Your Child’s First Pet

A dog or a cat? Bird or hamster? Goldfish in a bowl? Owning a pet can be a rewarding experience for your child. What makes a good first pet and is your child ready for it? MH susses out suitable choices for junior.

WORDS CINDY LIM

There are many benefits to reap from owning a pet. Pets provide companionship, unconditional love and instil a sense of responsibility in a child as caring for a pet is much more than hugging or petting. Children learn that they are responsible for the pet’s well-being (feeding, bathing), its safety (no rough handling or dropping) and emotional health (no screaming or hitting or banishing the pet to one corner when you are in a bad mood). Children who are mature and responsible enough to understand how to handle a small animal with safety and care will be able to reap the full benefits of owning a pet.

Choosing a Pet

Once you’ve decided that your child is ready to handle a pet, the next step is to determine what is suitable. This depends on the age and character of your child. Common first pets, according to Dr Estella Liew, Mount Pleasant Central Veterinary Clinic, are hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, fish, dogs, and cats.

 

Different pets have different temperaments, husbandry, grooming or exercise requirements. Pick one that suits your lifestyle.

 

Hamsters

Cute and tireless little creatures that scamper around the enclosure and run on wheels. They are entertaining and nocturnal – they sleep while the kids are busy with school and ready to play when they are home. However, they are tiny and need to be handled carefully or be ready to be nipped in protest! They also do not bond with humans the same way dogs and cats do. Be prepared to do housekeeping often – rodents tend to have strong urine odour. They also have a short lifespan of about two to three years but reproduce many times throughout their life.

Rabbits

Gentle and quiet, these furry, cuddly creatures are easy to feed and generally do not require much maintenance nor space. However, they are delicate and easily spooked. Take care when carrying or hugging them as they may startle suddenly and end up being dropped from your child’s arms. When mishandled, rabbits may scratch or bite to protect themselves. They also have a lifespan of about seven to ten years and reproduce at alarming rates.

Guinea Pigs

Hardy and easy to care for, these larger rodents are not as fragile as rabbits and generally less skittish than hamsters. They need lots of attention and love being handled. They will squeak and grunt to indicate happiness when handled affectionately, in much the same way that cats purr or dogs wag their tails. Since guinea pigs are from cool climates, they need to be kept indoors to prevent overheating and/or dehydration. They also need to be let out of their cages for exercise. Guinea pigs generally have a lifespan of about four to seven years. Guinea pigs are social animals who do best with the companionship of another pig. 

Fish

These quiet little aquatic creatures are entertaining to watch and yet calming at the same time. Fish do not develop separation anxiety or destructive behaviour when you leave them alone at home. They are less expensive to feed and care for than other pets. Not all types of fish are a good choice for kids and some breeds require greater maintenance than others. Fish require a proper environment and knowledgeable caretakers as they can be quite difficult to keep alive. Fish can be easily spooked from tapping or banging on the glass tank or sudden loud noises. They are prone to overfeeding and sensitive to changes in their environment. Do your research and choose a variety that is hardier.

Dogs

Lively, friendly, affectionate, loyal, cute, cuddly – humans have always had a strong bond with man’s best friends. However, dogs require a lot of care. They need to be bathed, fed, walked, trained, groomed and more. Trips to the vets are also highly expensive. As they can be boisterous and unpredictable, never leave a baby or young child together with a dog unattended. Also, beware of bites. Most dogs seem to generally share a common lifespan of about eight to 13 years but there are some breeds that live longer.

Cats

These felines are loving, loyal, gentle and popular with girls. Cats are independent and are not as demanding of attention as some other types of pets.

 

These felines generally keep themselves clean from head to toe but

they do shed and throw up hairballs. Also, beware of damage to

furniture and curtains with their sharp claws.

 

The average lifespan of a healthy cat is about 14 to 16 years. “A quiet calm pet that tolerates handling is best. Most young children cannot resist holding, hugging or petting an animal. Choosing one with a suitable temperament and size is helpful. Too small a pet and the child could accidentally injure it. Too boisterous and they can knock over the young child out of playfulness. Too nervous a pet and a child that cannot be taught to leave it alone is a combination for accidents,” shares Dr Liew.

“Do your homework when it comes to pet care. As veterinarians, we all too often see animals being neglected because the child has outgrown the novelty and the parents are unwilling to step in.”

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