Felines might want to play one day and then ignore your kid the next. That's why they are a good choice for kids who don't mind having companionship only when their pet is in the mood. If a cat is right for you, you may want to consider adopting a full-grown cat and skip the kitten stage, as the little ones are lots of work.
Unlikely to bite and awake for most of the day, guinea pigs are ideal for social kids who have lots of time to spend with their pet. These animals are affectionate and love to be held. But, if your house is empty most of the day, this pick is not right for you.
Hamsters are great for curious kids. Since they are nocturnal, they sleep while the kids are in school and wake right after dinner, ready to play. Because they are delicate animals, experts recommend them for slightly older kids.
If your child is begging for a pet, but you're worried that the financials may put you over the edge, think of some alternative animals. While a dog can cost up to $1,800 in the first year and up to $875 for every year after that, according to the ASPCA, other options are much more affordable. Frogs and turtles are the least expensive animals to own.
One of the greatest benefits of owning a dog is that children who own canines are more active. On average, dog-owning children spend 325 minutes being physically active each day (11 more than those without a dog). That adds up to 4,015 extra minutes of movement per year!
Most shelter dogs are mutts, which are well-suited for families. But plan on investing time in the adoption process. Get to know the animal by spending time with him and asking about his background. A good shelter wants to make a great pet-family match, so look for a place that asks questions.
If you're willing to spend the money, a breeder might be the way to go. While purebred dogs often have more health problems than mixed breeds, being able to meet the pup's mom and dad allows you to get an idea of the potential personality of your new friend and find out what genetic diseases may affect your dog down the line.
Avoid pet stores. Those squirmy balls of fluff in the window may be irresistible, but it's best to stick to shelters, rescue groups, and breeders. Pet stores sometimes get their dogs from puppy mills. According to the ASPCA, puppy mills are large-scale commercial breeding operations that place profit over animal well-being. Often, these establishments neglect the dogs and do not breed responsibly. Also, most stores don't screen customers to ensure animal safety.
You've settled on getting a dog. Now what breed is right for your family? American Kennel Club spokesperson Lisa Peterson puts forth her recommendations.
One good rule of thumb is to make your child the good cop: She gives treats or food with your supervision, but she never takes things away or punishes -- that's still your job. It's important for everyone's safety (and your peace of mind) to set up this relationship as soon as your child starts helping out.
Simple chores like feedings and walking teach your child to treat animals with respect, and foster her sense of responsibility. Although younger kids won't understand that animals depend on adults for food, water, and love, kids ages 5 and up are ready to start learning that pets need their help.
When it comes to pups, fleas are the enemy. But flea collars and chemical baths may contain ingredients that are dangerous to your child. As an alternative, bathe your companion weekly, which will drown any critters you find in the soapy water. You can also vacuum more often and lay diatomaceous earth in your yard -- ask for it at your local garden center or home-improvement store -- to kill insects without harmful effects on humans.
If you already have a pooch, you want to prepare him for the arrival of your newborn. Dogs can be confused when they move from alpha to underdog after baby arrives. Take your dog to parks before your little one arrives, so he can get used to being around kids. You will also want to practice what your new walks will be like. Walk your pup with the empty stroller (even though it looks silly) to set a new pace and get him used your new outings.
Put your child's things in place -- the swing, portable crib, bassinet -- a few weeks in advance. Let your pet become accustomed to the new items and the different sounds they make.
A cat's hearing is very sensitive, so get your pet used to a baby's cries and laughter. You can download "Baby Sounds for Pets" and play a few minutes at a time. Give lots of love and treats during these sessions.
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