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HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT PET FOR YOUR CHILD

By Melanie Allen

Keeping pets is an excellent way for children to learn about responsibility, as well as helping them to develop a kind, caring attitude towards both animals and people. They can also gain other important life skills such as patience, empathy and nurturing ability.

Many aspects of the National Curriculum can be taught through Pet Ownership, including Science, Maths, and Literacy, not forgetting of course, Reproduction!

It has been shown in research that close physical contact with a much loved pet, can lower stress levels and help avoid depression, which alarmingly, is now on the increase in children.

So, how do you go about finding the best possible pet for your child?

Where Do I Start?

Although it would be wonderful if children could take sole responsibility for the care and up keep of their pet, in reality this often doesn’t happen and when the novelty wears off, parents need to accept that if their children can’t / won’t do their ‘bit, they must be prepared to step in.

I would strongly recommend that you ask yourself all of the following questions before making the decision to acquire a pet of any kind.

1. Does my child suffer from allergies to fur, feathers, hay or sawdust?
2. What expectations of a pet does my child have? E.g. Does he/she enjoy walks in the park each day, playing in the garden, handling/ stroking/ training or would he/she be happy simply observing the animal’s behaviour, without necessarily wanting to touch it?
3. How much money am I prepared to spend, taking into account not just the initial cost for the pet itself, but the ongoing financial commitment caused by the need for insurance/ vets, vaccinations, feed, bedding, holiday boarding, accessories, cleaning equipment, books, cages etc, etc?
4. How long am I prepared to make these commitments for? Some pets live only a few months and others for many years!
5. Who will look after the pet when we go on holiday?
6. How much space do we have for a pet and will it live inside or outside?
7. How much noise and/ or odour am I prepared to tolerate and how will neighbours be affected?
8. How much time does my child or myself has to spend looking after a pet every single day?
9. Can the pet be left for long periods while the family is at school/ work?

Making the choice

As you can see there are lots of factors which will determine which pet to choose and the table below is designed to help make it easier for you. The pets are listed from 1-10 order of suitability for children. This TOP TEN PETS4KIDS is of course my own opinion, but it is one based upon over 30 years experience of keeping a large variety of different pets, together with my findings as a Teacher and Parent of 15 years!

Top Ten Pets

1. Guinea Pig
Minimum Age of Child: 2 yrs
Noise: Little
Odour: Little
Cost: Low
Tame: Yes
Life Span: 4-7 yrs
Holiday Care: Pet sitter or Boarding.

2. Rat
Minimum Age of Child: 3 yrs
Noise: Some at night
Odour: Little
Cost: Low
Tame: Very
Life Span: 2-4 Yrs
Holiday Care: Pet sitter or Boarding

3. Rabbit
Minimum Age of Child: 7 yrs
Noise: Little
Odour: Some
Cost: Low
Tame: Often
Life Span: 4-7 Yrs
Holiday Care: Pet sitter or Boarding

4. Stick Insect
Minimum Age of Child: 5 yrs
Noise: None
Odour: None
Cost: Almost None
Tame: Yes
Life Span: 1 yr
Holiday Care: Can be left up to1 week with food

5. Corn Snake
Minimum Age of Child: 5 yrs
Noise: None
Odour: None
Cost: Medium
Tame: Yes
Life Span: 15-20 yrs
Holiday Care: Can be left up to 2 weeks with water.

6. Chicken (Hen)
Minimum Age of Child: 5 yrs
Noise: When Laying
Odour: Little
Cost: Low
Tame: Yes
Life Span: 3-7 Yrs
Holiday Care: Pet sitter

7. Leopard Gecko
Minimum Age of Child: 7 yrs
Noise: None
Odour: Little
Cost: Medium
Tame: Yes
Life Span: 15-22 yrs
Holiday Care: Can be left up to 2 weeks with water.

8. Cat
Minimum Age of Child: 7 yrs
Noise: Some
Odour: Some
Cost: High
Tame: Often
Life Span: 10-17 yrs
Holiday Care: Pet Sitter or Boarding.

9. Ferret
Minimum Age of Child: 7 yrs
Noise: Some
Odour: A lot!
Cost: Medium
Tame: Often
Life Span: 6-8 yrs
Holiday Care: Pet Sitter or Boarding.

10. Dog
Minimum Age of Child: 7 yrs
Noise: Lots!
Odour: A lot!
Cost: High
Tame: Often
Life Span: 8-15 yrs
Holiday Care: Pet Sitter or Boarding.

As you can see I have put the wonderful little Guinea Pig at number 1! These really are my all-time favourites. Even a Toddler can learn to handle a Guinea Pig safely and easily. They are fairly inexpensive to buy and keep and they have lovely, friendly dispositions. It is very, very rare for a Guinea Pig to bite. They also have all sorts of fascinating habits and entertaining antics to watch!

Rats are brilliant pets for young children and are probably even easier to handle than Guinea Pigs. They are exceptionally good natured and intelligent. In fact the only thing that goes against them is their reputation! Tame, Fancy Rats are actually very clean and do not carry disease.

Rabbits, especially smaller breeds are great for the slightly older and more confident child. They do need frequent attention to keep them tame, but most are friendly and all have individual personalities.

The Stick Insect is by far the cheapest and easiest pet I have ever come across! With a diet of Brambles and very simple housing requirements they make interesting pets for a busy household with not too much time to spare!

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