Your child is begging for a pet…now what?

By: Jessica Gregory
Certified Veterinary Technician at Pet Poison Helpline

Dog and BoyDuring these cold Minnesota winters my husband I and occasionally head to the mall with our son to go for a walk. We can usually guess which places he will want to stop, one of which is a small stand that sells hermit crabs. My son will stand there forever staring at these little creatures, certainly secretly longing to take one home. He has never asked but I found myself picking up a “How to care for your Hermit Crab” pamphlet thinking to myself that there is no way that I could imagine having one but I’d better be prepared for when the question does come. It all seemed very reasonable until I got to the part about molting!

Looking at all the options out there for “kid-friendly” pets the list could include fish, birds, reptiles, rodents, cats, dogs or even the hermit crab. How do you know what pet might be best when the question of “Can I have a pet?” comes up?

Do you have time to take care of a pet? Obviously some will require more time than others, but even fish need to be fed if you are out of town for a week!

Is everyone in the family on board with the decision? A fish might not require as much family unity as a cat or dog but everyone in the home should be willing to help out, even a little, with any pet that is brought home.

Is your child able to safely interact with a pet? A young child might be too rough for a small rodent like a hamster or even the most patient cat or dog. I could also add pet-proofing to this! Is your child capable of keeping objects picked up so your dog doesn’t come by and eat their entire collection of Legos?

Can we afford a pet? Pets are expensive! The bigger they are the more expensive they get. Sure a hermit crab or fish in a bowl may not be too financially draining, but cats or dogs can become a significant expense. Consider routine care as well as potential emergency situations when calculating a pets expense. We never think our dog will drink antifreeze or that our cat will chew on a poisonous lily but it happens when you least expect it.

Once you have determined what a good fit might be find a local pet store or rescue organization to find the perfect match! Be sure that everyone in the family is along if choosing a dog or cat and be sure to ask if they get along well with other pets that might be in your home!

When our son does decide that he wants a pet of his own (even if it is a hermit crab) we will be sure that everyone is ready to accept the new pet into the home. In the meantime I will continue to cross my fingers that he will choose something with fur rather than something with pinchers!