Our children have had a menagerie of pets throughout their childhood. Our shared fond memories of our pets are often the topic of discussion at family gatherings.
Before we bought a pet, we held a family meeting, as you should never buy a pet on impulse. We assigned our kids the task of researching how the pet would impact our family’s lifestyle and whether the pet would affect the other pets in our household.
If you and your family are interested in having a pet, tips on what to consider first follow.
Decide on the chief caregiver. Which family member will be taking responsibility for caring, feeding, grooming, bathing, walking and keeping the pet’s living space orderly? Young children (under ten years of age) are not mature enough to be totally responsible for pet care. The older the child (over ten years of age), the better the caretaker. An adult should oversee the care of the pet — making sure it is fed, walked and loved — for as long as it is in your family.
Calculate the costs. Create a budget that includes the actual cost of the pet, plus veterinarian fees and all upkeep expenses.
Consider allergies. If a family member is allergic to dogs or cats, educate yourselves on the breeds of both species that are less allergenic. Your local vet is an excellent resource for your questions. The local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or a specific rescue organization should have pets to choose among that have been screened, vetted and vaccinated.
Teach kids responsibility. You are the instructor when it comes to pet care. Show your children how to handle and respect the animal. Also, teach your kids the animal’s signs of contentment, hunger, irritation, the need for quiet time and affection. Once children see the subtle signs of their pet’s comfort and/or discomfort level, they will learn to respect the animal’s space and needs.
Pet Dos & Don’ts
Teach your children about maintaining your pet’s well-being, as well as about their own safety when they are with or near animals.
* Make sure your pet is up-to-date on all vaccinations.
* Have a veterinarian examine all new pets to ensure they are healthy.
* Instruct your child on how to handle and pick up your pet.
* Never tease an animal or pull on any of its body parts.
* No one should mistreat, abuse or torture any animal. If this does occur, notify your healthcare provider so the appropriate interventions can be initiated.
* Never bother an animal while it’s eating, sleeping or taking care of its young.
* Do not take a toy or bone away from an animal playing with it.
* Never leave an infant or child alone with a pet.
* Respect an animal’s need to be alone or away from people it does not know or social situations that it fears.
* Do not pet or play with strange animals.
* Do not make pets of wild animals. Do not feed, touch or bring a wild animal home.
* Wash your hands with soap and water after handling any pet.
* Remember that all dogs need training, which builds a bond of obedience and trust. If you have difficulty training your dog, ask your vet for a referral to a local trainer. Roughhousing or other aggressive games with dogs such as tug of war may create more behavioral problems.
* Spay/neuter all dogs and cats, which helps lessen aggression.
* Always ask a dog owner permission to pet the dog. Let the dog sniff you, and pet the dog gently on its body. Avoid the head, face and tail — areas that dogs may find threatening.
* Never run past a dog not secured.
* If a dog is threatening, remain calm and stay still like a statue. Avoid direct eye contact. Stand still until the dog leaves, or back away slowly.
If attacked, curl up into a ball and cover your face with your hands and arms. If bitten, contact your provider immediately. All dog bites need to be attended to right away. Clean the bites with soap and water as soon as possible. Contact the dog’s owner and verify the dog’s immunization status (especially rabies) with its vet.
Keep Pets Safe
Be sure your pet is protected in its environment.
* Provide your pet with a safe place to live and sleep.
* Lock cabinets. Animals are very clever and can open drawers and cabinets.
* Lock doors to the basement, garage and storage sheds.
* Invest in locked indoor and outdoor garbage cans to prevent choking or food poisoning.
* Protect personal belongings such as shoes, clothing and jewelry.
* Keep furnace and filters serviced and clean.
* Open windows when possible to let fresh air into your home.
* Secure doors/storm doors, and utilize window guards if your pets enjoy looking out the window.
* Keep power cords and plugs secured and out of reach of your animals.
* Provide a comfortable indoor climate for your pets.
Not the Best Pets
The following animals may carry salmonella or other infectious agents. If you have such an animal, be sure its living quarters are kept clean, and always wash your hands after touching or feeding the animal or cleaning its cage.
* Reptiles such as turtles, snakes, lizards and iguanas.
* Rodents such as hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, chinchillas, hedgehogs, prairie dogs, mice and rats.
* Amphibians such as frogs, toads and salamanders.
* Exotic animals.
The Power of Pets
Pets can have a positive relationship with children that can foster their growth and self-esteem, teach compassion and patience, instill confidence and provide a vehicle for exhibiting gentleness and love. Pets are also very good listeners; they enjoy the attention and physical contact when a child needs a friend. Children have a unique way of communicating with their pets. It’s as if a pet has a special understanding, love and caring. Pets do not hold grudges and give love unconditionally. They can also provide lessons on reproduction, birth, illness, accidents and death and bereavement.
Children and pets are a wonderful combination. Most families with pets say life would not be the same without them.
Jo Ann B. Serota, DNP, CPNP, FAANP, is co-owner of Ambler Pediatrics, Ambler, PA. She is president of the NAPNAP Foundation, past president of NAPNAP, corresponding editor of primary case studies for the Journal of Pediatric Health Care and a Ready, Set, Grow advisory panel member.