If you’re considering adding a family pet to your household, do consider the age and personality of your child and how much work your kid would reasonably do to care for an animal. Most pets require some kind of adult oversight, and you should not just assume your child is doing the right thing and properly taking care of it. Unless your child is older and fairly responsible, you should assume that the care and feeding of a pet will become the responsibility of numerous family members.
There are pluses and minuses to owning most any pet, so think long and hard about how much time and money you are willing to commit to owning an animal before you purchase one. Keep in mind that routine veterinary care should be a regular part of any pet’s life and can get expensive, particularly if there is a problem. Some animals, such as fish, don’t necessarily need vet care per se, but that does not mean that their requirements for survival still do need to be met.
Here’s some ideas for family pets to consider:
Reptiles: Do not get a child under the age of 16 a reptile! We’re not knocking turtles, snakes and lizards, as they do make fantastic pets-but these are critters that harbor the potential for salmonella. A young child can excitedly grab his pet tortoise and then put his hands in his mouth after handling it without washing his hands. Reptiles are strictly for older teens who understand the sense of responsibility and will wash their hands after touching it to avoid any potentially life threatening diseases.
Rodents: Hamsters do look cute and fuzzy and you can get them all sorts of neat housing with funky tubes to climb up and a wheel to race on. However, what most folks don’t realize is that hamsters do bite-hard! If you’re interested in a pet that is in the rodent family, consider a gerbil instead since they are much more docile and pretty easy to take care of. Be careful of a younger child gripping the little creature too tight and make sure an adult is present, as you’d be surprised how easily a rodent can pop out of a child’s hands and quickly get lost in a house never to be found again. For a teen, you’ll find that rats actually make phenomenal pets to care for and can become relatively tame. The one negative is that if your teen is not responsible with cage cleaning every week, rat poop and pee can take on an onerous odor that will permeate a bedroom quickly. Be warned that rodents do procreate quickly so stick to buying just one unless you want to be quickly overrun by babies. Also, do not mix rodents from different litters together as they can become highly aggressive to each other.
Dog: Don’t expect a child of any age to walk, brush or clean up after a dog or cat. It’s a large responsibility that the entire family needs to take ownership of. If you all aren’t willing to pitch in here, then opt for an easier to care for pet. Do careful research on dog breeds by checking out if they are compatible with your family. A Labrador is certainly an easily trainable dog that is good with kids, but are you prepared to deal with the hair shed all over the house? Sure a Husky has adorable blue eyes and a goofy face, but do you have the expertise to train a dog that is considered stubborn and high energy and requires lots of exercise?
Cat: If you have a busy family who spends lots of hours at work or away from the home, a dog might not be the best choice as they are pack animals and want to be part of the family unit. If no one is home for 8 hour stretches, then a dog will likely get bored, become destructive and think nothing of tearing into that lovely couch. In this case, opt for a house cat who certainly doesn’t mind the alone time to take long naps while she’s waiting for you to come home. Keep in mind that most cats do not enjoy rough handling, and aren’t really suitable for a house with very young kids or babies. A cat will not hesitate to claw or bite a youngster who is tugging at it’s tail. Shelters have an abundance of kitties looking for good homes, so don’t hesitate to adopt one.
Fish: Though you can buy a fish for only a few dollars at a pet store, the hobby can actually get pricey when you consider the costs of a tank, filtration, heating and other paraphernalia that many types of fish require. Additionally, weekly partial water changes are necessary and can be messy if handled by a careless youngster. Don’t be lulled into thinking that those attractive African Cichlids or Neon Tetras can live in a fish bowl on the counter, either. Many of these fish require specific water conditions, so unless you and your child are ready to commit to a pet such as this try something else. If you’re looking for a super easy to care for fish, however, nothing beats a Siamese Fighting Fish (aka Betta). They are brightly colored and super resilient as long as you change the water each week, use a dechlorinator for your tap water and feed them properly. Oh, and only keep one male in a bowl-they don’t call them fighting fish for nothing!
Birds: A charming parakeet can make a fun pet for a kid and can be relatively cheap to maintain. Cages come in all sorts of price ranges to fit any budget and seed is inexpensive. Parakeets can be trained to speak and sit on your hand if you get them young and work persistently with them. If you plan on letting them out of their cage, it is best to learn how to clip one or both of the wings so that the bird can glide down to the floor and not go flying into walls or windows and seriously hurting itself. A young child should not squeeze or hold a delicate, small bird such as this because it could hurt the little creature. And you’d be surprised to note that even a bird as small as a budgie can deliver a sound bite when frightened. Parrots are definitely not pets for young child, as they can be highly aggressive and easily chomp off the finger of an unsuspecting toddler who sticks a curious finger in the cage. Parrots require expert handling tend to bond to one person in the household, and can be downright nasty to the other family members. These birds are long lived (80+ years is not uncommon), and they can also be loud and messy as they toss their feed about. Lovebirds, cockatiels and other such birds can also make good pets for a child with a strong sense of responsibility.