There comes a time in almost every child’s life to “learn responsibility” by caring for a pet of their very own for the first time. This is often preceded by a request in the form of “please, oh, please ohpleaseohpleaseohpleeeeeeeeease,” and heartfelt promises to care for, feed and clean up after said pet. Parents are left with the internal debate between wanting their child(ren) to experience the wonders of pet ownership and knowing that they themselves will ultimately be the ones responsible for caring, feeding and cleaning if their child fails in his or her duties.
And so, the debate usually resolves in one of two ways: “You’re not old enough for that kind of responsibility”, or, “You’re old enough now – I think it’s time you learned some responsibility.”
But let’s make sure you’re asking yourself the right questions before YOU make that decision. Remember that you are considering bringing into your home a living creature that needs to thrive, not just survive.
Question 1: What does my child like?
Chances are that your child may not have enough experience with pets to have yet determined that he or she is a “cat person” or “dog person”, so they may be more in love with the “idea” of a dog or a cat than the reality. But some people know right away.
A trip to the pet store might give you an idea which pets your child is drawn to (and which you can cross off the list).
Question 2: How long do we want to plan for?
This is a hard subject to talk about, but it is all part of the overall experience of bringing home a living creature. Yes, we’re talking about lifespan. That leopard gecko might be cute when your son is 8. But leopard geckos can live 20 years. Is your son going to be just as attentive when he’s 16 and in high school? How about when he goes to college?
Find out the expected lifespan of any pet you are considering bringing home and make sure it fits into your own life plans. Here are a few averages for consideration:
- 3-7 Years for a betta
- 2-5 years for a rat, 1-2 years for a mouse or dwarf hamster, 2-3 for a hamster
- Leopard gecko or corn snake of 20 yrs, bearded dragon or crested gecko of 12 yrs
Question 3: How much space do we have for housing?
Aquariums, terrariums, cages, habitats – these all take up space. A knowledgeable associate can tell you the size-requirements for housing each type of pet. While there may be some flexibility in choices, the minimum size is set by the pet, not by the amount of space you have available. So you want to be realistic about how much space you are willing to devote.
Question 4: How much attention can my child devote?
Some pets require constant attention, either feeding or cleaning or just supervision. Others can almost take care of themselves and bounce back from any deficiencies in attention. If your child has a tendency to forget important things for days at a time, then a betta might be a better match.
Question 5: How much am I willing to spend?
Factor in the cost of food over the life of your pet and other things too. No one can put a price tag on your child’s happiness, but you want to make sure you can continue to afford your pet after you bring it home.
Top 3 Fish:
- Does not take up much space
- Easy to care for
- Can go days without eating without harm
- Hardy fish although very dirty
- Likes cold temperatures so does not need a heater
- Needs 3 gallon of water per inch of fish
water aquarium of mixed tropical fish
- Easy to set up
- Give a variety of activity
- Needs plenty of space and equipment
Top 3 Small Animals:
- Easy to care for
- Kids can share their food with the rat
- Loyal and loving animal, rarely bites
- Durable animal, easy to feed basic pellet and hay diet
- Spaying and neutering will help keep the animal loving
- Bigger animal for cuddling
- Guinea Pig
- Less demanding then a rabbit and a great lap pet
- Not recommended for young children due to their fragile spine
- Delightful noises made when they know you are home and treats are coming!
Top 3 Reptiles:
- Corn snake
- Only feed once or twice a week as a baby
- Does not need much more then a low watt basking bulb
- Inexpensive to care for and maintain
- Leopard Gecko
- Nocturnal so does not need extra lighting, just a heat bulb
- Mellow disposition
- Can live most of it’s life in a 10 gallon tank (20 long is recommended for adult size)
- Bearded Dragon
- Active and fun to watch
- Grows to good size for holding and interacting with
- Needs a large enclosure, lots of food daily and special lighting
Top 3 Birds:
- Fairly quiet
- Can be handled
- Hardy for a bird
- Larger bird
- Highly trainable, learns whistles
- Another hardy bird
- Learns to talk
- Can train tricks
- Need larger cage and are more expensive