Recently a number of parents have been asking some “petticular” questions about getting their child a pet.  Well, I don’t want anyone barking up the wrong tree, so let me fetch a few tips for you on this subject.

Pets can be wonderful additions to a child’s life.  They can enhance a child’s self-esteem, teach them responsibility and social skills, and teach them to treat people and other living things with kindness and respect.  They have also been found to lower heart rate and blood pressure in some people. On the other hand pets sometimes bite, cause allergies, and may end up being your child’s first encounter with death.  Therefore, think carefully before you get one.

If your child is not asking for a pet, do not expect them to take care of a pet.  If your child is asking for a pet, do not expect them to take care of the pet.  Parents will remain the caretaker at least until a child is school age and even then your child may forget, so parents should always be ready to take over the responsibility.

As for what pet to choose, here are some thoughts:

  • While a dog can be responsive, they also require a lot of attention and care.  
  • Cats may be difficult to handle for a child and can scratch when provoked.  
  • Fish can be fun to watch but can die easily so prepare for that to happen.  
  • Hamsters and guinea pigs are cute but are usually active when your children are asleep at night.

If you choose a dog, you may find that puppies require a lot more time, patience, training, and supervision than an older dog.  If your child is under six, an older dog may be a better idea than a puppy. As to what breed, small sized dogs can be more easily injured by a child and when frightened they may tend to snap or bite to protect themselves.  Larger dogs such as Labradors and Golden Retrievers tend to do well with active children.

Your pediatrician or veterinarian can help you in deciding if and when it is the right time to bring a dog into your house.  If there is a history of allergies, consider having your child or you tested for pet allergies before a pet enters the home. 

Hopefully tips like this will have you barking up the right tree the next time you are considering getting a pet for your child. 

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM or visit the First with Kids video archives at


Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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