Mommy, can I get a pet?

Laura Castle

It’s almost an inevitable question. At some point between when training wheels come off and dating begins, your kids will plead to get a pet.

As you weigh the pros and cons, keep in mind that a child’s age is among the most important factors to consider, Dr. Tom Staudacher says.

“I think that it really depends on the child themselves, but when they reach an age where they can actively take a little responsibility for a pet and understand its needs, then it can be a good learning tool ... while they are getting enjoyment out of the pet,” he says.

If you decide to get a pet, then a bigger question awaits. What kind?

You’ll need to strike a balance between what your child wants and what would fit well into the household.

“Deciding on which pet to get truly falls in line with how much time the pet will require,” Staudacher says.

When the pet arrives, changes in the household routine are inevitable as you accommodate the animal’s needs. Changes in your child are likely, as well.

Typically, the traditional choices of dogs and cats don’t make good first pets. That’s because parents tend to serve as the primary caregivers, taking away the lesson in responsibility. Also, for dogs, it’s difficult to get younger kids involved in the walking and training.

Consider a rabbit, fish, hamster or bird as an alternative for your family’s first pet.

BREAKOUT

Bird

Personalities, colors, shapes and sizes can vary widely. That makes for a nice selection to choose from, but also more legwork on the front end to ensure a good match. Some birds can serve as a talking companion.

Rabbit

It’s a little more hands-on than a fish or hamster, Dr. Tom Staudacher says, and it’s a step higher in responsibility. Besides daily feedings and care basics, a rabbit requires more attention. Overall, however, it may be a good challenge for your child.

Fish

Perhaps the best first pet is a goldfish, Dr. Tom Staudacher says. Supplies for freshwater fish are inexpensive, and maintenance is simple. A goldfish isn’t an enormous amount of responsibility, but it’s enough to teach the basics of animal care. 

Hamster

Both affordable and furry, it’s an ideal choice for families seeking a pet that’s easy to maintain. The nocturnal hamster can be preoccupied with toys like a spinning wheel, therefore not requiring hours of your attention.

SIDEBAR

Fall pet-care checklist

Visit the vet Update your pet’s health records. Regular checkups can help minimize the risk of disease.

Watch the diet Temptation’s all around with fall holidays like Halloween. Keep sweets out of a pet’s reach, and limit feeding table scraps.

Maintain the exercise It’s important to make exercise a priority. Invest in a few play toys, or concoct a game you can play with your pet in the basement or garage.