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How to Introduce Children to New Pets

A young girl petting several cats and dogs

Kids and Pets: A Winning Combination

There’s no question that kids love animals. Children have a unique bond with pets; they often develop a kinship and general respect for them. Having a pet can provide kids with the ability to understand responsibility, respect, patience, and most importantly, compassion for animals and others. Pets also allow children to have a playmate, a family friend, and a family member who love them unconditionally. However, if you have children and are about to get a pet for the first time, there are some things to keep in mind.

If your child shows interest in getting a pet, you should inform them that it’s a long term commitment. There’s a lot of responsibility involved, such as feeding them, making sure they get exercise, etc. Ideally you want your children to be part of the care-taking process. Are your children up for that challenge? If they get a puppy or a kitten, will they grow tired of their pet as it gets older? Are they aware of the attention a pet will need? Does your child have the temperament to treat your pet with respect?

What Age Should Children Have a Pet?

If you already have a pet before having a child, in most cases, as your child ages, they’ll be taught the responsibilities of having a pet and will have a general understanding of how to tend to your pet’s needs. For children getting a pet for the first time, a 5 year old is more likely to have a general understanding of the basics of taking care of a pet, over a 2 year old. Still, even for children 5 years and older, it would be beneficial to have some supervision.

Take for instance if you have a large dog, you’ll want to supervise play between your younger child and the dog. Even small dogs and cats should be supervised with young children, as what children perceive as positive attention and love can sometimes be misinterpreted by even the best of pets.

Once a child reaches the age of 10, most children will have learned how to care for their pets, and this understanding and sense of compassion and responsibility typically continues to follow them through their teenage years.

If your children see how you care for pets, and you teach your children how to interact with pets, then they will absorb those traits over time. You may also want to bring your children along to your Austin vet when your pet has their checkups, so they can get a better understanding of potential health issues.

First Steps

1. Establish Responsibilities
From the outset, it’s important to establish the various responsibilities your children will have to handle if they get a pet. They may be excited at first, but inevitably you as the parent will be handling a good deal of the responsibility as well, so make sure you are up for the task.

Explain to your child that pets will require more than just love; they’ll need you to provide for them and in some cases train them. That includes giving them food, water, grooming, and bathroom training. Show your child the proper way to do these things. Be clear that a pet is like a part of the family and shouldn’t be neglected.

2. Keep Initial Contact Supervised and Limited
A child who is extremely enthusiastic about a cat or dog may wind up scaring them at first, so keep initial contact limited until they get accustomed to one another. Set up boundaries, give the pet an escape route if the child becomes too much for them to handle at first. A stressed out cat or dog may cause the pet to attack the child, and both of them are probably a little nervous around each other, so make sure your children are supervised during the initial stages.

3. Ensure Your Child Has the Right Temperament
While most kids are very affectionate towards pets, there are some who are not. Keep an eye on your kids to make sure that they don’t harm the pets in any way. Some kids may be rough or even abusive towards animals. If you should see something like this, you may have to remove the pet for its safety.

Behaviors that Children Can Learn from Having Pets

1. Trust

Pets are valuable in helping a child understand trust. Most pets will cling to you if you’re upset about something. For a child who’s sad, the comfort of a cat or dog will mean a great deal to them. This helps strengthen the emotional bond between your pet and child and can help a child further build trust over time, even in relationships with people. It also helps boost a child’s self-esteem.

2. The Death of a Pet

For many children, losing a pet will be their first experience with death. It’s important to allow yourself and your child time to grieve when you lose a pet. They are members of our family. Sometimes a pet will pass away naturally, and in other cases, they may be so ill that they need to be put down by your vet. It’s never easy when a pet dies, and as traumatic as this can be (for adults as well), it can help a child understand the grieving process, and that it’s okay to be sad when a pet passes away.

3. Respect and Compassion

Children should also be taught to sense and respect a pet’s boundaries. It’s important to show your children the proper way to pet a cat or dog, show affection, and to give your pet boundaries while the pet is sleeping or eating. Kids may want to grab and squeeze a kitten or puppy, and they may be so excited that they may wind up hurting them and your pet may instinctively retaliate.

Take the time to show them how to interact with your pet, so that they don’t wind up hurting them or getting hurt themselves. Pets are not toys, so they should learn not to treat them as such. This will be difficult at first, particularly if your child is very young, because the pet is new and it’s exciting, but, gradually they’ll understand these boundaries.

Being respectful of pets and their boundaries will also help a child learn empathy. If they’re good to their own pets, they’ll show kindness and compassion to other animals (and people) as well.

Other Pets You may Want to Consider

Guinea Pigs, Hamsters and Gerbils

If you think that a cat or a dog may be too much for your child at a young age, there are other pets you may want to consider. For example, Guinea Pigs, Hamsters and Gerbils are good starter pets.

You’ll still have to clean their cages and change their bedding monthly, but they do take less care overall, and children are often fascinated by these little fellows. Even smaller pets like these are a good way to help children understand responsibility, if you’re not ready for a cat or a dog, or if you have allergies, or something else like a pet policy is preventing you from getting a cat or dog. Guinea Pigs, on average, can live up to seven years, whereas Hamsters and Gerbils often live up to 2 or 3 years.


Turtles, Lizards and other representatives of the reptile family can be fascinating additions to your family. Keep in mind that reptiles can sometimes be affectionate, and will let you pick them up, while some may not be as receptive. All of them are different, but they require specific types of food, such as fish or live insects; some may even eat greens, so save your lettuce or spinach.

One thing to keep in mind is that you should find an Austin Veterinarian that can treat reptiles, should the need for a vet visit arise.

The interaction of children and pets can be a great thing to experience…and it can also be a bit nerve-wracking if you’re not sure what to do. Once you do get a new pet, it’s important to have them examined by a vet, as well as getting any shots they may need. If the pet is young, a visit to the vet once a year for a wellness checkup will help keep you apprised of any issues later down the line.