How to choose the right pet for your family

Library Home  >  Parenting & Family Life
  Published on Wednesday, 17 March 2021

How to choose the right pet for your family

Library Home  >  Parenting & Family Life
  Published on Wednesday, 17 March 2021
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What Pet Should I Get? isn’t just the title of a Dr Seuss book. It’s also a question you should consider carefully if you’re looking to expand your young family with a furry (or feathered) friend.

Dr Kaylene Jones from the Australian Veterinary Association says, ‘Having a family pet can have enormous benefits for the physical and mental wellbeing of children,’ but before you hurry home with a puppy or parrot, take the time to choose your pet wisely and introduce them carefully. Here’s her expert advice.

  1. Start by thinking about what type of pet will be best suited to your individual lifestyle

Dr Jones says that everyone’s situation is different, so it’s important to consider: 

  • How much time you spend at home
  • How much time you have to supervise your child with their new pet (keeping in mind that children under the age of five require supervision at all times when with their pet)
  • How much time you have to dedicate to husbandry requirements, such as caring for and training a new puppy
  • How much space you have for a pet
  • Whether you can afford the financial cost of pet ownership (there is no Medicare for pets and the cost of veterinary care can seem expensive to many people, so pet insurance is always a good idea), and
  • How long your chosen pet can be expected to live. While the loss of a pet allows children to learn about the grieving process, children become attached to pets, just like adults do, and it’s this bond that brings many of the benefits that pet ownership has for young children.
  1. Make a list of what pets you feel would be suitable for your particular family, then book a consultation with your local veterinarian to discuss

Dr Jones says it’s important to choose a breed that best suits your family requirements and doesn’t suffer from, ‘Genetic conditions which may adversely affect your pet’s quality of life.’

Your vet will be able to advise you on any health conditions certain breeds may be prone to, and it’s good to know that the Australian Veterinary Association, ‘Doesn’t recommend any Brachycephalic [short nose, flat face] or Chondrodystrophic [short leg, long body] breeds such as French Bulldogs, Pugs and Dachshunds.’

Dr Jones says, ‘Personally, two of my favourite choices for families with young children would be dogs and chickens!’

She explains, ‘Young children can form strong bonds with pet dogs which can have enormous emotional benefits. Dogs require regular exercise and this also has great health benefits for children. Young children can contribute to a dog’s care by assisting with preparing food and water bowls, helping with bath time and being involved in play time and exercise. A pet dog can be a cuddly confidant for young children and it can also bring a lot of fun to the household!’

Dr Jones says chickens also make great family pets for children (as long as you have the space and time). They’re relatively low maintenance, can be very interactive and social, and it’s safe to involve young children in many aspects of their daily care – with the exciting reward of collecting fresh eggs! Having a chicken is also a really valuable educational experience for your under five.

  1. Ensure that your pet choice is appropriate for the age of your youngest child

Some pets are too big, too small or too frisky for under fives and Dr Jones says, ‘Generally, pets that require a lot of time and have quite specific husbandry needs may not the best choice for families with children under five.

Most often, parents with young children are very busy and, as such, it is best for a pet to fit in with the lifestyle of the family and their daily routine, rather than add a requirement for additional time to be allocated to its care.

For example, for a family that would usually have a couple of daily trips to the park or visits to the local soccer field, a dog will fit in just fine. Pets that have quite specific husbandry requirements, such as pocket pets [small pets, like ferrets, guinea pigs, mice, rabbits and rats] and exotic breeds are generally more suited to families with older children who do not require constant supervision with the pet and can take on some of the responsibilities for the pet’s care.

Children under five years of age can naturally be quite erratic in their movements and behaviour, and it’s important to consider this when choosing an appropriate pet. Many small pets do not tolerate this behaviour well. They can become nervous and fearful when small children are too rough with them or if they’re unsettled when handling them, and this may cause the pet to bite or scratch the child.

Large dogs that are very energetic can also be a poor choice for families with young children, because they can easily, and unintentionally, injure small children during normal play.’

  1. Consider adopting your pet from an animal shelter

Whatever pet your family decides on, Dr Jones says, ‘A rescue pet will be forever grateful for a second chance with a new family,’ and there are plenty of adoption options when it comes to pet types and breeds.

  1. When your new pet arrives in the family home, take careful steps to ensure their introduction goes well

Dr Jones says, ‘When you first bring your pet home, it’s best to give them some time and space to adapt to their new environment. Pets in a new environment can sometimes feel frightened or threatened, and in these situations, they may show signs of aggression (like biting or scratching).’

For this reason, it’s important to give your pet some time to settle before introducing them to your young child. Once they are settled, it’s a good idea to introduce your child to the pet in a large space where they won’t feel cornered, such as in the backyard or by taking them for a walk (if your new pet is a dog).

A nice, open room can also be used to introduce your child to your pet. In this case, it’s best to have your child sitting on the floor so they’re at the same level as your pet, and make sure your child stays calm and reasonably quiet while your pet gets used to them.

Help your child to read the signs their pet is giving them (such as, “I’m happy” or “Let me go!”) and show them how to respect their pet’s personal space by not getting too close to their face or treating them roughly.

  1. Now it’s time to relax into life together and reap the rewards of pet ownership!

As well as providing opportunities for daily exercise and playtime, Dr Jones says, Research has shown that having a pet can increase confidence and self-esteem in young children, whilst enabling them to develop trusting relationships and learn important life skills, such as responsibility, compassion and empathy.’

Your young child will love to be involved in the care of their pet, so try to give them age-appropriate tasks wherever possible (remembering that under fives should be supervised at all times with their pets).

The right pet will be a wonderful addition to your young family, so take the time to choose the pet that best suits your circumstances and here’s to a happy, fun and enriching life together!

Further reading

CareforKids.com.au: How preschoolers benefit from having a family dog

Vet Voice: Buying a pet – what you need to know

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Monday, 22 March 2021

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