Recently a number of parents have been asking some “pet-ticular” questions about getting their child a pet. I don’t want anyone barking up the wrong tree, so let me fetch some tips for you on this subject.
As a devoted pet owner myself, I believe pets can be wonderful additions to a child’s life. They can improve a child’s self-esteem and teach responsibility and social skills. Pets can also remind people to treat people and other living things with kindness and respect.
Research finds that pets lower heart rate and blood pressure in some people. Pets can also be expensive, cause allergies and bites, and may end up being your child’s first encounter with death. Therefore, please think before you adopt a pet.
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, still do not expect them to take care of the pet. Well, at least all the time. Parents, you will remain the caretaker at least until a child is school age. Even then, your child may forget their daily duties in caring for the pet. Parents should always be ready to take over those responsibilities.
As to what pet to choose: 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.
As for dogs, you may find that puppies require 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.
What breed is best? A child can more easily injure a small dog. 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. But they’re not alone: there are dogs of all species who can and will do well with children.
Your child’s health care professional or veterinarian can help you in deciding if and when is the right time to bring a pet into the house. They can offer suggestions as well on the best type of pet to fit your family’s needs. If there is a history of allergies, consider having your child tested before a pet enters the home.
Hopefully, tips like these will have you barking up the right tree when considering getting a pet for your child.
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. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.