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Pets and Children: A Pawesome Pairing

February 15, 2024

Did you know that the majority of American households have pets? Data from the American Pet Products Association shows that 70% of Americans are pet owners. This percentage has increased in recent years, rising from 56% in 1988. Pets and children make an adorable and timeless duo. Seeing pictures of our furry friends with their little human companions always warms the heart. Not only do pets bring joy to our homes, but they also provide numerous benefits for children. However, it is important to consider a few factors when it comes to kids and pets. In this article from Arapahoe Animal Hospital, your Boulder, CO animal hospital, serving Louisville and surrounding areas, a local veterinarian discusses this topic in-depth.

What Is The Best Age For A Child To Get Their First Pet?

This can be a tricky one. Since children all mature differently, there is no set age at which kids are automatically ready for pets. This is going to depend partly on both the child and the type of pet you’re getting. 

That all said, we wouldn’t recommend pets for children younger than five. At that age, kids are still developing motor skills. They’re also sometimes prone to toddler tantrums, and can still be loud and clumsy. That’s an adorable stage, but some of your little one’s antics might scare pets.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a pet if your child is in that stage: just be prepared to care for the pet yourself and supervise interactions.

What Are the Benefits of Pets for Kids?

You may be surprised at how much difference pets can make to children! Pets offer unconditional love and friendship, endless cuddles, and a constant presence of love: all of which are good for children.

They can also help teach kids about responsibility. Even small children can help care for a pet, whether it’s feeding the goldfish flakes or petting a hamster. 

A furry friend can be a great source of comfort in troubled times. Fluffy’s soothing purrs and Fido’s affectionate kisses, snoot boops, and tail wags all help make bad days better.

Did you know that children who grow up with pets are less likely to have allergies? All of that dust, fur, and dander helps strengthen their immune systems.

While more research is needed, it also seems that pets can enhance children’s cognitive skills. They’re often used in therapy for children that have been diagnosed with autism or other issues. While your child learns to read, they can also practice reading to Fido or Fluffy. Our furry friends make great listeners!

Safety Rules For Kids And Pets: 

Safety should always be the priority. The most crucial thing would of course be choosing the right pet.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure your child washes their hands thoroughly both before and after handling the pet or its belongings
  • Always supervise interactions very closely. (We can’t overstate this one.)  
  • Keep your pet’s nails trimmed down to help prevent scratches
  • If you have a small pet, have your child sit or kneel when holding or playing with them. That way, if the little furball jumps or falls, they won’t have far to go.
  • Don’t leave very young kids and pets unattended
  • Communication is also very important. Teach your child about pet’s body language. They need to learn key things, such as the fact that a wagging tail means a happy dog but may also mean an angry cat. Explain the importance of treating pets with kindness and empathy. We all want to be treated with respect and compassion. It’s never too early to start teaching these important life lessons! 

Is It True That Children With Pets Are Happier?

Pets can definitely help! It’s hard not to laugh at pets’ playful antics, for one thing. They’re also great at boosting our moods. Whether it’s watching Fido run after a toy, watching Fluffy pounce on a catnip mouse, or seeing a smaller animal have fun with a toy or treat, pets often act as live-in entertainment. 

We also find animals comforting. There’s a lot to be said for having a loyal friend who is always ready to play or snuggle. The love and affection our furry pals offer really does improve our quality of life. 

What Is The Best First Pet For A Child? 

There are quite a few things to consider when selecting the perfect pet. Many often begin with smaller furry companions, such as gerbils, hamsters, or Guinea pigs. These little balls of fur share many similarities, but also have some distinguishing qualities. Of the three, Guinea pigs stand out as the biggest, and may very well be the most affectionate. They thrive on social interaction and can even learn tricks. However, they should not be housed alone, so you’ll need to get at least two. While hamsters and gerbils are equally cute and petite, they require more delicate handling, and, while normally gentle, may nip if startled. Other options include goldfish, betta fish, and, believe it or not, green anole lizards.

Of course, we can’t forget Fido and Fluffy. Cats and dogs make wonderful companions. Fido can also be a great friend, and may even be protective of your little one. However, choosing the right dog is crucial. You’ll need to choose one that’s pretty bombproof. 

As for cats, some kitties are more tolerant than others. Fluffy may be frightened of a loud, clumsy toddler. Or, she may be more than happy to snuggle up with your little one for naps.

Be sure to ask your Boulder, CO veterinarian for advice as well. Do some research and see what works for you.

How Do I Know If My Child Is Ready For A Pet?

Is your little one showing interest in having a pet? While there are numerous advantages to having an animal companion, there are also some potential challenges to consider. 

Children often have changing interests and may quickly move on from one favorite thing to another. It is not uncommon for them to plead for a pet, but then lose interest or struggle with caring for it. 

Keep an eye out for certain indicators, such as consistent requests for a pet, which could suggest genuine desire for an animal companion. Additionally, you can gauge their level of responsibility by observing how they handle tasks like household chores and schoolwork. Do they require constant reminders? Or do they take care of things without prompting?

You should also consider your child’s age. A mature ten-year-old may be able to take care of a puppy on her own. A four-year-old? Not so much.

When you decide it’s time to take the plunge, supervise all interactions carefully. Talk to your child about kindness and empathy.

How Can A Child Help Care For A Pet?

Before adopting a pet, determine how much responsibility your child will have. This will also depend on how old your youngster is. Will they walk Fido? Will they fill Fluffy’s bowl or change her litterbox? 

Here are a few things kids can help with: 

  • Clean cages/bowls
  • Change litter
  • Feed the pet
  • Fill water dishes
  • Make DIY houses/furniture
  • Walk Dogs
  • Read to the pet
  • Name the pet
  • Play with the pet
  • Brush the pet
  • Make DIY toys
  • Help with training

You’ll find lots more ideas online. Some of these can actually make great rainy-day projects for kids. For instance, cats love box castles, which is something children can do. Ask your Boulder, CO veterinarians for more tips. 

Do you have questions about caring for a pet? Contact us here at Arapahoe Animal Hospital, your Boulder, CO animal hospital, serving Louisville and surrounding areas!