Some people say owning a pet is a good, albeit softer, dry run for having children. Others, insist that their pets are actually their children. Whether you agree or disagree, what is certain is the question of whether to get pets – dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, and other furry or scaly creatures – when you have actual children will come, and often. Children without pets ask about getting them constantly. And those who already have pets often ask about getting more.
So the question is, should you or shouldn’t you? It’s a very personal question with a lot of determining factors, but there are several key things to consider before taking the plunge in a decision that will have everyday consequences for what could be your child’s entire, well, childhood!
- How old are your kids? The first question parents need to consider before getting a pet is how much time and energy they have to dedicate to caring for one. With newborns and children up to 3, it might be too much to ask yourself to also care for a new pet. Be realistic. Although young children love animals, they love your attention even more and sacrificing one for the other is not a good idea. The older a child gets, the more they can participate in caring for your pet, which also teaches them responsibility.
- What is the cost of pets? The joys and benefits of owning a pet are more than worth the expense. But, like with most things, if you don’t have the funds you should consider holding off until you do. The first year you own a dog is estimated to cost $1,270, with a cat costing slightly less at $1,070, according to American Society for The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The food expense could run from $20 to $100 a month, and over their lifetime you could be looking at $27,000 to $45,000, not including emergencies. Before being scared away by the big numbers, however, remember that owning a pet comes with its own cost savings in security, pest control, exercise, mental wellbeing and, perhaps, most of all fun. Who needs to take the kids out for an ice cream, to the movies or Sky Zone, when you can just play with Fido in the back yard for hours on end?
- Will they add or reduce stress in your life? Your stress can either increase or decrease when you have an animal. If the dog or cat gets sick or escapes constantly, then it may be a headache not worth having – although it might be too late when you figure that out. On the flip side, having a pet has been statistically correlated with stress reduction. For children, pets are often their closest confidantes, friends and pillars of strength during tough times.
- What are the benefits of having pets? The bond between animal and kids can be remarkable and lead to a variety of positive development outcomes. Your bond with your children is also likely to grow, with dog walks, pet baths and other family activities. When it comes to love and companionship, pets provide both in droves. And that cannot be statistically measured. Research has shown that pets help kids with disabilities, including autism, function better socially while reducing their anxiety and social stress.
- What kind of pet are you thinking about? Once you’ve decided that having a pet will be good for the family unit, you must consider what kind of pet makes sense. An oversized, clumsy dog is not ideal for apartment living, but a small dog or cat brings all that same love in a manageable package. Even goldfish can provide companionship to your kids, although you better be ready to explain why Goldie had to be flushed down the toilet when you found him floating in his fishbowl.
Before making any decision, do research on the kind of pet you are considering. Talk to pet owners you know for advice, especially ones with kids. Heck, just go to the dog park one afternoon and observe. Know what you are getting into.