Your children have been pestering you incessantly for a pet, but you aren’t completely sure that they’re ready to handle the responsibility that comes with having one. Owning a pet brings fun and joy into a household, and it should also serve as a teaching moment for your kids to learn the importance of accountability. It is important to ensure that you pick the pet that is best suited for your children’s age and maturity to ensure that everyone — including the pet — gets the most out of the experience.
Fish are on the lower end of labor intensiveness when it comes to pets, which makes them a great starting point for children of most ages. Although goldfish often get all the glory, Animal Planet recommends the betta fish as a kid-friendly option. Betta fish don’t require expensive or complicated aquariums, are easy to manage and come in vibrant colors, which makes them easier and less costly to care for and more appealing to children with short attention spans.
Care’s Shahrzad Warkentin writes that fish are also great choices for families with hectic schedules. Whereas dogs and cats require almost constant care and attention, fish typically only need food and the occasional bowl-cleaning to stay afloat.
Dogs haven’t earned the reputation of man’s best friend for nothing. Puppies and dogs are loyal and affectionate, but they also require a ton of attention and interaction. If you start your kids off with a puppy, you’ll have to deal with teeth that are eager to gnaw, messes and accidents in the house and the ups and downs of the housebreaking process.
Before you spring a puppy on your children, it is imperative that they understand what their responsibilities are in taking care of their pet and what the consequences will be if they cannot provide adequate care. According to Healthline’s Dale Kiefer and Rena Goldman, boxers, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and beagles are kid-friendly dog breeds worth considering.
Though they are typically more independent than dogs, cats still require a lot of love, care and attention. You’ll still have to take them to the veterinarian periodically and clean up after their messes from time to time, but the housebreaking process is typically less messy since cats utilize litter boxes.
A cat’s litter box does require frequent cleaning lest your house begin to take on a strange odor, so it’s important that your children shoulder at least some of the responsibilities as far and cleaning and changing are concerned. Kiefer and Goldman also advise that you make sure your kitten or cat is agreeable with children to avoid unwanted scratching incidents.
The hamster is a classic starter pet because they are easy to care for and quite active. Dr. Katherine Quesenberry, an expert on exotic pets at New York City's Animal Medical Center, tells Parents’ Lisa Granshaw that hamsters may not be ideal for younger children because they can be quite aggressive and difficult to handle. To avoid this, it’s recommended that you get a larger breed like the Syrian hamster, which tends to become more amenable to being handled over time.
Because hamsters require fresh cages and daily food and water, they will make good starter pets for children who might one day graduate to a kitten or puppy. Though it may seem morbid, Dr. Jennifer Graham, assistant professor at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, tells Granshaw that hamsters’ relatively short lifespans might provide the opportunity to teach your child about death.
Pet ownership can be a source of great love and memories for you and your family and an opportunity to teach your child some responsibility. With a good understanding of your children’s capabilities and a little bit of research, you’ll be able to find the right pet for your household.