The Truth about Pets and Children

It is inevitable that as a parent one day your child will ask if they can have a pet. As a child I constantly asked for an array of different animals that I could call a pet to which my mother denied me the chance sending me to desperate measures such as keeping caterpillars in jars in my room. As it happened “Slimy” the pet caterpillar metamorphosised into a beautiful butterfly on my 6th birthday after weeks of leaf feeding and love.

Eventually, my dad planted completely by accident, a kitten appeared in our shed to which my dad promised to look after and gently swayed my mother into keeping as it was a “poor lost stray.” “Poor lost stray” soon strayed into relations with next doors Tom cat and by the age of 7 I had a big cat and four kittens, one of which we kept, and they both lived to the grand old age of 21. Hooray I had pets!

However pets are not to be looked upon as an easy decision to partake with children. Each with their own pros and cons here we investigate the secret life of pets and whether they would be suitable for your children and family.

Those of us who remember our primary school days and those of us who then went on to teach primary school children will remember the same monotonous exercise you would have had to use as an example in the English Debate part of the curriculum…”should we have a class pet?” Of course a class pet also can come with its’ own pros and cons. Health and safety and its now extremeties being at the forefront in most head teachers minds. One of my classes and I campaigned quite vigorously for a class pet eventually for it to be allowed by the head teacher. We waited patiently and excitedly for the arrival of perhaps a fluffy rabbit or even a cute rodenty gerbil. We were given a stick insect. Stick insects are probably the least exciting pet on earth and yet my little class loved them dearly and low and behold we were blessed with tiny stick insect eggs and babies as they hatched half way through my first Ofsted inspection.

Choosing a family pet is a complex decision and not something to be rushed into without discussion. Once upon a time the Irishman, somewhat irresponsibily returned home with a tiny puppy he said was given to him. The puppy was said to be a pug crossed with a terrier. Having always had cats I hadn’t the faintest idea what a dog, especially a puppy, would entail and so took to Google to find out exactly what we would need for this new member of our family. Fast forward a year and I have a medium sized dog, identified as a spaniel/Jack Russell and the most bonkers animal you will ever meet. As much as I love Bertie I will never ever own another dog, preferring a new born baby to the sleepless nights and neediness that pup gave me the first year of his life and continues to do so.

So what are the pros and cons of having a pet in the family? Here we explore the very myths and lies children tell us parents in order to obtain a pet.

It gives the children a sense of responsibility

This is the number one reason stated in most parenting forums etc for bringing a pet into the family. Children most definitely use this reason the most as they know the yearning you feel for them to accept responsibility for something in their lives and not lay everything at your feet. They will promise to clean the cage, to walk the dog, to feed the cat but ultimately that is short lived. Do not be fooled into thinking any responsibility for this pet will be fully undertook by your child, not even moderately supervised. That pet will be your full responsibility. Realistically you are not going to let your pet die or become ill because you have left its’ feeding and care to your child. Therefore after the initial flurries of excitement of this new notion of responsibility and you trusting them, it will dissipate quickly leaving them with a wonderfully parent – cleaned hutch and a cute well maintained Guinea pig to enjoy.

Having a pet teaches children valuable life lessons e.g. Mortality

For some reason I always thought this was a pretty valid reason for having a pet in a morbid kind of way. Death is not a subject you want to teach your child but ultimately a topic that needs discussing at some point and will be raised along the way. When we bought hamsters we were told by the store that as the creatures only tended to live just two years they would be apt at teaching this life lesson. Odd when I think about it now. Also today, as I secretly buried our first deceased rodent in my garden, our children have been left unaware with a brand new identical hamster happily gnawing in his new – still warm- cage thanks to my quick dash to the pet store. Why did I not tell them he had gone to heaven? Because its heartbreaking and I don’t want them to suffer that.

A running family joke was of my cousin’s canary Sunny who was seemingly the oldest living canary in the world. She once even asked me aged 25 whether he would make the Guinness Book of World Records. Therefore I feel this reason should be disregarded as a pro for a pet as death is never a positive!

A pet is a companion for a child.

I like this reason for having a pet as I’m all for friendship and companionship. That being said the friendship I have with my dog is somewhat stifling and needy (even to my extent) and not something I look for in a friend. He is there for every second of my waking moment, wants attention from anybody else that visits and makes sexual advances towards them. He’s not the type of companion I would have chosen. However he is amazing with all children he meets and a loyal family member.

Nonetheless would the same be said of all pets? Would a pet stick insect, as we had in our classroom, have the same companionship as a dog? This rule can surely not be applied to all animals you welcome into your home. I am a self confessed cat lover but cats are fickle as well as conniving and cunning. Cats don’t always make the best of companions, choosing their family members, avoiding noisy children, picking and choosing when they want to be loved. The same can be said for hamsters, with two hamsters in our home, one I could have easily picked, petted and loved (the dead one) the other would happily razor blade my hand as soon as I lift the lid to feed the furry little ball of rage. Therefore this forced companionship can not always be applied to all animals and pets and comes around once again to what type of pet would be best suited for your household.

Along with the above reasons are various scientific studies showing that children’s behaviour is better with a pet (they definitely haven’t met the Boss Baby) Along with the comfort of having a pet and lower blood pressure. So, if like us you do decide to bring a pet home what should you consider first? Here are some things I think are hugely important to consider if you are going to make that leap:

Expense: Pets are expensive. A goldfish will obviously be dramatically less expensive than a dog but pets in general all come with a list of things they need to be a part of your home along with regular maintenance payments.

Time: If I wasn’t a stay at home mother when our dog arrived, life would have been difficult. I know many people do work around their jobs and see to new puppies but I had NO idea the amount of attention and work was needed to settle a puppy and to stop it attacking my home when I wasn’t present. Lots of dog training YouTube channels and reading later I have a slightly tame dog in terms of he doesn’t eat the sofa when I pop into town.

Sleep deprivation: I’ve already addressed the puppy sleep routines, however many other pets can cause just as much sleep deprivation. You wouldn’t know you had a hamster until the moment you close your eyes to sleep and hear it trying to tunnel out of its’ cage or furiously gnaw from its’ metal bars. I found this out the hard way and have finally adjusted to their bedtime antics but definitely something to remember – the small rodenty types are nocturnal!

In my view pets are a positive thing to have in the home with children if you have the time, space and equipment needed. The pdsa have a great guide to choosing the right pet for your family which you can access here.

All pet stories, pictures and comments welcome over at my social media accounts and in the comments. 💗

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