Kids and Pets – is it a good idea or a bad one?

Family Life

Kids and Pets and Our Parents’ Bias

Kids and pets is always a hot topic.

I confess, I am biased in favor of pets. For us, two kids and two dogs just go together and, frankly, one dog just wasn’t enough. We like chaos. So when we added a new baby to the family, we added a puppy as well. We love our dogs and the companionship and lessons they teach our kids. But we trained our dogs thoroughly and spent many hours insuring their behavior. As a result, I trust them with my kids and my kids LOVE them.

There is a wealth of scientific evidence that the unconditional affection of an animal promotes health in humans and fosters compassion and responsibility in a growing child. Having a loving pet can increase your happiness and life span. Animal visitors in old age homes and hospitals offer proven benefits. But not all animals are created equal, and many provide more stress than stress relief.

Here is why I think pets are great for kids:

•    Responsibility – As soon as they are able, I suggest that kids start taking care of the family pets. Walking, feeding, brushing and cleaning up after their animal friends helps instill pride and a sense of responsibility.

dr-dina-kids-and-pets•    Self Esteem – Most pets love humans unconditionally and that is invaluable for a child. No matter what, we know our dogs will be elated to see us when we return home. We can all benefit from that example!

•    Allergies – Some research suggests that kids exposed to animals early in life develop allergy protection. Of course some kids do have allergies to pets regardless of having animals at home.

•    Infections – Kids that live with animals have fewer ear and respiratory tract infections in the first years of life.

•    Stress – Walking, petting or brushing your pet has been shown to reduce stress levels. Who doesn’t need less stress?

•    Companionship – If you get a pet when your children are older, they may still be around when your children move out. Treatment for empty nester syndrome?

•    Decreases fear – We all know kids that are scared of animals. But having a loving pet at home will help diminish a child’s unreasoning fear.

Of course – there are downsides:

•     Pets require work, and most parents are already overworked.

dr-dina-portuguese-water-dog•    Pet bites sometimes occur – I see a few cat and dog bites every year in the emergency department. Many are from loving family pets. We don’t always know what provokes them, though I typically find that kids who are bitten have startled the pet in some way. Getting too close to a toy or food, or creeping up on an animal is a common story. I wish pet bites didn’t happen, but occasionally they do, and parents are rightfully concerned. Still, diligent training can help prevent this. With my dogs, we trained them not to be bothered when we take away their toys or food, or pull their tails or ears, or put our hands in their mouths and the like. I trust that they are now easy going enough to overcome natural instinct and to remain placid in the face of childlike missteps.

•    Pets can be dirty – They need help toileting. They vomit. They collect yuckiness in their hair. But so do kids…

•    Pets can be expensive – Training, food, toys, boarding, grooming, vet visits – it may feel endless.

My personal favorite – the Portuguese Water Dog pictured here.

So, is it a no-brainer for you to bring a pet home for your kids?

Think about it carefully. Though there are many benefits to having a pet, they can be a ton of work and costly too. Before introducing a critter companion to the family, I suggest researching the breed carefully as some dogs and cats, snakes, fish… are better for young families than others, and this can make a vast difference.


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