You've been hearing it for weeks now; 'Muuuummm pleeeeeaaasse can we get a pet?'
Whether it's the fluffy cat from next door or a rabbit over at a friend's house, or even just passing a dog in the street, it's an endless refrain that we're getting tired of hearing. Are they serious, or is it just because it's right there in front of them? Are they ready for that responsibility or will you end up with all the work? How do we know they can handle it?
We've come up with a handy checklist to see if your family is ready to take a pet into your lives so you can make an informed and responsible decision.
Is your child actually comfortable and respectful around animals?
The idea of a puppy or kitten is very different to the reality of one. So while your child may gush endlessly about having a pet, it’s important to see how they interact with them in reality. When actually faced with an animal, children may shy away from them or be nervous around them, which is why it’s important to do a test run first with a cousin’s dog or even the neighbours. It’s also good to see if your child is at an age and stage where they can respect animals. If your child is pulling at their tail, snatching at their food or hugging them too tightly, they may need another little while to mature before being responsible enough for a pet.
What’s your family’s activity level?
This is more so for families considering getting dogs rather than cats. If lifestyle is fairly sedentary, your dogs will be also. It’s easy to say at the beginning that you’ll walk them each day, or even twice a day, but eventually the excitement of having a dog will wear off, life will get in the way, and the poor pup will be restless and under-walked. Having a dog is a commitment to getting out and stretching their legs everyday, especially if you don’t have a large garden.
Can your child complete simple tasks themselves?
If they can wash up, clean up their own mess, make their own snacks or any tasks like these, then your child is ready to look after a pet. A pet will be their responsibility as well, so they must be able to feed and water them independently as well as clean up after them. They need a level of independence and coordination to do this that means they are able to look after a pet themselves.
Are they good at sharing?
A pet, much like a young child, won’t understand the social contract of sharing. If your child can’t give up their ball or their toy, they won’t be able to handle a dog who will grab things to play with, without thinking. A child needs to understand that the dog or cat needs things too and that they can’t just swipe things away from them.
Is all of the family ready for the commitment?
If your eldest is ticking all these boxes but you’re youngest isn’t, then you’re not ready for a pet. If your family is at a very busy stage right now and going through a lot of changes like going to big school welcoming a new baby or moving house, then now may not be the best time to introduce a relatively high maintenance new member to the fold. Pets need time and commitment, just like kids, so you need to be sure that you’re ready to take that on.
Are they genuinely interested?
A lot of kids get into the idea of pets at the same time they go to school – they’re hearing about their peer’s cats, dogs, hamsters etc and can get caught up in the fad, or the idea of having a pet, when the reality is very different. If it’s something your kids continually talk about for an extended period of time, then it’s worth investigating, but always be sure to try out your kids around animals before committing to buying a pet.