If your kids are on at you for a pet, Dr Hugh Wirth, author of Living with Cats and Living with Dogs, says don’t think about the extra work but consider the benefits of what a pet can teach your kids instead. “The greatest lesson from pet keeping is that animals are much like us,” he says. “They respond to our care, require food, water and shelter and also need regular grooming and clean living conditions.” He adds that a pet can help children develop emotions such as caring and empathy. “A pet needs gentle handling, as an animal can feel pain as we do, and acts adversely to those who accidentally or knowingly inflict pain – biting, kicking or crying.”
Small dogs make a good first pet
While many dog lovers and vets advise buying a labrador as a family pet, Dr Wirth advises choosing a smaller breed for your first dog. “Labradors and golden retrievers have a big reputation as the number one dogs for families with young children because they have a reliable temperament. Nonetheless, they’re big dogs and aren’t easy for children to learn handling techniques or grooming,” he advises. “For the first ‘learning dog’ I would go for one of the crossbred types like a fluffy Maltese or shih-tzu.” He adds that a breed of terrier would also suit a family with children over the age of five.
Cats are great for small spaces
While many families might not have the space for a dog, Dr Wirth says a feline friend is a great second option, particularly for apartment dwellers. He adds that they’re also low-maintenance animals – meaning less work for mum and dad. “Cats make excellent pets,” he says. “They’re self-sufficient, clean and highly adaptable to living conditions”. Dr Wirth also advises choosing a kitten over a fully grown cat for littlies to bond with and choosing a shorthair moggy rather than a shorter-lived pure breed.
Rabbits should be treated with care
Rabbits aren’t as robust as cats or dogs and are therefore better suited to older children. “Rabbits make great first pets but they certainly are not as tough as a cat or dog,” says Dr Wirth. “They’re easily damaged by rough handling, so always choose a small breed for young children, so they don’t accidentally drop them.” He adds that, while many parents think rabbits require little work, hutch cleaning is a constant job. “They must be confined to a hutch at night and in inclement weather, so there has to be a commitment to clean the hutch daily.”
Guinea pigs are great for younger kids
If you’re unsure whether your little one can handle a rabbit, go for a guinea pig instead. “Guinea pigs are very hardy pocket pets and are much easier to handle than rabbits,” reveals Dr Wirth. “They need to be kept in a hutch and can be kept together with rabbits.”
Go for a goldfish rather than tropical fish
While fish are pretty to look at, and often fascinate pre-schoolers, the easiest fish to care for are the ones that live in cold water. “Fish are also good starter pets, but the coldwater varieties of goldfish are easier to maintain than tropical breeds,” advises Dr Wirth, adding that filtering and cleaning the water regularly is an on-going task. He adds that while kids will love to feed their fish, be careful to teach them that too many flakes will harm their pet. “Overfeeding causes pollution of the water,” he confirms.