Are you thinking about bringing a pet into your family?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers some helpful advice and things to keep in mind before choosing on an animal.
Before selecting a pet, keep your child's developmental stage in mind.
If you are getting a pet as a companion for your child, it is a good idea to wait until she is mature enough to handle and care for the animal—usually around age 5 or 6. Younger children have difficulty distinguishing an animal from a toy, so they may inadvertently
provoke a bite through teasing or mistreatment.
If your child is developmentally ready, discuss the needs of the animal and everything that is involved in caring for it first. Books on pet care from the library can help your child understand the responsibility. Visit a friend or extended family member who has a pet and allow your child to see firsthand what the care of a pet involves.
Some pets have easygoing temperaments conducive to being around children.
Dogs such as retrievers and beagles tend to be gentle with kids. Other breeds, such as boxers, German shepherds, pit bulls and Doberman pinschers, and miniature French poodles, may be more unpredictable. Keep the animal's characteristics in mind when selecting a pet.
What about allergies?
The dander (shed skin cells, hairs, and feathers) of some animals can evoke
allergic symptoms in certain children. If your child has allergies (eczema, hay fever,
asthma) or your family has a strong history of allergic disorders, bringing a pet into the house may not be a good idea. Ask your pediatrician or a local veterinarian for advice.
What about disease?
Almost every type of pet is a potential source of disease that can infect your child. All reptiles, for example, can carry and transmit salmonella bacteria that can cause serious diarrhea. However, as long as your child practices reasonable hygiene, especially hand washing after playing with a pet and before eating, they should be safe.
Know how much time your family has to care for a pet.
Some pets, like
cats, require daily attention. They must be fed, groomed, cleaned up after, and exercised. Others pets like fish,
birds, guinea pigs, and
hamsters, demand minimal care―and may be a good choice for a younger child who needs to learn about what is involved in having a pet or busy families with less time. A goldfish requires feeding only every two to three days with its water changed only periodically. A dog cannot be neglected for even a one day.
Is it better to get a younger or older pet first?
Look for a pet with a gentle disposition. An older animal is often a good choice for a child, because a puppy or kitten may bite out of sheer friskiness. Avoid older pets raised in a home without children, however.
Buy pets only from reputable breeders and shelters. Otherwise you increase the risk of purchasing an ill or diseased animal and endangering you child and yourself.