Pets can make wonderful companions for children. It’s one of the main reasons why many parents are keen to add a cat or dog to their family.
Just look at how these parents remember their own childhood pets:
What children can do for your pets
Children can share in the responsibilities in looking after a family pet.
To help children show love and care to their pets, you can encourage them to take part with:
Feeding their pets
Playing games with their pets
Taking their dog out for walks
Visiting the vet
All these activities help children to develop a close bond and show their pet that it’s truly loved.
Many families choose to adopt a puppy or kitten from a breeder but older rescue pets also need a home. Rescue pets may have experienced neglect, cruelty and other difficult events in the lives. By adopting a rescue, children can help provide love, care and affection to these animals and change their lives for the better.
Joining a new family is a big part of your pet’s socialisation and children have an important role to play by interacting positively with pets. Make sure you know how to introduce pets to children to make that first meeting a success.
For puppies and kittens, children can look and act differently to adults, so being surrounded by children from an early age will help them become more confident around kids as they get older.
Dr Carri Westgarth is a senior lecturer in human-animal interaction at the University of Liverpool. She has carried out many years of research on human and animal interaction and is the author of The Happy Dog Owner: Finding Health and Happiness with the Help of your Dog.
She explained to us some of the benefits dogs gain from being part of a family.
“Having children in the house can provide much entertainment, companionship and socialisation for your dog, who is evolutionarily wired to live in social groups.
“However, for this to work it is important that your dog is used to children from early puppyhood so they don’t find them frightening, is given plenty of their own time alone to rest so that they don’t find them annoying, and interactions are closely monitored and actively supervised by the parents.”
What pets can do for children
While children can provide pets with a secure and loving family environment, pets have a few things to offer too:
An active lifestyles
Fun and games
Teaching responsibility and empathy
Lessons about life
Companionship and relationships
We see our pets as close family members and for children they a great source of companionship and comfort.
Developing positive feelings about pets can help build a child’s self-esteem and confidence and help build trusting relationships with other children and adults.
“The science shows that your child is likely to benefit from this companionship, especially if they are the youngest child or a single-child where relationships tend to be the strongest,” says Dr Westgarth.
“Owning a dog may increase your child’s self-esteem, improve their social interactions with other people, and reduce loneliness.”
Pets teach responsibility
Pets teach children the importance of responsibility and caring for another living being. They need love, food and water.
Depending on your child’s age, they can be given age-appropriate tasks and responsibilities. This can include anything from filling and emptying food and water bowls to clearing away and looking after pet toys.
Children who actively help in the care of pets are more likely to grow up to be responsible adult pet owners.
Pets are fun!
It sounds obvious but it’s true! Spending time in the company of our pets makes us happy and this includes children. Playing and interacting with pets is great for children’s wellbeing and helps provide lasting memories of their time growing up with their pets.
Pets can teach children important lessons about life. Pets need to be cared for. They can become ill or have accidents like children and adults.
They grow up and become older and eventually their life will reach its end and they will die. All of these events can teach important lessons about life and help develop emotional skills and resilience.
We've even reviewed a selection of cat and dog books that help teach children some of these important life lessons.
Encourage active lifestyles
Lots of children grow up playing games on their parent’s mobile phones, tablets and consoles. But having a pet gives children the chance to interact with another living being.
Dogs provide the opportunity for dog walks and exploring, parks, beaches, and countryside. Visiting different places with dogs give children new experiences and helps broaden their own horizons.
Phil Jones, who works for us as a business analyst has a Zuchon. He told us why he and his wife decided to get a dog and how it would encourage a more outdoor lifestyle for them.
"We've always wanted to have a dog for the kids to grow up around. We felt it would not only benefit the kids’ mental well-being but also physically growing up with a routine of getting out for walks.”
The benefits of pets for older children
It can sometimes be overlooked that it’s not just younger children that benefit from having a pet. Adopting a pet when children are older, or teenagers, can still have a positive effect on their development and family life.
Children aged 10 and over can often take on more responsibility than younger children and are more likely to understand what’s involved in caring for a pet.
One of the positive effects of adopting a pet with older children is that they can help change family relationships for the better.
Family life with teenagers can feel very different compared to when they were small children. Parents of teenagers will know that they can sometimes be quite challenging. Constantly glued to their phones, arguing with siblings or parents, refusing to do what they’ve been told!
Looking after an animal that may be a little unsure or wary of its new surroundings can bring a new focus for older children and parents.
The atmosphere and mood within a family home can often change with the introduction of pet. A loud shouty argument with the children might suddenly not feel right when you have a new puppy or kitten to care for.
And if there’s a new human baby on the way, mums to be can find it very difficult to look after their pets. But that can be a great opportunity for older siblings to step-up and take on new responsibilities and bond with their furry best friend at a potentially unsettling time.
When adopting a dog, they naturally need walking, and this presents the perfect opportunity for older children to join parents in family dog walks or help plan some dog-friendly family holidays.
Getting a pet when children are older, will give them a final chance to experience having a pet in childhood before they inevitably leave home and begin their adult lives.