Kids And Pets: What You Need To Consider Before Bringing Something Fluffy Home

Girl (4-6) looking at two goldfish in plastic bag
Henrik Sorensen via Getty Images
Girl (4-6) looking at two goldfish in plastic bag

Maybe you always knew this day would come. Maybe you were hoping it wouldn't.

Either way, it's here. The discussion about pet ownership has well and truly arrived and your brood is pretty keen on adding a fluffy new family member to the mix.

But before you decide either way, there are a couple of things to take into consideration.

Firstly, your lifestyle.

"It's extremely important to take into consideration your family’s lifestyle, housing situation and the cost of owning a pet," RSPCA NSW spokesperson Kelly Walton told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Lifestyle really is a huge consideration. For example, if your family is not interested in daily walks, a cat would be a more appropriate choice of pet than a dog. If you don’t think you can commit 15-20 years to looking after a cat, then you can opt for a pet with a shorter lifespan.

"If you live in an apartment, a small dog may not necessarily be the most suitable choice -- plenty of small dogs have a lot of energy and would go stir-crazy. Apartment-dwellers would be better suited to owning a cat or a greyhound. That said, cats still require lots of things to keep them occupied (a cat run that allows restricted access outside is a good idea), and greyhounds do require daily walks, but are couch potatoes the rest of the time."

Checkers the cat is available for adoption in Queensland.

In terms of cost, it obviously varies depending on the type of pet you are considering. Regardless, it's worthwhile doing your research to find out not only the upfront expenses but also the potential for other costs in the future. This can simply be acquainting yourself with how much it's really going to cost to own a pet for the long term, or familiarising yourself with breeds so you don't unknowingly adopt a pet with health concerns that could cost you down the track.

The work required to take proper care of a pet is also something that should be considered, and, importantly, discussed with the entire family.

"Adults and children alike need to understand that acquiring a pet of any kind means that you have taken on a daily responsibility for a number of years," Walton said.

"A child’s understanding of this varies -- some teenagers are not aware of the responsibilities of pet ownership, while there are many very responsible young children who understand the commitments required."

Founder and director of Powerful Parenting Australia, Davina Sharry suggests drawing up a roster or contract to help kids fully understand the responsibilities associated with owning a pet.

"For example, if you get a dog, figure out whose dog it will be when it comes to doing different jobs," Sharry told HuffPost Australia.

"Take the time to explain. For example, it might help to draw something up with the children and then have them commit to that. Make a contract that the children can sign which details the care requirements, and what jobs are designated to who when it comes to looking after the pet."

Spud the puppy is available for adoption in NSW.

In terms of preparing your children for the arrival of their new pet, it's worth taking the time to encourage them to imagine things from the animal's point of view. (Just in case the new puppy isn't up for playing just yet and would rather hide behind the couch.)

"Get them to think about how the animal may be feeling, because animals have feelings just like us. The animal may be excited to be in a new home, or they may be feeling very scared," Walton advised.

"Children should be encouraged to give the pet as much space as he/she needs. Parents should research signs of stress in an animal, so they know what to look out for and when to give the pet some time away from the children."

Another thing to consider is 'small in size' doesn't necessarily equal 'small in effort', so don't buy something cute and little just because you think it will be easier to look after (or that it will comfortably fit in your apartment). In other words, do your research.

"All animals like dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs need some form of exercise, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they need a big yard. Energetic breeds of dogs will need a yard, but a breed like a greyhound would just need a daily walk," Walton said.

"Cats are definitely capable of living only indoors (it’s a lot safer for the cat and for our wildlife) but would need to be provided with stimulation such as scratching posts, places to climb, and toys.

"Rabbits and guinea pigs should have a yard where they can have supervised exercise. Pets like stick insects, fish and hermit crabs don’t need a yard, but still have space requirements. Potential owners should do some research on the requirements of these animals before acquiring one (and hermit crabs are not as easy to look after as some people think!)."

Thumper the rabbit is available for adoption in Tasmania.

At the end of the day, both Walton and Sharry cite preparation as being key to the successful adoption of any pet; big, furry, small, scaly or otherwise. As Sharry points out, it's also important to communicate to your children it's a life they are talking about here, not a soft toy.

"A lot of pre-work is where the power lies. I wouldn’t do anything with children until the pre-work is done," Sharry said. "And that means a big 'no' to impulsive buying.

"You have to make it clear you are not going to have any impulsive buying going on, especially when it involves a life. If it's something your children are really serious about, it won't hurt to go home and discuss it first.

"It really doesn't hurt the children to know you take that life seriously.

"I think these days children are so used to getting their chips and lollies at the drop of a hat, it can be very easy to develop an 'I want I want' attitude. Well, not when it comes to little animals.

"Go on the journey of researching it together. Make a family decision. If you say no, there’s a lot of learning in that as well. If you say no, that’s a hard hit. All this wonderful investigation and suddenly the answer is no.

"At the end of it all, if you don’t have enough space, finance, whatever, don't buy the pet regardless. 'No' is a lovely lesson to learn as well. Sometimes, that's just the answer."

Erma is available for adoption in the Northern Territory.

As a final note, all families thinking of adding a pet to their family should also consider where they come from.

"If families are considering a new pet, we encourage them to check out their local RSPCA shelter or other rescue organisations first," Walton said.

"If they don’t find a suitable animal or have their heart set on a particular breed, it’s important to research reputable breeders, to avoid contributing to non-reputable breeding practices. Some good information can be found at the RSPCA puppy guide."

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