Empathy, responsibility, trust, birth and death – these are just some of the things that pet ownership can teach your kids. But which pet will be the most suitable for your child and family? Read on…
Dogs (Perfect age: Newborns up)
Dogs are the most popular family pet in Australia and it’s little wonder why. Loyal, affectionate and a tonne of fun, dogs make great companions for children of any age. But toddlers and dogs make particularly great mates – so long as your pooch is patient through endless ear pulling, tail yanking and sudden emotional outbursts. Studies have shown that dogs can have the same mental capacity as a two-year-old human, so it’s little wonder that your bub and your dog get along so well – they’re practically the same species! That’s not to say that bringing a dog into a house with a baby, or vice versa, won’t have its challenges, and there are definitely some rare instances where things don’t go to plan – a bit of research, persistence and a lot of affection to both parties can help to ease the tension. But if the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that babies and dogs can develop a pretty tight bond – chances are, your pup will be your child’s best friend. Awww!
Cats (Perfect age: 2 years and up)
While it’s true that all cats have different temperaments, most will be happy living in a home with children – particularly once your kids pass the aged of three. A fully-grown cat is out of the ‘easily squished’ category, but is also unlikely to scare your children by being too boisterous. Opting to rescue an adult cat could be your best bet if you’re hoping to add one to the family, as kittens tend to feel anxious enough in new places without adding rambunctious children to the mix. Cats are also great at finding quiet spots to retreat too when things are getting a bit hectic (which might not be great news for your overly-affectionate child, but will absolutely decrease the risk of your cat lashing out or feeling on edge). Teaching your child to respect their pet’s boundaries and have consideration for how they might feel will build a great foundation for their sense of empathy later in life.
Chickens (Perfect age: 4 years and up)
Any chicken owner will tell you just how ridiculously ‘pet-like’ a chicken can be. Perfect for kids aged four and up, a chicken can provide the companionship of a dog with the added ability to produce breakfast – a big win! Chickens have been known to follow their owners around and are always up for a cuddle. There are dozens of colours and breeds, but the placid nature and fluffy feathers of silkie chickens make them a popular choice for families – plus, this breed can give you four or five eggs per week. All they need is chicken food (plus some kitchen scraps as treats), water and a safe place to roost at night away from predators.
Guinea pigs and rodents (Perfect age: 7 years and up)
Mice, guinea pigs and rats can make excellent pets for your children, particularly those over the age of seven or eight who have the fine motor skills to safely hold them. Having a pet rodent can also give your children a good lesson in responsibility, particularly if you enforce the rule that if they don’t care for them, no one will. Like snakes, rats probably fall into the ‘pets I neither need nor want’ category, but it turns out they’re actually extremely intelligent and very social – as are mice and guinea pigs! Some people have even gone so far as to say that a rat’s companionship is a lot like a dog’s, and they certainly take up less space. Rodents and guinea pigs thrive in pairs or groups, so it could be a good idea to buy two – just make sure they’re both the same sex, as they can quickly multiply!
Reptiles (Perfect age: 10 years and up)
You might not believe it, but snakes actually make pretty cool pets – they’re quiet, clean and make great companions, particularly for children who are old enough to handle the responsibility of having a tank in their room (but maybe not responsible enough to look after something as delicate as a fish). While it’s true that most snake breeds aren’t dangerous, you should definitely do your research before you commit to snake ownership – especially when you realise that some can live for up to 30 years! And for those of us with snake phobias whose children who want a reptilian pet of their own, consider a lizard – they’re low maintenance, sociable and can even be trained (some people report teaching their lizards to walk on leashes). Skinks, dragons and geckos are just some of the varieties available to purchase as pets, so do your research. Note: There are licences required to keep these kinds of pets (available online). Make sure you speak to an expert.
Fish (Perfect age: 10 years and up)
They’re not considered the most exciting of pets, but what pet fish might lack in personality and affection, they do make up for in other areas like stress-reduction – zoning out while watching a fish float lazily around its tank is the ultimate form of meditation. At age 10 and older, your kids have probably hit the ‘fish-ownership sweet spot’: they want a bit of added responsibility whilst also being perfectly capable of considering the needs and feelings of another being. The idea of having their own pet in their own room is pretty much the coolest, so make the most of it by enforcing clear cleaning and feeding ground rules – a schedule on the fridge certainly won’t go astray!