Children love family pets. Pets teach children how to love and care for animals, they teach children reponsibility and about life and death.
There are so many different pet options avaiable and it is vitally important that we ensure our children will be as safe as possible with the pets we choose.
From my experience as a child once the novelty of having a new pet began to wear off I found the cleaning of my budgie's cage and walking of our dog a real chore and these became the cause of many arguments in my family. This is probably a major factor in getting a new family pet, invariably the parents will end up doing most of the caring.
In addition to the general care of an animal you must consider the additional costs of vetinary bills and care for the animal whilst you are on holiday.
There are various insurance plans available on the market to help pay towards unexpected and high vet bills.
The most important thing to consider before buying/rehousing a family pet is will you and your family really care for the animal and wish to make it an integral part of your family. If this is not the case - DO NOT get a Pet!
General safety tips for keeping pets
Always supervise your children when they are with their pets
Teach children how to stroke gently
Teach your children to stay away from pets when they are eating
Teach children that animals can be tempermental (just like us humans) and that we must learn to understand when they wish to be left alone.
Try to be quiet around animals, screaming and running around indoors can cause some animals distress.
Do not 'pin' an animal in a corner, if they feel trapped and a child is approaching them they may lash out with their claws or bite.
Caged animals often bite, teach children to keep fingers out of the bars.
What animal should you choose?
I have listed here what I believe to be the 5 most common pets for young families and a few tips on the level of care each will require.
Hamsters live for approximately 2-3 years but some may live a little longer. Hamsters will let you handle them and become tame in a short space of time, they will only bite when they are frightened. You will require a hamster cage and this will need to be cleaned on a weekly basis. Hamsters need daily feeding and access to fresh water. Hamsters are nocturnal so can be active (and noisy) at night. Hamsters may disturb your child's sleep if kept in their bedroom. Hamsters can be purchased for as little as £7.50.
Budgies have an average lifespan of around 6 to 8 years. Once tamed most budgies will let you hold them and they often like to be free to fly around a room in the house, remember to keep all windows closed so they cannot escape. As with a hamster you will need to purchase a cage for your budgie (a budgie cage). This will cage will need regular cleaning (upto once a day) to keep your budgie healthy and free from disease. Budgies like toys to play with in their cages and also enjoy a bath in a small dish. Budgies can be purchased for as little as £5.00.
Rabbits live for between 5-10 years on average. Rabbits are sociable animals and are best kept as pairs of the same sex (for obvious reasons). Rabbits must be vaccinated annualy to prevent Viral Haemorrhagic Disease and Myomatosis. Rabbits can be kept indoors or outdoors and can be litter trained (like a cat). Depending on where you plan to keep your rabbit(s) will determine if you require a cage or a hutch, either way they require daily feeding and weekly cleaning of their home. Rabbits can be bought from around £20.00.
In some ways Guinea Pigs are like a cross between a rabbit and a hamster. Smaller than rabbits, but larger than a hamster they can either live indoors or outdoors. If they live outdoors it is important to remember that they need to be protected from drafts. On average they live between 4 - 6 years, with indoor Guinea Pigs having a longer life expectancy than those kept outdoors. Apart from their cage needing to be clean out on a regular basis they are a low maintenance pet. They are fairly cheap too with a diet that consists of vegetables, grass and a grain based feed. Guinea Pigs can be very timid animals and plenty of time and patience can be required before they become tame and friendly.
Cats live for upto 20 years but average age is around 12 years. Cats are by nature very independant animals. Do not think this means they do not need a great deal of care. They require yearly vaccinations and health checks at the vet and worming every 6 months. Kittens require upto 4 small meals a day whereas an adult cat will require 2 meals a day. Note that once a cat is house trained they are generally very little trouble but they may still be partial to sharpening their claws on your furniture. Depending on the breed of cat you wish to purchase they can be bought for as little as £20.00. My personal suggestion would be to rehouse a cat from any of the animal charities at the bottom of this article.
Dogs have a similar life expectancy as cats but are very, very dependant on their owners. Dogs require yearly vaccinations, require feeding twice a day and excercise is a major part of their lives. The amount of exercise required depends on the breed of dog, for Example a Shih Tzu requires no real exercise whereas an English Setter requires over an hour of exercise per day. Choose your dog wisely by investigating the history of the dog and the temperment of the breed. A great website for this is Pet Planet.
If you are serioulsy considering a family pet then before buying from a breeder or pet-shop check out the following animal charities.Directory of Animal Rescuers across the UK