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A Guide to Getting Your Kid a Pet
When considering adding a pet to your household, consider your child’s age and personality, as well as how much work your child would reasonably put into caring for an animal. Most pets require some sort of adult supervision, and you shouldn’t just assume your child is doing the right thing and taking good care of them. Unless your child is older and quite responsible, you should assume that the care and feeding of a pet will be the responsibility of many family members.
There are pros and cons to owning most pets, so think carefully about how much time and money you’re willing to spend owning an animal before you buy one. Remember that routine veterinary care should be a regular part of every pet’s life and can be expensive, especially if there is a problem. Some animals, such as fish, do not necessarily require veterinary care per se, but this does not mean that their survival requirements must still be met.
Here are some ideas for pets:
Reptiles: children under the age of 16 should not have reptiles! We’re not bashing turtles, snakes, and lizards because they make great pets — but they’re animals that harbor the potential for salmonella. A small child can excitedly grab their favorite turtle and then put their hand in their mouth without washing their hands. Reptiles are strictly for older teenagers who understand the sense of responsibility and wash their hands after touching them to avoid potentially life-threatening illnesses.
Rodents: Hamsters are cute and fuzzy looking, and you can get them all kinds of neat houses with funky tubes to climb on and a wheel to race on. However, what most people don’t realize is that hamsters bite hard! If you are interested in a rodent pet, consider a gerbil instead, as it is much more docile and fairly easy to care for. Be careful not to let a younger child hold the little critter too tightly, and make sure an adult is present, as you’d be surprised how easily a rodent can slip out of a child’s grasp and quickly get lost in the house, never to be found again. For a teenager, you may find that rats make truly phenomenal pets to care for and can become relatively tame. One of the negatives is that if the teenager is not responsible for cleaning the cages on a weekly basis, rat poop and pee can get an unpleasant smell that quickly permeates the bedroom. Be warned that rodents breed quickly, so stick to buying just one unless you want to be quickly overwhelmed by babies. Also, don’t mix rodents from different litters, as they can become very aggressive with each other.
Dog: Do not expect children of any age to walk, brush or clean up after a dog or cat. This is a big responsibility that the whole family has to take on. If they all refuse to go in here, choose a pet that is easier to care for. Research dog breeds carefully to see if they are compatible with your family. The Labrador is certainly an easy dog to train and is good with children, but are you ready to deal with shedding all over the house? Sure, a husky has adorable blue eyes and a goofy face, but do you have the right skills to train a stubborn, energetic dog that needs a lot of exercise?
Cat: If you have a busy family that spends many hours at work or away from home, a dog may not be the best choice as they are pack animals and want to be part of the family. If no one is home for 8 hours, the dog will probably be bored, destructive, and won’t even think about tearing into that beautiful couch. In this case, choose a house cat who definitely doesn’t mind napping alone while you wait for him to come home. Keep in mind that most cats do not enjoy being roughed up and are not really suited to a house with very young children or babies. The cat will not hesitate to claw or bite the youngster who pulls its tail. There are lots of kittens looking for good homes in shelters, so don’t hesitate to adopt one.
Fish: Although you can buy fish at a pet store for just a few dollars, the hobby can actually be more expensive when you consider the cost of the tank, filtration, heating, and other supplies required for many types of fish. It also requires partial water changes weekly and can be a nuisance if handled by a careless youngster. Don’t be fooled into thinking that those attractive African cichlids or neon tetras can live in a fishbowl on the counter. Many of these fish require special water conditions, so if you and your child are unwilling to commit to such a pet, try something else. However, if you are looking for an extremely easy fish to care for, nothing beats a Siamese fighting fish (aka Betta). They are brightly colored and extremely hardy as long as the water is changed weekly, dechlorinator is used in the tap water, and they are fed properly. Oh, and keep only one male in a bowl – they’re not called fighting fish for nothing!
Birds: An adorable parrot can be a fun pet for a child and relatively inexpensive to keep. Cages come in all price ranges to fit any budget and seed is cheap. Parrots can be taught to talk and sit on their hands by keeping them young and working with them persistently. If you plan to release them from their cage, it is best to learn how to clip one or both wings so that the bird will slide to the floor and not fly into walls or windows and injure itself. A small child should not squeeze or hold such a delicate, small bird as it may injure the little creature. And you would be surprised to know that even a small bird like a budgerigar can bite if it gets scared. Parrots are definitely not pets for small children as they can be very aggressive and will easily cut off the finger of an unsuspecting toddler who pokes a curious finger into the cage. Parrots require professional handling and tend to bond with one person in the household and can be downright nasty to other members of the family. These birds are long-lived (over 80 years are not uncommon) and can be loud and messy as they toss up their feed. Gentle birds, cockatoos and other similar birds can also be good pets for a child with a strong sense of responsibility.
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