Thinking of adopting a family pet? We’ve interviewed several experts on whether your kid is ready and up to the task of getting a dog or other animal companion. To help you make the best decision, learn what a veterinarian and several adoption managers of animal shelters advise on the important topic. Read on for the details.

According to Experts, Your Kid Is Ready for a Pet If…

They Are Responsible in Other Areas of Life

Father and veterinarian John Ashbaugh, DVM of Midland Animal Clinic says a telltale sign your child is ready to take on caring for a pet is if they are responsible in other ways. They take good care of themselves and other family members, get their homework assignments done on time, keep their room and the house clean, etc. Ashbaugh recommends also making sure your kids are good with other people's animals. He says, "Have your kids take on housesitting and/or dog walking jobs or volunteer at horse stables, and observe how well your child interacts with and cares for animals." Caroline Vaught, co-founder of Cat & Craft, says to make sure your child is willing to commit to caring for an adopted pet for the duration of its life. Which in the case of cats being properly cared for could be as many as 15-18 years.

Science says: According to the American Pet Product Association’s National Pet Owners Survey, 58% of pet owners say their pets help teach their kids to be responsible.

They Are Comfortable & Respectful Around Animals

Lauren McDevitt, co-founder of Good Dog says it's important to know if your child is comfortable around dogs. She advises, "Ask a friend if their dog is good-natured with children so you have the chance to socialize with a dog as a family. It’s key to remember that kids, even if they’re older, should always be supervised." She also tells parents to make sure their child is kind and respectful toward animals. Elizabeth Albertson, Education Assistant Manager of Instruction at Helen Woodward Animal Center furthers this point by telling parents to ensure that their child is able to give a pet the space it needs. She explains, "Animals, like people, can become easily overwhelmed or stressed. A child should be able to recognize when a pet needs to be left alone and when the animal is ready for love and attention."

Science says: a good cuddle with a pet may lower your stress levels and boost your oxytocin levels––(the feel-good bonding hormone)! 

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They Show Consistent Interest in Getting a Pet

John Ashbaugh, DVM urges families to research the desired pet with their child so they understand the commitment involved and the permanency of owning a pet. He offers, "Consider starting with a simple pet like a fish, guinea pig or hamster." Adoptions Services Manager at Helen Woodward Animal Center, Dora Dahlke says to ask the question, "Is this a fad—or a real desire for a pet? If your child’s requests bounce around from wanting a horse one day to wanting a dog the next, it may be a sign that they are more interested in the idea of a pet than in actually having one. To determine whether or not your child’s interest in a pet is a fad or a real desire, listen to him/her over several weeks or months. How they discuss the topic over the long term will help you decide if this desire is genuine or not."

Science says: The bond a child creates with a pet can be positively life-changing. Kids can share their secrets and their childhood memories with an animal while developing a sense of responsibility, empathy and compassion for all beings.

They Are Good at Doing Their Chores

Elizabeth Albertson and Dora Dahlke of Helen Woodward Animal Center tell parents to gauge whether their kids are able to share in the daily care of the new pet. All pets need clean living space, continuous access to fresh and clean water, food, exercise and enrichment. They advise parents to watch how kids handle age-appropriate household chores. If they can remember their daily chores without nagging, they might be ready to add a pet-related chore. Keep your expectations realistic based on your kid's age. The following chores may apply to the following ages:

Ages 4-8: Brush the dog or cat regularly while supervised.

Ages 9-12: Refresh water and food daily. Scoop litter box.

Ages 13-17: Walk the dog. Pick up droppings from the yard. Attend obedience classes with the dog.

Science says: Dog ownership may boost heart health by offering motivation for physical activity because dogs need daily walking. Make walking the dog an activity the whole family can participate in for bonding and increased health.

––Beth Shea

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