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Children and pets

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Studies show that pets can be valuable in the life of a developing child. Children with pets tend to be more compassionate, self-confident and responsible, and are greater achievers. Before deciding on a pet, you need to weigh the practical pros and cons of keeping a pet. It is a huge responsibility and depending on the age of your child, you may have to assume most of that responsibility.

Once you’ve made the decision to keep a pet, you need to decide what type of pet to keep. Some pets take up more time than others and some will be more appropriate for your child’s age group than others. Also do some research on how much time and care different animals require. With all this information at hand, you will be able to make an informed decision about what type of pet to get. Of course, your child may have a specific animal in mind already. But if his choice will not be suitable for you, then you need to be truthful with him and explain this to him and perhaps offer an alternative.

Birds and fish are ideal for little children. Because they are always moving, they help children to develop visual skills. From the age of four, children can be taught how to handle a pet under adult supervision. Guinea pigs are great for pre-schoolers. They like to be held, seldom bite and whistle when excited or happy. Like guinea pigs, kittens also bond strongly with children. From the age of six, your child should be strong enough to control an energetic puppy. Rabbits are more suitable for older children as females can be aggressive. Preferably get a male rabbit and have him sterilised. Alternative pets such as lizards, frogs and snakes are becoming more popular. Ensure you have taken safety considerations into account.

Some safety considerations
• Ensure that you have the time, space and energy to look after a pet.
• Babies are not able to interact meaningfully with pets. Toddlers may pull tails, eat pet food or put their hands in fish tanks and cages. Supervise pets and children closely, especially when they interact with each other.
• Keep pet food and litter out of your child’s reach.
• Ensure that children wash their hands after animal interactions and before they eat.
• Be aware of allergies. Many children are allergic to cats.
• Small children often drown in fishponds. Install wire mesh over your fishpond.
• If you already have a pet, a new baby can be a threat to it. Get your pet accustomed to the new baby gradually.
• Most children who sustain dog bites are bitten by their own dog or another familiar dog. Animal behaviour is unpredictable. Always supervise children near dogs and other animals.


Specially written for www.babiesonline.co.za by Sara Essop

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