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How do I know if my child is ready for a pet?

Boy and pet cat

Many parents are likely familiar with hearing pleas for a new puppy or kitten come November and December. But one recent survey (commissioned by SpinMaster) found that 74 percent of children ask for a pet an average of 11 times per month, from age 6 on! That means by the time those children reach age 18, they will have asked their parents for a pet an average of 1,584 times. While it may be tempting to give in to your child’s desire for a furry companion, there is a lot to consider when it comes to pet ownership.

Beyond making sure your entire family is ready to accommodate a new pet in the household, it’s prudent to watch for signs that your child is ready for a pet. Sometimes a child’s determination in getting a new pet does not equate with their determination in caring for the new pet. But if your child is ready, a pet can be a wonderful way to provide companionship, boost self-confidence, and encourage compassion. Here are a few signs your child may be ready for pet ownership:

1. Your child shows genuine and lasting interest in owning a pet. If your child only asks for a pet come holidays or birthdays, it isn’t likely a long-term interest for them yet. If a child under the age of 4 is expressing interest in a pet, most animal experts agree it’s best to wait it out to determine if it’s just a phase. For children five and older, it’s reasonable to assume it could be more than just a passing interest. If they’ve been talking about it nonstop for several weeks, it may be time to consider if a pet could be a good fit for them and your family.

2. Your child is comfortable around animals and treats them with respect. For children who are fearful around animals, parents sometimes think a pet can help overcome that fear. Experts say that is not a good idea. Watch your child interact with animals at a friend or family member’s home. Are they fearful or nervous? Do they pull on the animal’s tail? Or try to ride the dog? These may be signs your child is not yet ready. But if your child has demonstrated they are both comfortable around different kinds of animals and treats them with respect, they may be ready for a pet.

3. Your child can handle simple household chores without supervision. Does your child brush their teeth without being asked? Can your child do simple household chores like loading the dishwasher, without any supervision? The ability to handle simple household tasks, self-motivated and without supervision, is a good indicator of your child’s maturity level when it comes to assuming the responsibilities of pet ownership, which comes with a lot of cleaning!

4. Your child and a pet do not pose any safety concerns to each other. If your child isn’t yet able to understand pet safety, like signs a dog is uncomfortable and needs space, it may be too soon to welcome a new pet into the home. Safety should always be top of mind, and very young children may not have the understanding to keep themselves out of harm's way. Another consideration is ruling out any allergies your child may have. It can be very traumatic for a child to bring a new pet home, only to have to rehome them due to severe allergies.

5. Your child is amenable to having a pet that fits the needs of the family. Many families with young children are very busy, and a high maintenance pet might be out of the question. If your child is open to the possibility of a companion that better suits the capabilities of your family, they may be ready for a pet. A child who is dead set on one type of pet–even if it doesn’t make sense for your family or living situation–may not be quite ready.

6. Parents or caregivers are willing to pick up the slack. At the end of the day, parents and caregivers should be ready and able to care for a pet. Ultimately, domestic animals are the responsibility of the adults in a family, and if you are not ready to help your child out when they fall short, then your home is likely not ready for new pet ownership.

Parents and caregivers should aim to set both their children and any potential new pets up for success, and that means thorough consideration and research before bringing a new pet home. Pet ownership can be a rewarding and wonderful experience for children who are mature enough to handle additional responsibilities, but it should never be an impulsive decision made without thought. For more information on children and pet ownership visit, www.verywellfamily.com or www.parents.com.


By ABC Quality Team on November 1, 2022