Q: Do my children have to be a certain age before we adopt a dog or cat?
A: Owning a cat or dog can be emotionally rewarding for children and adults, and owning a dog can also get the family out of the house for fresh air and exercise during daily walks.
The age of your children is a factor to consider when adopting a dog or cat. In general, it’s safest to wait until your child is over 4 years old, as many dog bite injuries occur in young children.
But think about your children and their individual maturity levels, because every child develops differently. There are 6 year olds who are calm around animals and may be ready for a dog or cat, just as there are 10 year olds who may be too active and impatient to be around pets.
Also keep in mind that if you have a baby or toddler, you are already juggling a lot. This may not be the ideal time to adopt a puppy or kitten, especially if you’ve never had a pet before. Waiting until your family has more time to spend with the pet, you know if your child has allergies, and your child is old enough to understand how to behave around animals is a smart move.
If your children understand the importance of being calm and quiet around a new pet, as the animal feels comfortable at home, then it may be a good time to adopt.
Discuss responsibilities with your children and take your time watching animals. Animal shelter workers and responsible breeders should have ideas for potential pets for you based on your situation and the ages of the children. Be honest with them about your family life and your children’s activities and patience.
Consider both the pet’s needs and the safety of your children. When it comes to dogs, there are many breeds to choose from along with mixes. It is important to ensure that the pet’s temperament and other traits do not put your child at increased risk of injury. A large, strong dog may not be the best choice for a home with young children. Avoid animals with behavioral problems or a history of aggression or bites.
Even if your children respect the pet, you should closely supervise the interactions between your young children and the animal. This is to check for potential aggression issues and to make sure your kids aren’t pulling the dog’s ears or grabbing the cat’s tail. A harried or frightened animal will sometimes lash out and scratch or bite.
Many bites happen during playful roughage because children don’t always notice when a pet becomes overstimulated or irritated. Your children should be old enough to understand that they should not put their face near the animal’s face and that they should not tease a pet by taking toys or treats from them.
Make sure your children understand that a pet should never be yelled at or hit. Everyone in the house should use positive reinforcement to encourage ideal behavior. If you see signs of animal cruelty by a child, contact your pediatrician for advice.
You will of course do most of the work looking after the pet, but if you have children who are about 5 years old or older they can be expected to help you with some of the simple chores such as leash the dog, hand out treats after a walk or refill the water bowl. Taking care of an animal is a great way to learn about responsibility and caring for others.
dr. Laura Marusinec is an emergency pediatrician and clinical performance improvement specialist at Children’s Wisconsin. She is also a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. For more information, visit HealthyChildren.org, the AAP’s parent website.
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Copyright 2021 Tribune Content Agency.