Eight things to consider when your child asks for a pet

Over the years, my daughters have repeatedly asked my wife and me for a pet. Unfortunately for them, the answer had always been “no” for a number of reasons. Probably the biggest is the time commitment.If you have kids, you understand their attention spans and commitment levels are short. For instance, several times over the years, we bought toys the girls “had to have” only to find them a short time later in the back of the closet collecting dust. If we’d have bought them a pet when they were young, we know they would have loved it. But with a 10-20 year commitment to its care, we also knew we’d be the ones taking care of it.

This past July, however, life as I knew it changed significantly. My wife and daughters decided a kitten would be a nice addition to our family. I initially thought it was no big deal; I’d go along with whatever they decided. When it was time to bring him home, however, I was terrified. Some of the thoughts swirling through my head were …

  • I have no idea how to take care of a pet.
  • Having a kitten is like having a small toddler.
  • My daughters are 14 and 19; why do we need a pet at this point in our lives?
  • Pets are expensive.
  • How can clean freaks like us have a pet in our house?
  • Pets get sick.

The girls told me, “Dad, just relax. You’re too uptight.” Easy for them to say since I could still be taking care of their cat when I’m 60. Fortunately, I adjusted and I actually enjoy having Toulouse, our cat, around.

If you plan on buying your kids a pet this holiday season, here are some things to consider.

  1. Make sure you’re committed. Having a pet is a big responsibility for a family. Everybody is committed when they see cute little puppies or kittens. But what happens when they grow up and start to look like Puss N Boots? Pets require a lot of time and money. And when your kids are no longer around, remember: You’ll have to care for them (e.g., playing fetch, taking them for walks, and taking them to their vet appointments.) The lifespan of your little fur ball could be 10-20 years. If you cannot commit to this timeframe, it may be wise to consider other pet options.
  2. Identify pros and cons of owning a pet. We adopted our kitten from the Humane Society. Unfortunately, they had many pets waiting for good homes. When puppies and kittens really tug at your heartstrings, the decision can turn into an emotional one. When you talk about the pros and cons ahead of time, you’ll be more prepared to make a good decision that’s right for both you and the animal.
  3. Think about your floor plan. Determine if your home, in its current state, is conducive to introducing a brand new pet. When you bring home a new pet, it may be overwhelming to the family and to the pet. Our local humane society recommend keeping our kitten in his own room and slowly introducing him to the rest of the house. For us and for Toulouse, the laundry room was ideal. It could comfortably fit his cat tower, litter box, and food. He even had a nice tall window with a windowsill he could lay on. If he missed his litter box, vinyl flooring made for easy cleanup.
  4. Pet proof your home. I wasn’t joking when I said having a kitten is like having a small toddler. We had to make adjustments throughout our entire house because he gets into everything. Electrical cords are wrapped and sprayed with bitter apple spray. Our fruit is kept on top of our refrigerator because he’s always walking on our counters. Blind or drapery cords can be deadly if he gets tangled up in them. We constantly inspect our floors because he’s a little scavenger. He’ll find anything you leave behind. When his nose is down in one place and his paws are moving, we know he found something he shouldn’t have. The holidays will also be more of a challenge this year. Certain types of food and decorations can be deadly.
  5. Examine your lifestyle. Before buying a pet, look at your lifestyle. If you’re always on the go and never home, a dog or cat isn’t the pet for you. Both need lots of attention and sitting at home alone isn’t fair to them. We thought a kitten would be more conducive to our lifestyle because they’re more self-sufficient. We learned quickly that they need attention and playtime just like dogs. They’re little balls of energy that need to be tired out.
  6. Discuss household rules. Before bringing the pet home, determine what the rules of the household will be. If you set ground rules set ahead of time, everyone in your family will send a consistent message to your pet. This should help ease the transition.
  7. Be prepared for household damage. Talk about what your tolerance level will be for damage caused by your pet. Dogs can damage hardwood floors. Cats can tear up your carpet or furniture. Of course, your pet will have accidents. If you recently remodeled your home or moved into a new one, a pet may not be a good choice right now. If your furniture or carpet is older, you’ll have more tolerance for accidents.
  8. Never buy a pet for someone else.

Do you have any tips or information you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them; please share them in the box below.

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