We all know that getting a pet is actually a big commitment, Emily reviews the key factors you might want to consider if this is on your children's wish list.
There are many reasons to get a pet - they can offer companionship, teach life skills, and encourage social-emotional development. But it is important to be ready and prepared for whatever species you plump for, as they all come with their own daily demands as well as long-term responsibilities, commitments and costs.
So here are some key facts to consider when weighing up whether the benefits of pet ownership outweigh the downsides for you and your family?
Are You Ready for a Family Pet?
Many animals can live 15 to 20 years, so it's important to make this commitment carefully. Here are some things to think about:
- Consider your child's age and developmental level. Is your child comfortable around animals? Are they mature enough to be gentle with a fragile pet?
- Children can help with their pet's care and may well say they want to, but a look at their willingness to do current chores is a good barometer of how successful this will be.
- How much time can you realistically devote to raising a pet? Parents need to be prepared to shoulder a good portion of the responsibility.
- What benefits of owning a pet are you hoping to gain? For example, fish make fairly low-maintenance pets, but they're not going to provide friendship or comfort in the way that a dog or cat would.
- Do allergies run in your family? If so, it's a good idea to expose your child to a friend's pets before you get one yourself. The last thing you want to do is fall in love with a cat only to discover that your child is severely allergic to it. Also consider your wider circle of family and friends - if they have a lot of allergies - it may put them off coming round.
- What kind or breed of pet works for your family's style? How will a pet fit into your family schedule? If you're thinking about a cat or dog, do some careful research to find a breed that will be suitable for your family's lifestyle.
- How will you find your family pet? Adopting a dog or cat from a shelter can be a good option, but be sure the animal has had a behavioural screening to ensure it's suitable to be around children.
- Consider your cover options - who will look after (walk) your pet when you are away on holiday or out at work - this is especially relevant for dogs and cats. Hampsters and other caged pets are more mobile if you're frequently away.
- Do factor in the life-time costs of a pet, from food and cages or toys to vets' fees, holiday care and insurance - these will vary significantly depending on the type of pet you choose, but it all adds up.
Not Ready Yet or Just Not for you?
It's important to recognise that pet ownership isn't desired or practical for everyone and that, of course, is totally fine.
Children and families who might not be ready for or want a pet can gain many of the same benefits of having a dog, cat, or other animal by playing with a friend's pet, visiting animal shelters or borrowing one using the various dog-sharing websites which now exist like borrowmydoggy.