Most kids at least go through a phase where they decide they want a pet. While many kids these days are raised with pets that were part of the household before they were even born, even these kids may come to a point where they want to raise a kitten or puppy of their own. Having a pet is seen by many parents as just a normal part of growing up, but before you decide to pick up that cute little furball from the breeder or the pound, ask yourself these questions to determine if your family and child are ready for a new pet.
Will a pet fit into your family’s lifestyle?
Even if you already have pets, it’s important to determine whether or not another pet will really fit into your family’s lifestyle. This question is even more important if you don’t have any pets at all yet. The number of pets that are abandoned every year because families who adopt them find that it wasn’t a good idea is tragic. The ASPCA estimates that five to seven million animals are taken to shelters every year, and about half of them are relinquished by their owners. About 50% of those pets end up euthanized, so it’s important that you determine your family and child are really ready for a pet before adopting one.
There’s no concrete way to decide if a pet will fit into your family’s lifestyle, and different types of pets will work well for different lifestyles. Cats are often a good option for on-the-go families, since they’re more independent, but if you go many places where you could take a smaller dog with you, or if you’re home often, a dog could also be a good option. Of course, smaller pets like hamsters and even goldfish can be a good option for very busy families, as well. If you question your family’s ability to take care of a very high-maintenance pet like a dog, consider other, lower-maintenance options before you completely discount the idea of getting a pet.
Can your family afford a pet?
Too many families fail to correctly estimate the true cost of pet ownership before they pick up a new pet. Then a financial crisis hits or something happens to the pet that doesn’t fit into the budget. The ASPCA estimates that in the first year, a small dog will cost about $1,300, a large dog will cost about $1,800, and a cat will cost about $1,000. This, of course, includes one-off costs like the cost of having your pet spayed or neutered, but it doesn’t include potential emergency costs if your pet has to be treated seriously by a veterinarian for whatever reason.
A family with a pet should certainly have at least a small emergency fund set aside in case the pet becomes ill or injured, as well as enough money in the budget to pay for food, grooming, boarding, routine vet care, and similar expenses. You could make pet ownership part of a plan to help your child learn financial responsibility by making him responsible for part of the cost of pet ownership.
If your older child wants a pet of her own, consider having her pay for all the costs of the pet. If she’s a teenager, with earnings from a part-time job, she can pay for basic expenses. If she’s in college and responsible, you can even help her get one of the best credit cards for college students to take care of bigger one-time expenses, which she can make a plan to pay off responsibly over the course of just a few months.
Is he really interested?
Once you’ve determined if your family can fit a pet into its lifestyle and afford a new pet, you need to look at the child who is asking for a pet. Some children are only vaguely interested in having a pet, maybe because they saw one on television or their best friend has a dog. Most kids will fawn over a fluffy kitten or a playful puppy, but is your child ready to love a pet for the long haul?
There are a few ways to tell if your child is really interested in having a pet. One way is to keep putting him off for a few months to see if he keeps bringing up the idea – and not just after he plays with the next door neighbor’s new cockapoo. You’ll also want to have several honest conversations with your child, and you may even want to set up some milestones that he’ll have to meet before he can get a pet (such as keeping his room clean for a month, earning good grades, or other indicators that he’s willing to work for the opportunity to have a pet).
One other suggestion is to see if your child is interested in getting an adult dog or cat from the local Humane Society rather than a puppy or kitten. Even if you end up getting a baby pet, your child’s willingness to get an older pet instead will show that he is interested in having a pet for its own sake, rather than just having a puppy or kitten that will only stay little for a few months.
Does she already do some chores?
You’ll definitely want to make sure your child is responsible enough to help care for a pet. A chore chart can be a good way to gauge this responsibility in elementary aged children and even older kids. If your child doesn’t already have a few chores – making her bed, unloading the dishwasher, brushing her teeth, picking up her room, etc. – then give her some to do. Taking care of a pet is tons of work, and you want to make sure she’s up for it by ensuring that she can handle other responsibilities.
Again, requiring that your child do certain chores for a certain amount of time before getting a pet can ensure that she is really interested in getting a pet. It also will help you make sure your child will be able to feed the dog, clean the litter box, or take the puppy on a walk.
Does he know how to treat pets kindly?
This is less likely to be a problem for older kids, but it can be an issue for younger children, especially if they have not been around animals much. It’s very easy for a child to mistreat a pet, and this can quickly turn in to a dangerous situation, as pets who are mistreated are more likely to bite or scratch a child.
How your child treats his toys will give you some indication of whether or not he can be gentle with a pet. If you aren’t positive that your child will know how to treat a pet, spend some time around animals before you bring one home with you. Teach your child how to properly pet his grandmother’s cat, how to play with the neighbor’s dog, or even how to feed animals at a petting zoo before bringing home a new pet. And once you do bring home your new pet, never, ever leave your small child alone with the animal until you’re sure (at least as sure as you can be) that your child will not mistreat the pet and that the pet won’t snap at the child.
Deciding to bring a new pet into your family is a big step, and you want to make sure your child is really ready for it – especially if it will primarily be his or her pet. Asking yourself these questions and waiting until you can answer “yes” to all of them will ensure that your child’s experience with his or her new pet is a positive one full of fun and memories.
Daniela Baker is a mother of two and a blogger at CreditDonkey, where she helps families compare credit card deals. How has your child handle a pet? Leave a comment below.