Pets and kids are a natural match. Approximately four in ten children in the United States are in a household that has pets. A study by the Journal of Pediatrics confirmed that child who had pets in their life during the first year of their lives were had fewer cold and infections, as well as other health benefits when compared to those that did not have pets. Those that had dogs experienced a great impact than those that had cats. Researchers speculate that exposure to the dirt, microbes, and other environmental substances cause the baby’s immune system to get a work out, making them stronger in the long run.
Pets have other benefits for children too. They create opportunities for forming emotional attachments. They reduce stress. Numerous studies have confirmed that petting an animal has a measurable calming effect on our bodies. Having a pet can also encourage your child to read. Cuddling up with the dog or cat and reading to them is much more appealing, than doing reading homework, but it accomplishes the same result. Animals spark social interactions among other children too. They can play with a pet together and it gives them something in common to talk about with other children. A pet can do all that and all it asks for in return is good, shelter, love and companionship… and if it happens to be my dog, tennis balls.
Many people do not think about these reasons when their child asks the inevitable question, “Can I have a dog, pretty please?” The number one reason why parents want to get their child a pet is to encourage the ability to care for others and to become caring individuals. However, this is where the pet ownership experience can go awry. As the many abandoned animals in pet shelters will tell you, this is the wrong reason to get a pet. Having to threaten your child with punishment if they do not feed their animal does not teach them responsibility, nor does it teach them to be a kind and compassionate person. Your child has many years to learn these things and they will not learn them overnight the second the animal comes into the home. You will be the one feeding and caring for the animal.
If the child sees you caring for the animal in a kind and loving way, then don’t be surprised if one day, you find the cat already fed before you get up in the morning. Will you view the animal as a loving family member, or as a chore and another mouth to feed? You have to be ready for animal ownership as much as your child. Your attitude towards the animal will influence how your child reacts to the pet and the bond that they form.
The final set of questions that you must ask yourself is practical ones. Are you ready for the realities of pet ownership? Do you have the time it will take to care for the pet and give it the life you envision? Why do you want a pet? If the answer is because your kids want one, but you don’t, then you should stick with stuffed animals instead. You will be the one feeding and caring for the animal. This is especially true for younger children. Next, do your research. So many times animals end up in shelters because prospective owners fail to do this step. A husky or border collie puppy is one of the most adorable in the animal kingdom, but they are high maintenance and high energy. Can you really handle that? Just remember, how you teach your child to respond to animals sets the stage for their human relationships too. Finding the right animal for your family is the most important step in ensuring that your child receives all the benefits of pet ownership without the risks.