Dogs, cats, chickens, hamsters

I considered myself a lucky kid. I grew up on a farm with lots of space for animals. Pets were just a normal part of life. The fish, turtles, and hamsters shared our home. The cats occupied the back steps while the chickens and dogs roamed the yard.  They were our companions and playmates. It was never a question if we were old enough to have a pet; they just kept coming!

But for most parents these days, the question of when to get a child a pet is worth some discussion. One point for consideration is what is your purpose for having the pet. Is it for companionship and play? Or do you want your child to take responsibility for part or all of it’s care?

Let’s start at the beginning. Babies aren’t old enough to handle or take care of pets. Toddlers want to touch and grab pets. As the kids grow into the preschool age years, they are able to better understand how to handle a pet and fill the water and food dishes. I suspect that the “I wanna dog” (or whatever) gene really kicks in during the elementary years.

The good news is that school-age kids are old enough to assume some pet chores and can play with the pets responsibly. The bad news is that this age children may have short attention spans and change their minds often. So that dog wanted now may be not so much fun three months later. Preteens and teens have the capabilities to be responsible. But they are also getting into the “busy” years and pets will have to compete for their time.

No matter your decision as to when to add a pet to your family, realize that  as the parent you have the final responsbility for its care and well-being.

Note: Check out the ASPCA web site for some good thoughts about the right pet for your child’s age.

Donna Donald

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

More Posts

Children and Pets

Children and animals seem like a perfect match. Many of us adults remember the special bonds we had with pets when we were children. It’s hard to resist the pleas of our kids when it comes to the adorable kittens and puppies and other little critters. But we also realize it is a major commitment to bring a pet into our home.

During April we will address the big question: Is a pet worth the effort?

We’ll share research in human-animal interaction and talk about how to determine the right age for children to have pets, how to make choices about pets and what pets can teach our children.

Join us!

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

More Posts