Micah Ryan, M.D.
For many people, pets are an integral part of the family. Pets will play with you and share in triumphs and tragedies. There are multiple opinions available from a variety of sources, but when it comes down to it, the decision to get a pet or not is based on a number of factors that will vary from family to family.
Remember: safety first.
When deciding if you want to get a pet, it is important to consider your child’s developmental stage. Children are self-centered by nature, and before the age of 3, it is difficult for them to put themselves in someone else’s shoes or think of a pet as more than a toy. It may also be hard for kids to grasp the concept of the danger of irritating an animal by pulling on it, ordering it around or neglecting to take care of it. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who are 5 or 6 may be ready to take on the responsibility of a pet.
Your family lifestyle should play a role in your pet decision. Families that don’t have a lot of time to devote to caring for an animal may want to get a low-maintenance pet that doesn’t require a lot of social interaction, or not get a pet at all.
Also consider where you live. Do you have a big, open backyard or a tight city apartment? If you choose to get a pet, it will be better behaved if it lives in an environment conducive to its physical needs.
Anticipate the duration of how long you, as the adult, will ultimately be responsible for the pet. Cats live 12-15 years, and dogs anywhere from 8-15 years. Your pet may even be around after your children go to college!
Be ready for the long haul. You should not consider taking your pet to the humane society or pawning it off to someone else as options if taking care of pets is not convenient or becomes bothersome.
The pet-owner bond is unlike any other. Studies have found that children will often turn to their pets when they’re upset, confiding in them in ways that they might not with friends or parents. This unique relationship has been correlated with reduced stress levels for pet owners.
Pets can teach children valuable life skills. Caring for an animal can teach a child both responsibility and empathy, and having someone who is so strongly dependent on them helps give animal caregivers a sense of purpose. This being said, parents should not buy their child a pet solely for the purpose of teaching responsibility. The desire and capacity for the animal-owner relationship must be present as well.
Having a pet can encourage physical health. Studies show that children who grow up with pets, have a lower chance of developing allergies than kids who grow up without pets. Additionally, many pets encourage a more active lifestyle due to their natural playfulness and need to exercise.
Pets require extra spending. When you first buy a pet, you have the initial cost for the animal, as well as the first-time essentials such as a cage, a collar, etc. Your pet will also require continued food and medical costs. City pet licensing is another anticipated fee for many pets.
Depending on your child’s maturity level, pets can add to parental responsibilities. If your child is not able to take full responsibility for the pet, you may find yourself with one more member of the family to feed, maintain, clean up after and entertain.
You need to be sensitive to people’s pet allergies. Many people are allergic to pets. This is something you’ll have to keep in mind when hosting company, offering to drive the carpool or even putting on your favorite sweater (a.k.a. your cat’s favorite nap blanket).