Monday, June 24, 2024

ANIMALS 101 – WHAT TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A PET FOR YOUR CHILD.

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CHOOSING A PET FOR YOUR CHILD IS A BIG DECISION AND NOT ONE TO BE TAKEN LIGHTLY!

Research shows that a pet can contribute to a child’s development physically, by strengthening their immune system, and emotionally by creating an irreplaceable relationship. It is a great way to learn responsibility and compassion, however, it should never be at the expense of an animal and parents should be very involved in the care.  

CHOOSING TO GET A PET

There are many factors to take into account including, but not limited to:

Your lifestyle. Do you have time to meet the needs of this animal? Children with busy schedules and families who travel a lot can’t spend enough time with their pets.

Your energy levels. If you are not very active, then getting a high-energy dog like a Border Collie or Jack Russell is a no-go.

Your resources. Most animals are very expensive to take care of and if you can’t afford veterinary visits, proper species-appropriate food, etc., then please do not let the animal pay the price. This includes vaccination, deworming, annual check-ups, microchip sterilization, etc.

Your commitment. Most of the time it is at least a 10 to 15-year commitment. If you are really committed, you will also do proper research about their needs before you decide on a specific pet. Are you willing to work on behaviour issues if they occur instead of just giving the pet away?

Your yard. All animals, including cats, should be kept safe in your yard. You need enough space for the animal to run and play. Small yards do not equal small dogs!

choosing pets

OTHER FACTORS

  • Some pets are much noisier, messier, or need lots of attention.
  • Some need social mates of a similar species and some are more solitary and some should not be kept with a particular other species.
  • Some get stressed or depressed easily.
  • Some have sensitive digestive systems, are prone to specific health conditions, and are sensitive to household chemicals or even items like candles, cookware, etc.
  • You might need a permit to have this animal, which may differ between provinces.
  • If a child or parent is scared of the particular specie, it could have a detrimental effect on the animal and the humans, for life.
  • Not all vets are experts on all types of animals especially exotic pets! Do you have a vet close by for this particular pet?
  • You need a plan for your pet in your will or in case of an emergency.

CHOOSING A PET FOR YOUR CHILD (C-C-C)

COMPATIBILITY – Some people are cat people and some are dog people. You need to choose a pet for your specific child.  The behaviour of the animal is important because if they are nocturnal for instance, it will limit the time your child has to spend with them. Chinchillas might need cooler temperatures so if your child/family gets cold easily, then they are not ideal. If the animal is a low-energy species/breed or doesn’t like noise then a busy or loud child will not be compatible.

CARE – The age and sense of responsibility of your child as well as time to care for the pet, are important factors. The animal’s health, environment, diet, enrichment, intelligence, behaviour, and companionship are just some of the other factors to take into account. Some animals do not like cuddles or to be handled (many actually including cats and dogs). Rabbits e.g., have a heavy backside in relation to their head so picking them up wrong can hurt them badly. They can even break their own back with a single kick. We strongly advise against rabbits as starter pets for kids!

COST – Food, enrichment, and health care are just some factors when it comes to cost. No animal is “free”. Breeding cycles of some are a few days and inbreeding can happen in many species, so sterilization is key! Never get a pet if you can’t afford to meet ALL their needs!

Also, read why adoption is the only ethical option.

Image by Dr. Karen Becker

LET’S LOOK AT FISH FOR EXAMPLE

During the holiday a pet shop did a post saying that parents should get a Goldfish for their kids as it is a fun and easy way to teach children responsibility and they suggested that Goldfish are a great starter pet for kids. They also said that they only need a small tank, some food, and some water changes. As someone who research and write a lot on animal topics, I think it is terrible advice!

First, in my experience, pet shops, are rarely experts on animal needs and behaviours. They also fuel the animal trading industry and encourage impulse buying. Just because they sell a cage as an “African grey” cage or a fish tank for fish, does not make it the right cage or tank for that animal. I do not trust anyone who exploits animals for financial gain, to have the best interest of the animals at heart. We will bring an end to this terrible practice, but for now, we need the public to help by not supporting any form of exploitation of animals, especially pet shops that sell live animals and breeders.

Also, your child’s need for fun, just like visiting the circus, can and should never trump the life and needs of a sentient being. If you are getting a fish or any pet to show off, then you are doing it for the wrong reasons and the animals always pays the price.

That said, here are just a few reasons why fish are not good starter pets for kids and why they often suffer:

DISADVANTAGES OF FISH AS PETS

  1. It costs more than you think.
  2. They are long-term pets.
  3. Setting up your aquarium takes time.
  4. Aquariums require regular “skilled” maintenance.
  5. Vacations require more planning.
  6. They aren’t tactile and interactive so not companion animals
  • You can’t just buy the fish and put it in an aquarium. You need to perform a task called cycling your aquarium which is forcing your tank to go through the nitrogen cycle before you can just add a fish.
  • Did you ever consider taking your fish to the vet?  Apart from the fact that we do not have exotic pet vets in our area, if you did not think that this might be necessary, then you should not have a fish.  They are sentient beings who can feel pain and have needs.
  • Fish are not a temporary pet, although they can easily die with the wrong care. Most parents just flush it down the drain and buy a new one.  This does not teach your child responsibility and also teaches them that animals can just be replaced.
  • Taking care of fish involves chemistry. You will need to regularly test the water to monitor pH, KH, GH, ammonia, nitrites and nitrates among others. In addition to testing the water quality, you also need to feed them species appropriate food, change the aquarium water, vacuum the bottom of the aquarium and clean the walls, rinse the filter and more. Personally, I do not trust the tap water for my pets.
  • Essential aquarium equipment, such as filters, heaters, air pumps, and lighting, all run on electricity. If you use a tank with a pump and electricity, do you have a backup when we have load shedding or days with unexpected power interruptions?
  • Going on holiday requires planning, as for other animals too, but this is not as easy as to play, and give food and water for a cat or dog. So, not anyone can just look after your fish.
  • If you truly meet their needs, the right size tank, and aquarium will cost money!
  • You need to understand their body language and most people can’t even read the easier body language of dogs.

Read more on enclosure size for different animals.

Children and pets – Image by Pexels.com

ANIMAL NEEDS

The five freedoms of animal welfare is a good test of whether you are a good caretaker. Freedom from hunger/thirst, pain/injury/disease, discomfort, fear/distress, and freedom to express normal behaviour. You need to meet their needs with regards to food, water, enclosure (light, substrate and flooring, humidity, right size vertical and horizontal, temperatures, ventilation, etc.), safety, medical care, behaviour, enrichment (social, physical, food, cognitive, habitat, sensory) and more.

SAFETY

Safety needs to be one of the primary goals when mixing children and animals and should never be unsupervised!

  • NEVER LEAVE a young child alone with an animal, for any reason. Any dog can bite; any cat can scratch.
  • Provide feedback to children by pointing out signs that the animal is uncomfortable or scared. This helps develop a child’s understanding of the animal’s body language and maintains safety for all involved.
  • Encourage your child to be gentle when touching pets. Never allow children to pull tails, ears, or roughhouse with any animal. Never sit on or ride animals. “One hand is enough, two hands is to rough.”
  • Don’t encourage hugs, most animals do not enjoy hugging and this could easily end in a bite.
  • Never punish a growl. The growl is a way the animal communicates that they are uncomfortable. When you punish the growl, they might skip it next time and go straight to a bite.
  • Never allow a child to approach an unknown animal alone. Ask the animal’s guardian if they are child-friendly and then instead of approaching further, call the animal into your space for physical contact. If the animal does not approach, leave them alone because the animal’s consent should also matter!

OTHER CONSIDERATION

  • Teach your child that they are guardians, not owners because animals are sentient beings with feeling and not objects or commodities to dispose of when they are inconvenient. It creates a deeper level of compassion, respect, and responsibility for these sentient beings we choose to share our lives with.
  • Choosing the wrong pet for your child could have a lifetime effect on your child as well as on the pet themselves, especially when being passed on from one home to another over their lifespan. Some animals like parrots and tortoises can grow to be 60-plus years old.
  • If you choose to get exotic pets, then it is crucial to have an exotic pet vet in your area as not all vets are equipped or skilled enough to treat exotic animals even if they claim they can. So do your homework!
  • A great place to start is to visit various reputable animal rescues or sanctuaries with your children to learn more.
  • If you can no longer take care of the animal (may this never happen), please surrender them to the nearest SPCA or re-home only through a reputable organization. DO NOT GIVE THEM AWAY FOR FREE TO COMPLETE STRANGERS!

Check out this video on which animals will not be good pets for children due to cost and care requirements. The ones in the video are just some of the most common pets that are not ideal for children. I will also add rabbits to the list! (note the temperatures are not degrees Celsius)

For many reasons, we discourage keeping wild/exotic animals as pets or any animals in cages. When you support this, the cycle continues! Please do not support breeders, “free to good home” or pet shops (any animal dealers). Please sterilize your pets because we have a massive overpopulation crisis and many healthy pets (at least 2800 a day in SA) are euthanized annually because of it.

Next week we will look at a natural behaviour in dogs and why you should encourage digging!

WHEN YOU KNOW BETTER, DO BETTER!