Pets and Children - Essential Considerations

Pets and children can be a winning combination - as well as providing entertainment, animals can teach your offspring important lessons in responsibility and empathy. But choosing to bring a pet into the family is a major decision, particularly if you opt for a cockatoo, which could live for 80 years. If your heart is set on a pet, then make sure you pick one that will fit in with your children and lifestyle.

Who is the pet for?

Ultimately, you, as an adult, must accept responsibility for the care of a pet. Children have short attention spans and can be both fickle and forgetful, so you need to ensure that you have the time and energy to feed, water, clean and exercise it as necessary. If your child requests a pet, bear in mind that it may be a passing phase - don't dash to the pet shop, wait for sustained interest and repeated requests before seriously considering it. If you're thinking that the responsibility would be good for your child, it's possible that you're buying it more for yourself than for them, so it's even more important to remember that it will be up to you to look after it.

Does anyone oppose the pet?

Think very seriously before taking the plunge and buying an animal that anyone in the household is likely to dislike, be afraid of or allergic to. Animals that can be contained within designated areas may be worth considering, but it is best if the whole family is in agreement on the pet's arrival.

What sort of home will you be bringing the pet into?

If your chosen pet requires warm, quiet conditions and you can only offer a cold, draughty spot outdoors you should probably have a rethink. Is the pet appropriate for the age of your child? A rampant toddler and a timid puppy may be a bad combination. Think of the future - even if the pet holds your child's interest for a few years, what will you do when they leave home? Animals and children are alike in that they respond best to consistency. If you establish boundaries on acceptable behaviour and set aside time for games and activities together, your household will be more harmonious.

Can you afford the pet?

Don't underestimate the expense of owning a pet. Imagine you acquire a dog; there'll be the unavoidable trips to the vet for vaccinations, basic daily needs such as bedding, food, water, exercise and grooming, not to mention more trips to the vet when your faithful friend injures himself after a trip down a rabbit hole. Give an ageing cat a home and you'd be wise to take out RSPCA cat insurance to guard against the more or less inevitable injury or illness. It may be worth considering a lower maintenance pet that needs less care and food - anyone fancy a rat? Many animals are happier in the company of their own kind, but find a friend for your pet and your costs will double.

Mixing children and pets requires serious thought, so make sure you know what you are getting into before making the commitment.

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