Does your child add a puppy or kitten to every wish list? Kids and pets are a natural match, and you may have decided to make your child’s dreams come true and welcome a new furry friend into your home. Pets teach children many things: responsible pet ownership, compassion, proper handling, nurturing, and the cycle of life and death. Follow our tips to choose the perfect companion who will help teach your child the joys of pet ownership.

How to choose a pet

Most children experience the joys of interacting with cats and dogs, whether as their own family pet or when visiting friends. When choosing a cat or dog to add to your family, ask the following questions:

  • Do we have time for a young puppy or kitten? Young pets, especially puppies, require lots of time for training, playing, and being cared for appropriately. Kittens also need socialization and training, although not as much as a puppy. Puppies and kittens are blank slates regarding socialization, so they are ideal for adapting to life with a young child. But, if your family does not have the time to train a young pet, an older animal may be a better fit.

  • Does an older pet interact well with children? Older pets can be uncomfortable around children, especially if they are not used to fast-moving, noisy, unpredictable tiny humans. When searching for a new family member at an animal shelter, you can ask about a pet’s history and how they interact with children. Some older pets do not do well with young children, but may be perfect for older children.
  • Is my child old enough to handle a cat or dog correctly? Accidents happen when small children hold squirming puppies or kittens, or try to walk large dogs. If your child is not old enough to understand that grabbing ears or tails is off-limits, you should wait a little longer to welcome a dog or cat into your home. Consider hands-off pets, such as fish, while your child is still learning how to properly handle pets.
  • What breed or mix will fit with our lifestyle? If you have decided that a dog is right for your family, consider your home life. Is your family constantly on the go outdoors, or do you all prefer a relaxing night watching a movie? Choose a dog breed based on your family’s activities. An active, rough-and-tumble dog is perfect for hiking and beach outings, while a tiny lap dog is better suited for cuddling on the couch.
  • Do we have the necessary space for a cat or dog? Dogs require more room to exercise than cats, but you can use neighborhood parks and walks around the block to burn off energy. Ideally, your new pup will also romp in your fenced-in backyard and stay safe and secure. If you are leaning toward adding a feline friend to your family, you should keep her indoors to provide the most safety, but she will need vertical space to satisfy her needs. Vertical space involves high perches that will make her feel comfortable and allow her to escape and survey her domain.

Safe interactions between kids and pets

Once you’ve decided on the perfect pet for your family, ensure your child understands her appropriate handling and care. A cat or dog is an excellent teacher for your child to learn responsibility, kindness, and listening skills, but make sure every interaction is positive. Follow these tips to avoid potential problem behaviors:

  • Teach your child to handle every animal with kindness and respect—do not allow her to tug tails, pull ears, or snatch toys or treats from pets.
  • Allow your child to help care for your pet to learn responsibility and proper husbandry.
  • Engage the family in training sessions that teach both children and pets appropriate behaviors. Puppy or obedience classes involve the entire family and get everyone on the same page regarding commands and training methods.
  • Make sure your child knows to never bother a pet while sleeping.
  • Never leave your child alone with an animal—accidents can happen quickly.
  • Don’t allow your child to chase pets who are trying to leave the room, because the pet may feel cornered and lash out.
  • Teach safe play by avoiding or limiting rough games, such as tug of war and wrestling, and games that involve nipping or pouncing on hands.

We would love to meet your new family member. Schedule a visit for your new pet’s first wellness visit to make sure she is healthy and free of diseases and parasites that can be transmitted to your family.