Big, puppy dog eyes are irresistible, especially if they belong to your young child who is pining for a new pet…
As the proud owner of six chickens, two cats and a miniature Jack Russell, I see how much enjoyment they give to my four-year-old twins. My kids love playing fetch with our little dog in the back garden, feeding the chickens, collecting eggs and teasing the cats with string. They’re stimulated and kept busy by the constant interaction. And I feel secure knowing that my dog will yap loudly when anyone comes within twenty metres of my driveway. Our pets make our family feel complete and are a welcome distraction from the daily stresses, but they do require lots of our time, energy and money too!
Before you make a decision on whether a new pet is a good idea, there are a few things worth thinking about.
There’s no doubt a cat or dog will provide companionship for your children and can really become one of the family, as children commonly build strong bonds with their pets. In learning to take care of their pet, a child will develop an important sense of responsibility. If they are given simple tasks such as feeding and grooming, they will also develop humane attitudes such as empathy and nurture as they will come to appreciate the practical and emotional needs of others. Children who have pets are commonly thought of as less self-centred. These attitudes are important for a child as they will help them with their own social integration, for example, when they start school.
A wealth of research has shown how pet ownership can help ward off depression, lower blood pressure and boost the entire family’s immune system. Walking the dog on a daily basis should be encouraged, providing an opportunity for the whole family to exercise and spend some quality time together.
The death of a family pet can be a very difficult concept for a young child to rationalise. However, this experience will stand to them in later life and help them to cope in the eventuality of a friend or relative passing away.
Is the time right?
Think about whether your child is ready for a pet. Are they still crawling and putting things into their mouths? How do they behave around animals? Are they nervous or happy? If they are nervous around dogs, you could gradually expose them a friend’s dog who you know to be friendly and gentle. Despite how docile many dogs can be, their patience may be tested by an over-enthusiastic toddler constantly pulling on its ears and tail. If you have a young baby or toddler, a new puppy or kitten may be a lot to take on.
Recent research highlights how children living in households with pets are 14% less likely to develop allergies, eczema and asthma in their first year of life than children who don’t. However, 30% of all asthmatics are already allergic to pet hair. If your child is asthmatic, suffers from allergies, or has had allergy testing done to show they are allergic to pet hair, it is best to avoid bringing a pet into the home.
Rabbit, Guinea Pig, Cat or Dog?
Although rabbits are popular, a pet guinea pig may be the easiest option for a first pet, especially for young children. They are relatively easy to look after, a less expensive option and literally offer great hands-on interaction for children as they can be involved in every aspect of its care.
When considering which cat or dog breed would be most suitable for your family, speak to your veterinarian who will be happy to give you advice. If you are considering a rescue animal, make sure that the rescue centre know that you have children at home. They will have lots of experience in finding a pet well-suited to your family’s circumstances. The rescue centre may ask questions about whether your back garden is secure and whether there will someone at home with the dog during the working week. Some rescue centres specify that a dog should be allowed into the home and not kept outdoors all of the time. If you have a regular working week outside the home, there are now options to help take care of your pet while you are at work, such as dog walkers and doggy day care.
If you do choose a cat or dog, make sure it has a quiet place to retreat to if it becomes overwhelmed by placing its bed out of the way. If young children are feeding the dog, make sure they do not touch the food bowl once it has been placed in front of the dog. Most dogs will become very protective of their food. Make sure your child reports any nipping behaviour right away. A staggering 75% of dog bites in children occur in the child’s own home with a dog that is familiar to them, and the average age of the child is just 5 years old.
Kittens are a popular choice for young families as they require less commitment in terms or training and are less prone to behavioural problems. Cats are less likely to cause harm to a child, in the event that they are feeling overwhelmed they can readily escape, whereas a dog may bite if it is cornered and becomes anxious. Cats are naturally less dependent than dogs and may be a suitable option if you are at work during the day. An important note on hygiene – If you are pregnant, have another adult change the litter tray daily. Toxoplasmosis is an infection carried by a parasite in cats’ faecal matter which can be deadly to the unborn baby.
If you do get a cat or dog it is very worthwhile to consider having them micro-chipped. A small micro-chip is inserted below their skin. If they are lost, a veterinarian or rescue centre can scan the dog and access an online database hosting your address and contact details. When having your dog micro-chipped, ensure this is carried out by a veterinarian who will register the chip with europet.net. Recently bogus databases have been set up, which are inaccessible to vets and hence the animal, if lost, cannot be traced back to its owners.
Maintaining your pet’s health can be expensive. These necessary healthcare measures will prevent parasites, illness, and unwanted puppies or kittens which could otherwise ruin what should be a special experience for the whole family.
Other expenses to consider are small accessories such as pet bed, bowl, lead etc. Food for your pet will also vary in price depending on the type and quality you choose. A guinea pig would cost only €10 per month, and a large breed dog could cost as much as €100 per month.
Initial Vet costs
Cat neuter (male/female) €50 – €100
Dog spay (female) €150 – €400 (depending on size and breed)
Dog castration (male) €100 – €350 (depending on size and breed)
Micro-chipping €10 – €40
Flea & worm treatment €150
Annual vaccinations €80
Dog licence €20 (€140 for lifetime option)
Pet insurance €88 – €700 (depending on size and breed)
If you’re undecided and need more information, the following organizations provide excellent advice on choosing and caring for a new pet.
- The Blue Dog
- International Cat Care
- The Dogs Trust
Phone: 1890 252 928