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Kids And Pets: Tips From A Ruidoso, NM veterinarian

February 15, 2024

Did you know that over two-thirds of American households have pets? According to data from the American Pet Products Association, 70% of us own a pet. That figure has gone up in recent years: in 1988, it was only 56%. Pets and kids are an adorable—and classic—combination. Seeing photos of our animal companions with their tiny humans is always heartwarming. Pets can benefit children in many ways. They also complete our homes and families. However, there are some things to keep in mind here. A local Ruidoso, NM vet discusses kids and pets in this article.

Why Is It Good For Kids To Have A Pet?

Pets benefit children in many ways. In fact, you may be surprised at how much of a difference they can make!

Here are a few ways pets help children:

Social Skills: Pets offer unconditional love and friendship, and endless hugs and cuddles. They offer children a steady, loving presence.

Responsibility: Even small children can help with caring for a pet, whether that means giving the goldfish a pinch of flakes or gently petting a hamster. This helps teach kids about responsibility.

Stress Relief: It’s probably safe to say that many of you have cuddled your furry pal after a bad day. Fluffy’s soothing purrs and Fido’s affectionate kisses, snoot boops, and tail wags can be a wonderful source of comfort in troubled times. This is true for children as well!

Complete The Family: Our animal friends have a special way of turning houses into homes. They also help complete our families. That gives kids a sense of security.

Fewer Allergies: Did you know that kids who grow up with pets are less likely to have allergies than those who don’t? Turns out all of that dust, fur, and dander may help strengthen kids’ immune systems.

Mental Development: While there are still many studies to be done, research seems to indicate that having pets can help build kids’ cognitive skills. They’ll begin to pick up on nonverbal cues. As your little one is learning to read, they can also practice reading to Fido or Fluffy. Our furry pals always make great listeners.

Live-In Therapists: Did you know that pets can help children overcome a plethora of issues? Pets help kids with autism and several other issues.  Fluffy and Fido also make great listeners.

Of course, pets also make great playmates and napping buddies. Our animal companions also sometimes get protective over kids, which is another possible perk.

At What Age Should A Child Get A Pet?

Children all mature a little differently, so there is no one set age where kids are automatically ready for pets. It depends both on the child and on the type of pet you’re getting. That all said, we wouldn’t really advise getting pets for children younger than five. At that age, kids are still developing motor skills. They’re also still sometimes susceptible to those toddler tantrums. That can frighten pets. Smaller pets could also get hurt if the youngster accidentally drops them or holds them wrong.

That doesn’t mean you can’t get a pet if you have a little one: just be prepared to care for the pet yourself. You’ll also need to supervise interactions carefully.

Are Children With Pets Happier?

Pets can give kids a mood boost. For one thing, it’s hard not to laugh at pets’ playful antics. Whether it’s watching Fido run after a toy, seeing Fluffy pounce on a catnip mouse, or just observing a smaller animal having fun with a toy or treat, pets often act as live-in entertainment. Animals just have a way of making us smile!

What Is A Good First Pet For A Child?

Choosing the right pet will make all of the difference here. It’s most common for people to start with smaller pets. Gerbils, hamsters, and Guinea pigs are all good options. They are all generally similar, but do have some differences. Guinea pigs are the largest and most charismatic of the three. They are also very social, and shouldn’t be kept alone. Hamsters and gerbils are both small and adorable. However, these little guys are quite fragile, and, while they are usually gentle, may nip if frightened.

A fish, such as a goldfish or Betta fish, can also be suitable. There are even some reptiles that can make good pets for mature kids.

Dogs and cats are of course wonderful animal companions. Fluffy may be a bit frightened of a loud, clumsy toddler, so you may want to wait until the Terrible Twos have passed. Fido can also be a great pal, but you’ll need to choose a dog that is, well, pretty bombproof. 

Do some research, and see what works for you. Be sure to ask your Ruidoso, NM veterinarian for advice as well.

How Do I Know When To Get My Child A Pet?

Is your little one asking for a pet? There are many benefits, but there are also some pitfalls to avoid. Kids often move quickly from one favorite thing to another. It’s not uncommon for them to beg and plead for pets, but then lose interest in it, or not keep up with the animal’s care. There are a few markers to watch for. For instance, if your child has been consistently asking for a pet, then they may truly want that animal companion. You can also monitor their responsibility levels by seeing how they do with things like chores and homework. Do you have to remind them constantly? Or do they pretty much do what they need to do without needing to be prompted?

Your child’s age also comes into play. A mature ten-year-old may very well be able to keep up with a puppy’s care needs by themselves. A four-year-old? Not so much.

How Can Kids Help With Pets?

You’ll need to sort out how much responsibility your child will have. Are they going to walk Fido? Will they be filling Fluffy’s bowl or changing her litterbox? You’ll need to supervise and be ready to take over if needed. That said, even very young children can help out.

Here are a few things kids can do:

  • Clean cages/bowls
  • Change litter
  • Feed the pet
  • Fill water dishes
  • Play with the pet
  • Brush the pet
  • Make DIY toys
  • Make DIY houses/furniture
  • Walk Dogs
  • Read to the pet
  • Name the pet
  • Help with training

Children can even help with choosing the pet. For instance, if you’ve decided to go with a hamster, bring your youngster to the pet store to let them pick one.

What Are Some Safety Rules For Having Kids And Pets?

Safety should always come first here. The biggest thing would of course be choosing the right pet.

Here are a few other suggestions:

  • Keep your pet’s nails trimmed down to help prevent scratches
  • Bring the pet to your Ruidoso, NM animal clinic regularly
  • Make sure children wash their hands thoroughly before and after handling the pet or its belongings.
  • Always supervise interactions closely. Never leave kids and pets unattended, at least until you’re certain they’ll be fine.
  • Teach your child the basics of pet body language, such as the fact that a wagging tail can be a sign of happiness in dogs, but is the opposite with cats.
  • Explain the importance of treating pets with kindness and empathy. We all want to be treated well!

If you have a small pet, have your child sit or kneel when holding or playing with them. That way, if the little furball jumps or falls, they won’t have far to go.

In conclusion: Pets can be wonderful for children: they teach kids about kindness, friendship, and empathy, offer unconditional love, and make great playmates and cuddle buddies. However, it’s important to choose the right pet, and to monitor things carefully.

Do you have questions about caring for your pet? Contact us, your local Ruidoso, NM pet hospital, today!