Army Public Health Nursing

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- This is a time of the year when Santa brings not only toys, but often a soft, fluffy four-legged animal as a new addition to the family. The topic of pet ownership, including the pros and cons, must be discussed with the real care providers -- the parents.

Although pets can be a real asset and life expanding experience for a child, it is important to choose a pet that is right for your family, your home and your lifestyle. Parental involvement, discussion and planning are essential to help make pet ownership a positive experience for everyone. Pets can help children learn some of the basic and fundamental skills that can be applied to interpersonal relationships as they grow into adulthood.

EdVenture Children's Museum recently added a new permanent exhibit called "Wags and Whiskers." This exhibit is geared toward children ages 5-12 and their caregivers and emphasizes responsible pet care. Visitors can take on the roles of clinic customers, veterinarian or groomer. Children can put on a lab coat and venture into the world of veterinary medicine. They can examine the animal, review the chart and X-ray, and use a pet scanner to make a diagnosis. In the examination/grooming area, visitors can bathe, groom and medicate both dogs and cats.

Families are encouraged to think about which type of pet is best for them by taking into consideration their living space, activity level, budget, etc. A pet will be recommended (or not) based on their answers. The interaction will realistically portray the responsibilities of pet ownership in a humorous fashion. The cost of pet ownership will be provided with additional information on spaying and neutering.

Choosing the right pet for the right age is essential, a few considerations may include:

Toddlers are curious and like to touch. When selecting a pet with a toddler in the home, it would be prudent to keep in mind that a child this age is going to pull fur, limbs, ears and tails. Take care to select a pet that can handle being touched in this way. Also keep in mind that this curious toddler may explore the pet's food and water dishes, the cat's litter box and, if there is an aquarium on site, the electrical wires and aquarium water.

3-5 Years Old
This is an age when a child is learning about contact and empathy. Some experts recommend a guinea pig for this age. Guinea pigs like to be held and seldom bite. They have a whistle when they are happy and excited that most children find amusing. Children at this age can also assist with the care of the animal by filling the water bottle and food dish.

5-10 Years Old
Attention spans are generally inconsistent within this age group. Small pets such as: gerbils, guinea pigs and goldfish are often recommended. With supervision, children can take on more of the responsibilities of caring for a pet. This is also a great time to reinforce good hygiene habits around pets with an emphasis on hand washing.

10-13 Years Old
Children in this age group have a great interest in animals and have a good capacity for responsibility. They are ready for a dog or cat as a pet. They are able to take on more of the responsibility of the care by feeding, cleaning a litter box, brushing and exercising the pet. A child of this age can also participate in dog training classes.

14-17 Years Old
Teens tend to be very busy. Even though they have the capacity and skills to care for most any pet, they do not always have or take the time to properly care for a pet. Birds and aquarium fish are often a choice for this age. Keep in mind, that when the child goes off to college the pet usually stays behind at the home.

There is something to be said about the unconditional love and affection that only a pet can provide. Even though the ultimate responsibility of pet ownership falls on the parent, pets can be a wonderful addition to a family. They often boost self-esteem, empathy and sensitivity in the growing child. The furry creatures are used in many medical settings to ease stress and pain. The essential element is to take the time to research and explore the options of pet ownership and determine what is best for your family.

Page last updated Wed December 14th, 2011 at 13:25