnesses, flea and tick treatments and pet insurance to cover vet bills should an issue arise. It’s also worth thinking about the cost of pet care on top of your holiday costs if you’re away frequently and can’t take your pet with you.
Your family life can be enriched enormously by having a pet. Once you’ve considered these checklist points, go for it and welcome your first pet into your home - you’ll receive so much love and other great benefits for just a little care and investment.
You can find more information on how to keep your pets healthy and happy, including immunisations, at MSD Animal health.