The Best Age for Getting a Pet

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Introducing an animal into the family is a big decision and not one that should be rushed into. Pets are a lot of responsibility and need plenty of love, care, and training.

While it might be tempting to quieten the relentless “can we get a dog?” requests by offering one when your child turns X or for getting good grades, it’s not advisable to use the prospect of a puppy or kitten as a reward. 

Your kids might be full of promises about how they’re going to care for a pet, but once the novelty wears off, it’s the parents who will end up doing the lion’s share of the toilet breaks, grooming, and feeding. 

That said, welcoming a furry family member into the household comes with loads of benefits. Children who grow up with pets are commonly more empathetic and responsible, and pet ownership has even been linked with better grades!

Remember, the perfect pet will look different for each family, so do plenty of research before settling on a pet that might not be the right fit, regardless of how old your children are. 

Babies

If you have a baby, it might not be the ideal time to introduce another creature who needs lots of training, love, and affection. New parents are generally busy enough without worrying about what the puppy has in its mouth or the bird that your cat just dragged in!

But while it’s probably not the best time to introduce a new pet into the family when you’re dealing with a baby, if you already have a pet when the baby comes along, there should be no reason that you have to choose one or the other. As long as you establish some common-sense guidelines: 

  • Never leave the baby and pet alone together.
  • Keep baby’s bedroom door closed at night so your pet can’t get in.
  • Don’t let the baby pull on fur or terrorize your pet.
  • Be sure to spend time with your pet: remind them that they are still loved and part of the family.

Toddlers

While it might be easier for you to care for a pet and a toddler (vs. a baby), remember that toddlers often struggle with empathy and controlling angry outbursts, which could be frightening or even harmful to a pet.

Small dogs and cats, in particular, are at risk of injuries from uncoordinated and unpredictable children. This fear could cause even the most gentle and patient pets to lash out in self-defense.

The Association of Pet Dog Trainers recommends you match toddlers with a larger dog breed, weighing at least 25-30lbs. Larger dogs tend to be more stable and patient and are less at risk of injury from a curious or clumsy child.

You might also want to give your pup some respite from toddlers’ constantly sticky fingers. Consider a dog ramp (like this one: https://chasingtails.store/products/dog-ramp-for-bed) to help them climb out of the way when kids get too much!

Grade-Schoolers

As long as you’re not delusional enough to expect your children to actually do the bulk of the pet care, getting a dog with children aged 5+ can be an excellent way to teach kids responsibility, compassion, and a whole host of other good habits.

If you want your child to be mainly responsible for the pet, go small. A goldfish or gerbil can be kept in the kids’ room, and (with supervision) your children can deal with the feeding, task cleaning, and maintenance.

Just remember, even goldfish can live for 10-15 years, so you get no points for keeping Goldy alive for 6 months! 

If you’re bringing a pet into the family, whether it’s a tiny fish or Great Mastiff, you’re making a commitment to a living creature. Pets are not a temporary science experiment or a toy to be thrown away when they get bored.  

The Right Pet for the Right Family. 

In addition to thinking about what age your children should be before introducing a pet into the family, it’s also essential to think about the type of pet that’s right for your specific family and needs.

For example, if your household is super active and loves walks, a retriever might be the perfect fit. If you’re more on the couch-potato side, an active dog will get bored and disruptive sitting around all day, so a cat or bulldog might be a better fit. You should also think about whether your kids are outgoing or shy, how helpful they are when it comes to chores, and how much mess you’re realistically happy to deal with.

Taking time to establish what type of household you are will give you a better chance of finding a pet that matches. Think of it this way: you might have always wanted a 2-seater convertible car, but if you’re a family of four, this isn’t going to be suitable.

Put away your pre-notions of what a pet should be and focus instead on how well they will integrate with the family’s existing members. This way, you’ll end up with a loving companion who will provide years of joy and affection.

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