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Kids and Pets - The Pros and Cons of Having Pets With Children




Animals. Furry, cute, interesting. Don’t they amaze most kids around us? There’s a reason safaris, zoos, and animal-themed birthday parties are big hits with kids.

Kids and pets enjoy a special bond. If your little one loves animals, you may very well be tempted to get them a pet, so It’s worth mentioning that owning a pet has both pros and cons. Let’s talk about it.


The Pros:

More active kids

Pets are among the best workout companions for kids. Taking a dog out for a walk and playing with him are excellent ways for kids to playfully get their share of daily exercise. Just make sure they have all the supplies they need handy.

In fact, pets prove to be great exercise buddies for grown-ups too! So, while your kids rush to the park with your family dog, you too can add a few steps to your daily workout goal.


The Child Heart and Health Study England (CHASE) found links between increased levels of activity in kids who owned a family dog. [1] The study used activity monitors to record the number of steps and other activity counters in school-aged kids from different ethnicities. It recorded higher physical activity in pet-owners, irrespective of days, seasons, and other forms of physical activity.


Best Friends

We all have seen the extreme joy in the faces of kids when they gently hold their cuddly friends. But, do you know that kids value the relationship with their pets so much, most kids say they are better friends than their siblings?

A Cambridge University study found exactly that. The study says that both boys and girls develop a strong bond with pets, who are non-judgmental about the feelings kids share with them. [2]


Lower stress levels

Any animal can act as a therapy animal. Try snuggling with a dog and see if your day doesn't get at least a little bit better. The exact same is true for your kids. In many modern homes, kids are found to be feeling more comfortable with pets than with siblings. A study says that pets can likely prevent the occurrence of childhood anxiety in kids. [3] Another study found that kids found support in a pet and performed more calmly when faced with a task that demanded a raise in the levels of the stress hormones. [4]


Reduce risk of obesity

This is a direct result of getting to exercise more and do that more consistently. That too, without the stress. These factors lead to a reduced risk of obesity and other diseases that come with it. So, kids can play their way towards better health.


Better immune and respiratory health

Heard that exposure to dirt helps kids come in contact with beneficial bacteria and strengthen their immune system? Well, it’s the same with pets. Being around pets can protect kids from infections and respiratory illnesses, especially during the early years of their life.


A study from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that exposure to dogs and cats in the first year of a baby’s life may provide immunity against respiratory troubles. [5]

Studies aside, I can personally vouch for this. I have allergies and asthma that had both majorly subsided when I got my first cat in my 20’s. At first I couldn’t sit too close to it for more than an hour, but after a few weeks it was sleeping in my bed without an issue. I was told I was allergic to both cats and dogs but more so to cats - imagine the look on my face when my roommate brought one home!

- Disclaimer, I might just be a freak and these results might not be common.


Kids learn to take responsibility

Taking care of pets is a starting point for learning to be responsible. Small tasks like feeding the pet, taking the pet on a walk, and grooming, are some things that kids can easily help with.

As kids get older, they will be responsible pet owners. Kids older than around ten years can take full care of the pet when they come back from school. The key is to not care and do the chores for your kid - they need to do it themselves or face some sort of consequences.


Learn to care and love

As little pet-owners, kids tend to the needs of the pet. In this process, they develop empathy not only towards the pet but also towards other animals and people. They learn to be sensitive towards others’ feelings. As pets may not always communicate their affection, kids will often be required to care for them unconditionally. This teaches them how to love people and other living beings without being selfish for returns of any sort.


Learn to be patient

Pets come with their own set of needs, often not very flexible. When kids understand those, they will learn to be more patient. They’ll learn how to control their own feelings and impulses. This may mean making compromises like giving up their playtime for the sake of the pet. Situations like these will help them learn to give importance to others’ wishes before their own.


Communicate better

Pets are non-verbal. And, kids must deal with understanding the pets’ needs without clear communication. While befriending a pet, kids get to know about the real purpose of communication and different ways to it. They can thus, get better at connecting with non-verbal others.


Respect Nature

With pets, kids can connect more with nature and life. They will learn to respect other living beings and the ways of life. They will also get to spend time outdoors and thus, connect with nature. Perhaps, they can start appreciating the beauty of our earth.


Tackle health issues more readily

Trips to the vet come naturally with owning a pet. Kids will be more receptive to knowledge about health, illnesses, and even, the difficult subject of mortality.


Better academics

Wonder what academics has to do with pets? Well, isn’t it more exciting to read to a pet rather than on their own? Kids can read different books to their pets, talk to them about school and what they learn there, and thus improve both their reading skills and their knowledge about whatever they are taught.


The Cons

Owning a pet is not all rosy. Just like with everything, they do have some potential hazards. The following are a few cons to consider.


Pet allergies

Kids or any member of the household may have a pet allergy. Indications may include presence of other allergies including food, dust, mold, or pollen allergies. To avoid disappointment from the need to part later, get yourself and other family members tested for allergies.


Time and commitment

Taking care of a pet is something that requires a lot of time and commitment, not occasionally, but every single day. If you are a busy professional or if you are already overworked taking care of kids, it may be immensely difficult to take time out of your day.


Kids are not capable of taking care of their pets all on their own at first. They need your intervention and supervision to ensure the well-being of themselves and the pets. So, if you feel even an ounce of doubt about the time and energy you are capable of dedicating towards pets, do think about it carefully


Cost

Pets come with their share of expenses, too. It’s not as simple as buying one as a gift to your kids. Like having kids, owning pets is a lifetime investment. There are feeding costs, routine health check-ups, grooming costs, and occasional daycare (kennel) costs.


Clean-up

Pets like cats and dogs can regularly bring in ticks and fleas into your home. And, if you have neat carpeted floors, life with pets can be tough because of the need to clean pet hair, pests, and other messes that come with pets.


Family planning

Are you planning to extend your family? Then, it is obvious that the new arrival will take up all your energy and time. Add to that, the other requirements of family and work. In such a case, it is best to wait before you buy a pet.


Child’s maturity level

Another point to consider is the physical and emotional maturity level of your child. Is he capable of helping you with a few tasks involving caring for pets? Younger kids may not be ready developmentally to understand the difference between toys and pets. They may also not yet have balancing and other physical skills necessary for handling pets.


You also need to be confident that your child is ready to adjust with a pet, who is as good as a new family member, for not just a few days but for the long-term. If you think your kid may lose interest after a while, you may want to reconsider your decision. A good indicator of readiness for pets is your kids’ helping you with household chores. You may also let them play with a neighbor’s pet, if possible, and note how well they handle the pet.


Prepping for the pet’s arrival

Okay. So, you have decided to bring in a pet. Here are a few tips to help you with a great introduction between kids and pets.

Make a wise selection - Small animals like fish are safe pets for kids. If you decide for larger animals like dogs or cats, ensure that they are not hyperactive and do not get aggressive with kids.


Talk to your child beforehand - Prepare your child for the new arrival. Talk to him about the importance of being careful and gentle with the pet. Also talk to him about the responsibilities related to the pet.


Prepare for a gentle introduction - With small animals, encourage your kid to be very gentle and remind them to always handle them softly. With large pets, first ensure the pet is comfortable with your child petting him. You can do this by letting the animal sniff your kid’s hand. If things are smooth, allow your kid to gently stroke the pet. Remind your child to avoid rough and loud play. It will help to talk about situations that may arouse dangerous reactions like snatching a toy, etc.


Supervise, supervise, supervise - Remember, small kids are not responsible enough to be left alone with new pets right away. Always supervise, especially in the beginning, and be aware of signs that require your attention. In many cases, it can be beneficial to keep kids separate from dogs with a play pen.


Let your child help - Slowly, allow kids to help with caring for the pet. They can start with feeding, grooming, and bathing. Just a little hand is enough to start. Let them have fun with it all.


The Bottom Line

Daily interaction between kids and pets will be fruitful if practiced safely. Consider the pros and cons and make a well-thought-out decision.



https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/full/10.2105/AJPH.2009.188193 [1]

http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/pets-are-a-childs-best-friend-not-their-siblings [2]

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/dogs-reduce-anxiety-in-kids_us_5655c071e4b08e945fea8df7 [3]

http://news.ufl.edu/articles/2017/05/pet-dogs-help-kids-feel-less-stressed-study-finds.php [4]

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/07/03/peds.2011-2825?sid=73a8fcd1-ad41-4099-8e99-afa57ce00e1f [5]

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