How to Choose a Pet for Your Children

A how-to guide on choosing a pet for your children

Pets give children a valuable sense of responsibility and an outlet for affection. They need looking after, though, and you need to choose one to suit your child — and you. These tips will help you choose the best pet for your family.

How to Choose a Pet for Your Children

1. Discuss your options

  • Talk it over. Find out what your child wants from a pet. Stress that animals aren't toys.
  • Wait a few months to see if the desire was more than just a whim.
  • Set a budget. Decide what expenses you can meet.
  • Consider your home. A small flat with no access to the outside is an unhappy environment for dogs and cats, which, in turn, can be messy and destructive.
  • Consider safety. Cats scratch. Dogs bite. Young children can cause injury to fragile creatures.
  • Do extensive homework. Study animals' varying needs.
  • Start small. Cats and dogs are demanding of time and money. Lower-maintenance animals can provide a good introduction to caring for a furry friend.

2. Types of pets

Mice, hamsters and gerbils look sweet and need only small cages, but they require gentle handling and are generally more active at night.

Guinea pigs need shelter, hiding places and an exercise area safe from predators. They are loveable and responsive: the more they are handled (gently) from the start, the tamer they become. They are extremely active, will get bored if cooped up and crave the company of other piggies; solitary confinement is not for them.

Domestic rats become attached to their owners, and love to snuggle in a pocket or up a sleeve. They are intelligent and crave handling. Rarely do they bite. They should be kept in same-sex pairs — ideally siblings. Given the run of the home, they will mess indiscriminately.

Rabbits are endearing, cuddly and sociable. They need space and companionship — human and bunny. They may be kept outdoors with a hutch and an exercise run, but can live indoors and be housetrained.

3. Longevity

Prepare for bereavement

Rabbits can live five to 10 years, guinea pigs five to seven years, mice, rats, hamsters and gerbils only two to three. For longevity (50-100 years) choose a tortoise.

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