Mary had a little lamb - do kids need a pet?

Animals, particularly the small and furry kind, fascinate children. As soon as kids can talk, they're clamouring to bring home a cute baby rabbit or woolly lamb from the latest farm visit. But the question for all parents is how much extra work and stress will that cute little kitty or bouncy puppy mean for them?

We list some of the pros and cons of getting a pet:


  • Research shows it's healthy for young children to be around animals - the exposure to germs reduces the likelihood of them developing asthma and allergies.
  • It's a great learning experience for older preschoolers. Children aged three and up are capable of simple interaction with pets, such as throwing a ball for a puppy, or helping to fill a water bowl. The ASPCA recommends a guinea pig for a pet. "Guinea pigs like to be held, seldom bite and will whistle when excited or happy, to the delight of most kids. Your child can also help with responsibilities by filling the water bottle and food dish."
  • You can use a pet to teach your children about treating animals with respect, patting them correctly and keeping away from them when they're eating. You can help your child understand what your pet likes and doesn't like, thus fostering empathy.
  • Children who grow up taking care of at least one pet tend to adopt a more caring attitude towards animals and other people.
  • Goldfish can make good pets for younger children, fascinating to watch and the kids, if closely supervised, can help feed them. They're also relatively low maintenance for Mum and Dad.



  • After changing half a dozen nappies a day, washed dirty faces and fingers and cleaning up a range of spillages do you really want to toilet-train a puppy or add vacuuming pet hair off the sofa to your list of daily duties? Like a lot of things, pet care becomes easier as your children grow up.
  • Very small children are not always gentle with pets and can learn the hard way that cats don't like their tails pulled.
  • Eating dog tucker out of the pet's bowl is a favourite pastime of many toddlers and one to watch out for. In fact, the ASPCA says never leave a child under three alone with an animal.
  • Dogs and cats may mistake a toddler's toys for his own and that can leave a trail of destruction.
  • Cost - food and veterinary services will need to be factored into the family budget. Cats are cheaper than dogs, cats costing $466 per year on average and dogs $1047. Keep fingers and toes crossed your child doesn't set their heart on a pony - a horse or pony owning household spends an average of $2,865 per year on animal care. (
  • The best age for giving your child a puppy or kitten is routinely age five, or even 10. Before that, a child's erratic and often loud behaviour can upset pets and the children themselves are not old enough to look after them properly.



Published 19 September 2012



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