When Is My Kid Developmentally Ready to Care for a Pet?

When Is My Kid Developmentally Ready to Care for a Pet?

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Pets are THE BEST! And here’s why!

Check it out- Answers to the top 4 questions asked by parents who are considering purchasing a pet for their child! 

photo of man hugging tan dog

1) Why are Pets Good for Kids?

They are fun, cute, lovable… but more then that, they teach great life lessons, including:

  • Responsibility
  • Consistency
  • Working hard even when it’s not fun
  • Being selfless
  • How to be aware of another being’s needs
  • Planning ahead for vacations or other unique circumstances
  • Lots of practical skills- cleaning up, feeding, watering, grooming
  • How to love without holding back!

Having pets is a great beginner’s experience to the responsibility and work that it takes to have a family. Your child is learning skills that will help them when they become a mom or a dad someday!

Besides these great life lessons, there are lots of opportunities for parents to talk about  daunting subjects.

  • Pets pass away. This opens the door to talk about death.
  • Pets get frisky. This opens the door to talk about sex.
  • Pets get pregnant. This opens the door to talk about birth, nursing, and other baby topics.

blue parakeet on hand

2) Am I Ready for Pets?

Of course, we all know that caring for pets isn’t easy!

Before you purchase a pet, consider the following factors:

  • Finances

Some pets are cheaper than others. Don’t just look at the price tag to purchase the animal itself. You should also look at:

  1. Food: Make sure you know what to feed your pet at various stages of life. The food a pet needs can change over time (which in turn can affect the $$$).
  2. Supplies: You know, like dishes, leashes, collars, litter boxes, filters and tanks for fish, etc.
  3. Cage/Shelter: All animals need some sort of shelter. This could include a cage, a tank, a doghouse, bedding, etc. For example, rabbits do well with sawdust in the bottom of their cage, but it must be replaced every few days. This is an extra expense that should be planned for.
  4. Toys: Toys aren’t just for fun. They also provide vital stimulating experiences to keep animals’ brains sharp. Toys are also a great way for the animal to bond with you!
  5. Education/Training: Many families pay to have their pets trained. Others pay to learn how to train animals themselves. Some attend classes with the pet so that they can learn valuable skills to implement at home.
  6. Medical Expenses: All animals need medical care from time to time. Pets, like humans, get regular checkups to make sure they are healthy. Each family will need to consider if they would like to pay to have your animal spayed or neutered, or risk the expense of a pregnancy.
  7. Grooming: If your pet sheds, you won’t have to pay to get his hair cut. If your pet is hypoallergenic, it’s likely that the animal has hair instead of fur, like a human. That means he’ll need frequent hair cuts.
  • Time

Do you have the time necessary to devote to a pet?

Different species and breeds require different time input from their owner.

Consider the following time-consuming aspects of pet care:

  1. Training: Training a pet can take years. Some owners choose to purchase animals that are older and have already been trained in order to avoid the time devotion to training a young animal. Other pet owners prefer to train the animal themselves so that they can teach the animal to behave in a way that fits the needs of the family.
  2. Exercise: Exercise is a constant part of owning a pet. It’s important to make sure your pet is exercising- don’t assume they are exercising themselves. This could mean going for walks, playing with your pet, and providing adequate space for your animal to move around.
  3. Grooming: Some animals needs more time to groom than others. Animals that shed might need less grooming, just a bath here and there. Some animals will need their hair cut regularly. It’s up to you if you want to cut your pet’s hair yourself or take him to a groomer.
  4. Medical Needs: Consider if your pet’s species and/or breed requires more medical assistance. If so, this could require more frequent trips to the vet for checkups.
  5. Physical Care: This is the nuts and bolts of daily life with a pet. Some pets will need to go outside for the bathroom, some will require clean up (like cleaning a tank or a litter box), all will need food and water every day.

Do you have time to take care of all these needs? Consider your work life, your family life, your social life and honestly consider if a pet fits into your schedule.


  • Medical Needs

As we’ve mentioned before, be aware of your pet’s species and breed. Some animals require more frequent medical intervention.

Can you afford frequent visits to the vet? Make sure you know the answer before your pet is sick or injured.

Need more information about medical needs for your pet? Check out a great resource What Does a Veterinary Technician Do? 

two short-coated brown and black dogs playing

  • Training

Would it be best for your family to find an older pet that is already trained?

Would it be best to train a pet yourself so that the animal is used to your home’s unique rules?

In either case, consider in advance what good and bad habits are deal breakers for your family.

  1. Potty Training: Does the animal need to know how to use a litter box or a doggy door?
  2. Behavioral Training: Does the animal jump on people? Does the animal know where “home” is? Does the animal bark, or lick, or sit on the couches, or respond to commands?
  3. How the Animal Responds to Strangers: Do you want the animal to guard your house, or welcome visitors to the door?
  4. How the Animal Responds to Other Animals: Should your pet avoid other animals, chase them away, or be friendly?
  5. Bad Habits: Are you ok with an animal that chews on things? That digs? That barks? What if the animal bites or scratches?
  • Personality

Even within breeds, there are no two animals that are exactly the same. It’s up to the family to choose the perfect pet that fits their personality.

A family with rambunctious kids might not be well suited to a lazy dog.

A family with loving, cuddly kids might not be well suited to a grouchy cat.

  • Space

How much room does the animal need?

Can this particular species and breed live comfortably in an apartment complex, or will they need a large yard to run in?

Can this dog or cat live a happy life indoors, or will they need to be outside?

Can this animal live in my climate comfortably? Is it too hot or too cold for him?

  • Long-term Commitment

In short, the question shouldn’t just be “Is this pet a good fit for me?” but ALSO “Am I a good fit for this pet?”

Once you purchase an animal, you’ve taken on a HUGE responsibility to love, care for, and accommodate for that animal’s needs. Make sure you’re ready before you take the plunge.

boy hugging fawn pug puppy

3) When Is My Child Ready to Care for the Pets?

That depends on his age and development…. But also on your child’s personality. Some children are naturally caring and do very well looking after a pet. Others need a lot more coaching.

Be aware of your child’s individual needs, but here are some typical developmental guidelines of parent/child involvement in caring for pets: 

  • 0-3 Years Old

At this age, the parent is doing all the work.

Young kids still enjoy being around pets. Their sweet hearts are full of love for pets.

Watch out for a few key things with this age group.

  1. Make sure the child and the pet are safe around each other. You don’t want a young child pulling on a dog’s tail, or a dog biting a child.
  2. Make sure the pet’s food is out of the child’s reach. This is easier said than done, but it’s important. Pet food isn’t always safe for human consumption.
  • 3-6 Years Old

As children get older, they develop new skills and capabilities that allow them to help out a little more.

In this age range, start involving your child more in the process of caring for the pet.

Your child will likely need one-on-one help from you. They can put food in the bowl, fill water dishes, and help with cleaning up after the pet.

  • 7-10 Years Old

This is a magical age where kids gain a little more independence.

Instead of mom and dad constantly monitoring the process of caring for the pet, mom and dad can give instructions and let the child carry them out on his own.

Wooo hooo!

  • 11-13 Years Old

Pre-adolescence brings even more freedom for mom and dad.

The child is able to complete all the chores required to care for a pet. The parent’s primary responsibility is to guide the child toward creating their own routine of pet care.

That means:

  1. Withhold your help. Sometimes it’s tempting as parents to step in and fix problems, but kids at this age are able to think through solutions on their own.
  2. Offer guidance when asked. Try to wait until the child approaches you, unless it’s in the pet’s best interest for you to intervene earlier.
  3. Let the child develop and carry out their own routine. Does the child prefer to feed the animals an hour later than you typically do? If it’s safe for the pet, try to let your child create a routine that works for him.
  4. Don’t let the child neglect the animal! Although the child is taking on more responsibility, be aware that they are still learning! It’s possible that the child could accidentally forget to feed the pet one day, or forget to fill the water dish. Don’t let the animal suffer, and make sure to teach the child so that they can be better in the future.
  • 14-18 Years Old

Ahhhhh, finally, parents can kick back and relax!

Your child should be fully capable of caring for a pet 100% independently.

As always, keep an eye out to make sure that the child is keeping up with his responsibilities. After all, you wouldn’t want the pet to suffer if the child slacked off.

shallow focus photography of brown and white guinea pig

4) What Kind of Pet Should I get… For A Beginner??

Are you interested in having a pet, but not sure what animal is best for your family?

Try one of these awesome beginner pets!

  1. Beta Fish: Betas need little care, as they are one of the few fish that can breathe air from the surface of the water rather than having oxygen circulated through the water. No need for fancy tanks and equipment! All you’ll need to do is feed the fish and change his water every week or two to make sure he has a nice clean environment.
  2. Tortoise: Tortoises live in dry, warm environments. A tank with dirt in the bottom will do. A tortoise needs a heat lamp, fresh water to drink, and food (usually lettuce or frozen veggies). You can touch, hold, and pet a tortoise- just make sure to wash your hands!
  3. Cat: Cats are great first pets because they are self-sufficient in taking care of their own potty needs and rarely require much training. You’ll need to supply a litter box (which will need cleaned regularly), food, water, and toys.
  4. Hamster, Rat, Mouse, or Guinea Pig: Rodents can make fun and interactive pets. They will need a cage with lots of stimulating toys and obstacles to climb. Obviously, they will need food and water.
  5. Hermit Crab: Hermit crabs are very low-key. You will need to purchase a tank with sand in the bottom. The crab will need food and water as well as some kind of shelter. As the crab grows, he will need bigger shells to move into.
  6. Dog: Dogs are a lot of fun, but a little more complex to discuss. Check out this amazing resource at The Spruce Pets called Best Dogs for First Time Owners!

Are you ready? Let’s go get a pet!!


Mrs. S


Who is Mrs. S… and why do people call you that? 

It’s my favorite nickname! That’s what all my students call me!

I’ve been around the block a time or two. I’ve worked with children from ages 0-18, some with mental illness, some with disabilities, some with Autism, and many with behavioral problems.

I also worked as a parent educator!

All that doesn’t hold a candle to my best experience with children- being a mom. Want to learn more about me? Click here! 


Need some time to yourself?

Check out this FREE Parent’s Guide to Self-Care to help you decompress and feel right with the world again!

Free Self Care Guide 2

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