Here are 10 Essential Reality Checks for YOU to consider when 'others' are considering the addition of a new pet to your family or household.
So you want a pet or at least your kids want a pet, well there is nothing unnatural about that, the whole idea will sound great...but wait a minute, stop and think.... there are some great positives about this idea....there are also some essential reality checks that need thinking about....a quick read through my checklists below will help you make a more realistic decision.
Remember the old saying "A pet is not just for Christmas". Someone will have to clear the 'pooh' up at the end of it .... all.
Essential Reality Check No. 1 -
The Type of Pet
The type of pets for kids you can take into your household will depend on a whole host of things such as follows:
The ages of your kids - a two year old child will probably not be able to handle a pet gently and certainly won't be able to care for the pet.....
How much will the pet costs be - not just to buy - but to care for on a daily basis?
What size of pet does your child want? - What space will be needed? A hamster does not take up much space but guinea pigs, ferrets and rats need much larger cages.
How much time do your kids and you as a family have to give to the pet?
Will your family be safe with the pet? Will the pet be safe with your family?
If you have a larger pet such as a dog, cat, or goat what effects will it have on your family, friends and neighbours?
How will your pet be cared for during your holidays.
Will your family be able to cope with the eventual death of a pet?
Some pets will sleep most of the day and be awake at night. Hamsters can be very noisy at night!
If your child wants a dog you will need to look into the breed, size and exercise needs of the dog.
Do you already have another pet, what effect will it have on that pet. For instance will your dog be OK with a cat or rabbit or bird?
Essential Reality Check No. 2 -
Ages of your Kids
You will need to decide on a pet that is suitable for the age of your kids.
For instance in most cases it would not be wise to buy a hamster for a two year old child who is still adapting to the world around them and may not know or be able to handle the hamster gently.
Do you want to give your kids some responsibility in caring for an animal. Some kids are very responsible and will be able to manage this. Other kids, well the sight of a baby animal is just too appealing, after all who can resist a cute puppy or kitten or baby hamster?
At first you may need to help your kids, as caring for a pet is a very responsible job. As a parent or carer you will always need to oversee a pet's care.
As the parent or carer you will need to decide if your child is old enough to handle and care for a pet. How often have parents heard the cry "oh but we promise we'll take it for walks everyday"
Or "we'll clean it out mum, we promise". How will you feel in a years time when you find yourself caring for the pets because the kids are busy with friends or away on a school trip or inundated with homework or just plain bored with the poor thing.
Essential Reality Check No. 3 -
True Costs of Pets for Kids
Some pets are very cheap to buy for instance hamsters, guinea pigs, goldfish. gerbils, fancy rats, fancy mice and rabbits and even ferrets.
You will still need to consider:
The cage set up (this can be very expensive when looking at the cage sizes that most pets need) in fact they need the largest cage you can manage
Food costs per week
Vets bills if your pets become ill.
e.g. Ferrets need a yearly injection against canine distemper.
Holiday care - you will need to pay for this of course if you cannot rely on friends and family.
Bigger pets for kids such as goats, and dogs and pedigree cats are far more expensive to buy initially, some costing hundreds of pounds.
You will need to consider:
Bedding and a cage (if buying one for your dog or cat)
Leads and collars for dogs.
Vets bills (dogs should have yearly check ups with a vets)
Holiday care (kennels can be very expensive)
Ongoing veterinary costs if your pets becomes chronically ill.
Essential Reality Check No. 4 -
The Space Required
Even small pets for kids such as guinea pigs, fancy rats and ferrets need a lot of cage space for a happy life. They will need the biggest cages you can find space for. These pets also need space to exercise out of the cage.
Cats take up very little space, as do small breeds of dogs.
Dogs will need a decent sized garden as well as walks to keep them well exercised.
Essential Reality Check No. 5 -
Time for your Pets
Do you and the family have time for a pet.
For smaller pets you will need to have them out of the cage and being handled daily for at least 2 hours a day.
Do you have time to clean out your pet at least once or twice a week, or even daily?
Some pets will certainly need the toilet corner of their cage cleaned more often to avoid a foul smelling cage and pet.
Water bottles and food bowls will need cleaning and refilling every day.
Will you be able to walk your dog at least once a day? - dependent on the breed some need more!
Are you willing to look after your pets for kids for the many years some can live?
(From 18 months to 2 years for a mouse up to 15 years for a dog)
If you are out at work all day and the kids are at school all day your pets will need and will demand attention when you return home
Essential Reality Check No. 6 -
Your Pet and Family Safety
You will always need to ensure your kids safety when they are spending time with any pets.
Even little pets can bite and leave a wound.
Dogs should not be left unattended with your kids as they are unpredictable. Even a faithful dog will bite and even attack a child if they are in pain or afraid. It happens rarely - but it does happen.
You will also need to ensure your pets safety:Is your child able to handle a pet safely without hurting it.
Is your pet safe with any other pets in the home? - if you have young children and a dog .... you will need to make sure the dog cannot escape because a door is accidentally left open.
If you have a dog you need to ensure visitors safety as you can be sued if your dog bites someone on your property (or even off your property)
Make sure that when pets for kids are having free time out of cages that:
Other pets cannot hurt them
They cannot chew electrical leads
They cannot fall into toilets or baths of water.
They cannot escape through gaps in walls or floors
They cannot get outside without supervision
Essential Reality Check No. 7 -
Effects on Family and Neighbours
The whole family needs to be in agreement if you are getting pets. Pets can be noisy and messy having an effect on family living.
What effect will a pet such as a dog have on Granny who suffers with an allergy - will that mean she cannot come to visit anymore?
If you get a dog will it bark and howl when you leave them for any length of time and will this annoy your neighbours.
Will the dog bark when your neighbours are in their own garden.
How will your neighbours take to having your pet cat mess in their garden?
You will need to keep your yard free of dog mess to ensure it does not smell -particularly in summer months.
Essential Reality Check No. 8 -
Holidays and Care for Pets for kids
If you have pets for kids what will happen to them during your holiday times.
Do you have family or friends who can care for your pets while you are away.
If not you will have to pay for your pets care.
This will be expensive for dogs, cats and larger animals.
Even for little pets, holiday care can be expensive.
Essential Reality Check No. 9 -
Loss of a Pet and Grief
Some children are really sensitive and will be distraught when their beloved pet eventually passes away, or is lost in some way.
This is especially distressing if the pet has died as a result of an accident or illness.
How will you manage this?
The kids will need to grieve, grieving is a healthy part of a loss reaction. We can suffer losses every day in a small way such as not getting something we want, this causes a loss reaction and part of the healing for this is grief. If your child or other family member struggles with the grieving then look at the following and see if it applies. The grieving process has seven stepping stones through which people move. Your family member may not go through them in order or spend long on any one.
The stepping stones are:
Shock, Denial, Guilt, Anger, Depression Bargaining, Acceptance
Your child may want another pet this is called bargaining and is one of the stepping stones through the grief process.
If your child cannot have another pet, break down the hidden losses that the death of their pet has caused.
Could there be a loss of your child's self worth or self esteem.
Have they lost their only companion.
Has your child lost the only one who listened to them.
By chatting try to find out how your child is feeling and help them to work out their losses and then work through to acceptance by doing some healthy bargaining.
Would your child be able to regain their sense of worth or self esteem another way? Perhaps helping out with a friends pet for instance.
For some children it may be helpful to have a burial service, so they can say goodbye properly.
(My son kept some hair from his beloved dog)
Our kids have managed the deaths of their pets really well and have gone on to have other pets, for other kids though it has more of an effect so you will need to decide when or if to replace your child's pet.
Essential Reality Check No. 10 -
Pets for Kids are GREAT!
For the most part pets for kids are good fun. They are often good company for your kids especially if the kids are lonely.
Our autistic daughter has changed a lot since we got her guinea pigs to look after. She has gained some imaginative play, we think this is because she talks to her guinea pigs.
We do have to oversee her with them though.
Kids can learn a lot from caring for pets for kids and by having pets even when they are lost naturally.
Dogs can encourage the family out to get exercise as they walk the dog.
All our kids love their pets.