Adding A Pet To The Family

by Sheila Somerlock Ruth

My house is a zoo – and I mean that literally! We have so many
animals that I’ve considered charging admission. At last count,
we have two cats, numerous fish, snails, two frogs (which we
raised from tadpoles), and three monarch caterpillars. We’ve
also had numerous temporary residents, including spiders and
cicadas. Most kids are fascinated with animals. Combine that
with a seemingly inborn instinct for nurturing, and it’s only
natural that eventually most kids want to have a pet of their
own. But what do you do when your child asks, “Mommy, can I
have a puppy?” There are a lot of factors to consider.

Are you ready?

Before you ask whether your child is ready, you should start by
asking yourself whether you are ready for a pet. Even if your
child is old enough to care for the pet himself, the pet will
undoubtedly make changes in your life. It may wake you up in
the morning, go to the bathroom on your carpets, chew your
furniture, or bark at every noise outside. I’m not trying to
discourage you from getting a pet; the advantages are also
numerous. Pets can teach kids responsibility and empathy, and
provide love and companionship. I’ve had pets all my life and
have found the relationships very rewarding. But I am
suggesting that, before making the decision to get a pet, you
need to think about what it really means to adopt a pet into
your household. A pet can disrupt your life almost as much as a
new baby! (Remember sleepless nights, changing diapers…) Our
newest cat is, quite frankly, a pest. He wakes us up early in
the morning, knocks things off of even the highest shelf, and
tears up anything with feathers including preschool artwork.
But we love him dearly and he is a part of the family.

Is your child ready?

The answer to this question depends on what you mean
by “ready.” Any child who is old enough to understand not to
pull tails or ears or squeeze too hard may be ready to have a
pet. However, while even preschoolers can help with pet care
tasks, like scooping dry food and filling water bowls, kids
generally aren’t ready to take primary responsibility for a pet
until they are teens or possibly pre-teens. Even teens should
be monitored by parents to make sure that they do what is
necessary; animals shouldn’t be made to suffer just to teach a
lesson in responsibility.


Pets are expensive! In addition to the cost of the animal
itself, you may need to purchase bedding, cages, food, feeding
dishes, or toys. Food alone can be expensive, especially for a
large dog or cat. Veterinary care can also be expensive,
especially for cats and dogs, which need to have regular
checkups, vaccinations, and heartworm treatments if you live in
an area with heartworms. And as the pet ages and needs more
care, the cost of veterinary care goes up. Smaller pets are
less expensive, but they still have recurring costs, like food.
Before buying a pet, you’ll have to analyze your budget and
decide if you can afford it.

Life style

Another thing to consider is your lifestyle. Is anyone home
during the day? Do you travel a lot? Do you like to sleep late?
These are questions that must factor into the decision to buy a
pet, and which pet to buy. If you like to sleep late, then you
don’t want to get a pet which will wake you up early needing
food or a walk. If everyone is gone during the day, then you
probably don’t want to buy a pet like a dog, which requires a
lot of attention.

If you travel a lot, you’ll need to consider what you will do
with the pets when you travel. Dogs and cats can be left in a
kennel, but animals like amphibians and reptiles require
specialized care and you may have difficulty finding someone to
care for them. Another alternative is to bring your pet with
you; there are a some hotels that will accept pets. Some
animals travel better than others; dogs generally are happy as
long as they are with their owners, but cats are very
territorial and can be unhappy in a strange territory.

We took our caterpillars with us when we traveled on a recent
trip to New York. We must have been quite a sight as we checked
into the hotel carrying jars with caterpillars and eggs, and
vases of milkweed plants. Caterpillars travel well; as long as
they have plenty of fresh milkweed, they are happy. On the
other hand, my mother, who kindly took care of the rest of the
menagerie while we were gone, had her hands full.


Thankfully, my son doesn’t seem to have an allergy to cats. But
on a recent sleepover visit, my niece woke up in the middle of
the night with red, swollen, itchy eyes, stuffy nose, and
wheezing. Allergies are no fun; kids with allergies can be
pretty miserable. And allergies can lead to more serious
conditions, like asthma. So you need to make sure that your
kids are not allergic before you get a pet. One thing that you
can do is to let your child spend time visiting someone with
the type of pet you plan to get. Even this is not foolproof,
however. Different breeds may produce different reactions. One
article I read even suggests that cats with dark color fur may
produce more allergic reaction than cats with light color fur!
If you want to be sure, an allergist can perform a skin test to
find out. Allergies can take up to two years to develop, so
even if your child is not allergic, there is always the
possibility that allergies can develop later.

If your children are allergic to dogs or cats, perhaps a small
animal will work out better. Hamsters, hermit crabs, or frogs
may produce less of an allergic reaction. But before you
purchase any pet, a consultation with an allergist may be


Caterpillars aren’t too bad, as pets go. They are quiet and
don’t require too much attention. Their food is free, and as
long as you keep them supplied with plenty of fresh Milkweed
leaves, and mist them occasionally with a plant mister, they
are content to munch along on their leaves and mind their own
business. And they don’t require a long commitment; it takes
about a month to go from egg to butterfly, and then you release

Dogs and cats, however, do require a long term commitment;
almost as much as a child. Dogs can live 10-14 years, and cats
can live 9-13 years or longer. If you adopt one of these
animals, and then find out that it isn’t working out, you may
have difficulty finding a good home for it, especially if it is
full grown. Many animals are euthanized because their owners
don’t want them anymore and drop them off at the animal
shelter. So before adopting an animal, especially a long-lived
one, make sure that you are ready to make the commitment! One
good way to find out what it is really like having an animal in
your home is to offer to take care of a friend’s pet while they
are away on a trip. You will get a good idea of the level of
care required, and find out first hand how your children do
with an animal in the house.

Think carefully about your decision, and make sure that you and
your children are ready. If you decide not to adopt a pet, sit
down with your children and explain your reasons. Perhaps you
can find alternatives, such as a membership to a children’s zoo
or regular visits with a friend’s pet. If you do decide to
adopt a pet into your family, then I hope that you will enjoy
the relationship as much as I have. Having a pet can be one of
the most rewarding experiences, and your pet will soon become a
special part of the family.

Related Books:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Choosing a Pet
by Betsy Sikora Siino, Audrey Pavia

ASPCA Pet Care Guides for Kids: Kitten
by Mark Evans

ASPCA Pet Care Guides for Kids: Puppy
by Mark Evans

ASPCA Pet Care Guides for Kids: Hamster
by Mark Evans

“Adding a Pet to the Family” is Copyright 2000 MyCinnamonToast
All Rights Reserved

Sheila Somerlock Ruth is the founder of, a
web site devoted to strengthening family connections through
good parenting and genealogy.
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