Today's guest pet expert has some great advice to help you choose the right first pet for your child.
How to Choose a Child's First Pet
Every parent of a young child knows that at some point, usually between four and seven years old, they will pine for a pet. For a child, a pet can be a best friend that teaches responsibility, friendship and respect for life. While that pet might usually be a dog or cat, there are many other options for families that wish to start small.
However, the most important lesson to learn prior to obtaining a pet is for parents. Before adopting a pet, understand that it will have special needs and should be considered a lifelong family member—not just a child’s playmate. Kids can help care for the pet, but choose tasks that are age-appropriate. Parents must understand that just like children, the pets’ wellbeing depends upon the grown-ups.
Dogs and cats are the most popular pets for good reason. They’re wonderful companions, but definitely require more living space and time to train, walk, bathe and clean up after. And caring for a dog or cat will have you digging deeper into your wallet than other pets.
If your family isn’t quite ready to take that plunge, start with an animal whose needs can be met with less space, time and money.
Goldfish are simple and inexpensive. Freshwater fish are soothing, pretty to watch and are interesting creatures. It’s a safe bet for a first pet. For something cuddlier, guinea pigs are delightful animals with cute personalities and are more ‘durable’ than other small pets.
Rabbits are another excellent choice for a first pet. However, bunnies are best cared for indoors. Extreme outdoor temperatures, wind, humidity and rain cause stress for bunnies.
Gerbils, hamsters and even mice can be fun for kids, but because of their size, should be handled very carefully. Young ones should only do so when supervised by an adult.
Hamsters are friendly and adaptable, making them the most popular small pet in America. Handling them on a regular basis will keep them well socialized. An ignored hamster (or any other pocket pet) is more likely to nip or bite.
Birds are the third most popular pet in America—nearly seven million perch in our homes. They’re fun to watch and can fill your home with sound. While each bird has a unique personality, every species has a typical temperament and behavior pattern. Not all birds make appropriate pets for children.
No matter what you choose for your family’s pet initiation, adult supervision is imperative when young children and pets are together. The child’s and the pet’s safety must always be top-of-mind.
Pets need space and may not always welcome human attention, especially when eating, sleeping or playing with toys. Even the friendliest pets can become over-stimulated, so teach children how to recognize signs that your pet needs some alone-time. And remember, small kids may not have developed the motor skills to properly handle a delicate pet.
A first pet is a unique relationship that your child will always remember. They’ll likely develop a wonderful bond, so be sure to commit to the pet for its lifetime. Teach by example that pets deserve love and respect just like other family members.
-- Kristen Levine, Pet lifestyle expert, author and founder & president of Fetching Communications
About the Author: Kristen Levine’s volunteer work led to a 15-year career as the Public Relations Director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Tampa Bay, Fla., where she played a critical role in promoting pet adoption and pet lifestyle education. With her knowledge of public relations, pet lifestyle concerns and family dynamics, she founded Fetching Communications, the nation’s first marketing and public relations firm wholly dedicated to serving the pet and veterinary industry, in 2003. In November 2011, Levine published “Pampered Pets on a Budget: Caring for Your Pet Without Losing Your Tail” with co-author Jeffrey Barnes, available on Amazon.com. Having logged over 1,000 live national radio and television show appearances, Levine is a frequent contributor to pet and veterinary trade magazines nationwide. She serves as Bissell Homecare’s official pet spokesperson, educating pet parents about pet clean-up solutions, as well as on the Toyota Pet Expert Team (P.E.T.), where she shares her knowledge to help develop programs to teach pet parents the importance of properly protecting and securing pets in automobiles. Levine lives in Florida with her husband, dog, two cats and a pair of miniature donkeys. For more information about Kristen Levine, please visit www.kristenlevine.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.