The Doggie in the Window? Choosing the Right Pet for Your Family
A spirited game of fetch in the yard, a sleepy cat curled on the lap, an adorable hamster spinning his exercise wheel. Like adults, kids develop special relationships with their pets. Studies have shown that owning a pet can have actual health benefits, such as lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Kids can gain a sense of responsibility from sharing in pet care duties. And, especially if they own a dog, they’ll have to get out and get moving with their pet.
But are your kids ready for one? And, what pet would be the best match for your family?
- Look at your lifestyle. Pick the type of pet that best suits your family’s lifestyle and your children’s ages. Are you gone a lot? A dog might not be your best choice. Do you have a rambunctious toddler? Make sure the dog you choose is patient and long-suffering. Or — better yet — consider a less-demanding pet, such as a hamster or guinea pig. If you do choose a dog, be sure the breed is a good match for your family. Retrievers and beagles tend to be docile and loving with kids. Dobermans, German shepherds and pit bulls are more unpredictable.
- Beware of health risks. If you have children younger than 5, avoid the temptation to get that really cool iguana or turtle because all reptiles can transmit salmonella. Children younger than 5 and those with suppressed immune systems, such as a child who’s had an organ transplant or is being treated for cancer, are more vulnerable.
- Make sure no one in your family is allergic to the animal. If you have a family member allergic to dogs but still want to own one, there are many hypo-allergenic breeds available to choose from.
- If you own a cat and are pregnant, you should have someone else change the litter box. Toxoplasmosis — which can affect the developing fetus and cause various anomalies, even miscarriage — can be transmitted via cat feces.
- Don't bring wild animals home. A wild animal — even one that seems tame — is never a good choice for a pet.
- Choose your source carefully. Once you’ve decided what kind of animal you want, get it from a reputable source. You can choose to adopt an animal from a rescue shelter, such as ones run by a local chapter of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If you choose to purchase your pet from a breeder, make sure the breeder has a good reputation. Avoid taking in strays on your own; they’re more likely to carry disease.
- Read up. Before you bring the pet home, visit the library or buy some books to learn about the ways to care for your animal. Your child should understand all of the responsibilities involved in owning a pet.
- Schedule a check up. If your pet is healthy, it’s a lot less likely to pass disease along to your family. Once you’ve brought your furry (or scaly) friend home, take it to a veterinarian right away. The vet will examine it and give it any needed shots, including one for rabies, which poses the biggest threat to humans. (Don’t forget to have your animal spayed or neutered, too!) Then make sure you take your animal back for regularly scheduled well checks (ask your vet how often) and any additional shots.
- Provide good nutrition. Make sure your pet always has plenty of healthy pet food and clean, fresh water, so it doesn’t take up unhealthy habits, such as digging through the garbage or drinking out of the toilet bowl — places where disease can linger.
- Keep them clean. Make sure you clean your pet’s living area, or cage, at least once a week. Bag feces and dispose of them in the trash. Clean your cat’s litter box once a day, bag the dirty litter, and put it in the trash.
- Mind the hands. Always remember to wash hands after handling your pet! Every family member — from youngest to oldest — should lather up after handling the family pet or cleaning up after it. You’ll have to supervise younger children to make sure they do it right.
- Let them cuddle, not kiss. Kids love to cuddle their pets, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t let them. But teach them not to let the dog or cat lick their faces and mouths; tell them to never “kiss” back!
Reviewed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello Jr., MD
Date: March 2013