For those of us with both pets and children in the same household, it can be utterly joyful to watch their interactions. Many people wonder what pet is most compatible with a family with children, and there are a number of factors to consider.
Many people considers small pets, like rats, guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits, to be good “starter pets” for children. They are usually more convenient, as they take up less space and require a little less attention than a larger animal. Guinea pigs and rabbits can live out in the garden, and rodents can live in tanks and cages which don’t take up a huge amount of space in the house.
However, small pets are usually less resilient to rough handling and many species are nocturnal, making them less engaging for young owners. As most of these pets are prey animals they may not be tolerant of being handled at all, depending on their individual temperament.
While you may wish to give a child a small pet to teach them responsibility, the PDSA have claimed that one of the top-three concerns for rabbits are being forgotten about by disinterested owners. Neglect is a serious concern, especially if a child is left with full responsibility for the pet. It’s always best to supervise a child thoroughly when they take ownership of an animal.
As children age their hobbies and passions can change wildly, so it’s impossible to know for sure that a young person’s interest will continue for the pet’s lifetime. This may mean that you, as the parent, will have to take on full responsibility for this pet or else they may suffer from neglect. In many cases the pet will eventually end up in a shelter, or worse.
Families with a busy lifestyle will often tend towards cats, as they are independent spirits who do not require as much interaction or maintenance as some other species. You can include the child, or children, in basic tasks like feeding, keeping water bowls topped up, and (if appropriate) emptying and cleaning the litterbox. Cats can be a little mercurial in their desire for affection, so you will have to teach your child to respect boundaries and interpret body language so that they know when to play and when the cat needs space.
While cats can be wonderful companions they might not take too kindly to having their tails or ears pulled by curious toddlers, so it’s worth bearing this in mind while making your decision.
The practicality of this will, in part, be dictated by what the family schedule is like as a whole. If the adults in the house both work full-time it might not necessarily be feasible to take on a dog, unless there is flexibility in the daily routine to allow for socialisation, feeding time and walks. If, however, you know that your family is able to meet the needs of a dog they are incredible additions to a family. If your child, or children, are quite young you could consider adopting an older dog. Their training would have been taken care of, and you can have a better idea of the temperament of an adult dog than with a puppy.
On the other hand if your children are a little older they can get fully involved in the training and care of a puppy. It’s a great way to instil a sense of responsibility in your children, not to mention involving your pet with your family dynamic. It also gives your children an incentive to exercise as well as having a solid routine.