Is Your Child Ready for a Pet?

Families are adopting pets at much higher rates than normal during the pandemic. Shelters were reporting double the demand for dogs and cats last summer, and some are running out of puppies completely. 

Between more time spent at home, a need for something safe and special to do, and the growth of loneliness, there has been a surge in demand for pets. 

So your family might very well be thinking about adopting a pet. Before you take the plunge, ask yourself one essential question.

Is your child ready for a pet?

Look for these signs that your child is ready for a pet.

  • Responsibility. Does your child brush his teeth and pick up his room regularly without being reminded? If not, he probably won’t feed a cat, clean up after a puppy, or walk a dog. That might be okay if this will be a family pet and you’re willing to take care of the animal.
  • Serious interest. Sometimes meeting another child’s pet or seeing an animal in a movie will give a child the idea of having a pet. Wait and see whether her interest in animals continues. Even adults will sometimes say, “I want a bunny!” when they meet a cute pet rabbit. It might just be a fleeting feeling.
  • Safety. Is your child allergic to the type of pet you have in mind? Is she young enough that she might unwittingly provoke an animal? A toddler might try to grab an animal’s eye or interrupt its meal. Even a good animal might bite or scratch under those circumstances. Think through the possible concerns.

What kind of pet will be best for your  family?

A cat or a dog might be your first thought for a pet, but a turtle, a fish, or a lizard might suit your family better.

Especially if your child has limited experience with pets, take some time to research the possibilities. Make sure he understands that the pet is permanent — not like a toy that he can try out but doesn’t have to keep.

Think about the pet as a family pet, too. Here are some questions to discuss:

  • When the pandemic ends and your family travels again, who will mind the pet?
  • If the pet needs attention when your child is asleep or involved in something else, what will happen?
  • Do you expect your child to help with the cost of caring for the pet, maybe with her allowance?

These don’t have to be discouraging questions, but they’re worth discussing before you make your decision.

What about the pandemic?

The pandemic is leading families to adopt pets. However, it can also complicate the process. Do you have a local vet who is seeing pets? Do you have a plan for walking the new dog regularly? The graphic above mentions some of the things you should consider.

If you’re working at home and remote schooling, you probably have people home to play with pets and pay them attention all day. Will that be hard to keep up once the pandemic is over?

Having a pet can be a source of fun and companionship, and can help your kids learn responsibility. Many adults think back fondly on the animals they loved when they were kids. The bottom line, however: if your child doesn’t care for the pet, you will have to. Make sure you’re ready for that possibility.