Your Child's First Pet
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Your Child's First Pet

Most children, if asked, would express a pretty strong desire to have a pet, and many parents see the advantages there are to bringing a pet into their child's life. Pets can teach your children responsibility and can help them become more caring; a pet can also help the whole family become more active - and they bring much love and enjoyment to the household as a whole. But there are reasons to be cautious, too. Pets require a lot of time and dedication - and can also be quite expensive. Furthermore, as the responsible adult, a pet is a huge responsibility for you - even if the pet will be 'owned' by your child. With any animal, it is important to remember that you have a legal duty to ensure it has adequate care. Before you even start considering which pet to buy for your child, you need to negotiate to what extent the pet will 'belong' to your child. Depending on your child's age, they will be able to take on the responsibility for their pet to a greater or lesser extent. For example, a younger child might be able to feed the pet independently, but will need help from you to clean its living environment / exercise it. An older child, however, might be able to assume responsibility for the entirety of the pet's care. You will need to work out your own limits - what will happen if your child loses interest in their new pet, for example? Such issues need careful thought and negotiation well before you decide to introduce an animal into your home. If you do decide to go ahead, you then need to decide what animal to buy. Read on for an exploration of three popular family pets - and see which one might be right for you and your family.

RABBITS

Rabbits are naturally very sociable animals, and, as such, can be a very good choice for your child's first pet. If handled carefully from a young age, a rabbit can learn to see humans as friendly - again, another reason why they make good pets for children. However, they require a lot of attention when young - if they do not get enough attention in their early lives, they can become easily distressed by human attention. It is preferable, therefore, to buy your rabbit when it is at a young age - or, at least, ensure that you know something about its previous owner. Vets suggest that rabbits prefer to be kept in the company of other rabbits - if funds allow, it is advisable to keep rabbits in pairs. This makes rabbits a super choice of pet for siblings who want to share the care of their pet, but want ownership of an individual animal too. A rabbit should also be given the time and space for frequent exercise - your child needs to be able to commit to daily care of their rabbit. A rabbit's natural routine involves periods of activity in the early morning and late afternoon. This tallies well with a school child's routine - if your child is at school, they will therefore be around for the rabbit's natural 'active' time.

DOGS

I wonder how many of us know a child who would give their back teeth for a puppy? It is certainly very common for children - both boys and girls - to ask Santa for a dog, without any real understanding of how much time, energy and attention a dog requires. This is certainly true of larger breeds of dog, which can require up walks of up to 3 miles a day - which, depending on your child's age, can be far too much for them, especially during the school week. A dog, therefore, is arguably more of a responsibility for the whole family than a smaller animal will be. Dogs are, again, extremely sociable animals - making them a very rewarding pet for those that have the time. However, they need much more training than many other domesticated animals - and, for those of us without much experience of training dogs, this can necessitate a costly series of lessons with a puppy training school. Vets bills for larger pets are often larger, too - a dog can potentially be much more expensive than other pets your child might choose. However, there are many advantages to getting a dog as your child's first pet. Your child can enjoy building a long relationship with their dog, as the average life expectancy of a dog is 8-12 years. A dog will teach your child valuable lessons of responsibility - and will also be a good motivating force for getting your child to stay active! Dogs are intelligent creatures - your child could also enjoy teaching their dog tricks - and in teaching their dog, your child will be experiencing fabulous lessons in persistence and dedication.

CATS

Cats are extremely popular household pets - there are approximately 7 million of them owned by us in the UK. Cats are often seen as more independent - and therefore less demanding - than their canine friends. As the saying goes: a dog has a master, a cat has a servant. A cat requires less exercise and therefore less time than a dog - in this respect, a cat can be a good choice for your child's first pet. Consideration must be given, when thinking about getting a cat as your child's pet, to the health of your extended family and close friends. Many people suffer from allergies to animal fur - and cats are often a culprit. You don't want family visits to be marred by sneezing relatives! Furthermore, a cat's litter tray can also pose serious health risks to vulnerable adults and children, including pregnant women. This is due to the virus toxoplasmosis, which is caused by a parasite that lives in a cat's body and is expelled into the litter tray. Cats are highly intelligent and inquisitive creatures - which makes them extremely interesting pets for your child. As they can with dogs, your child will be able to enjoy teaching their pet new tricks - and if your child is maintains their interest in their pet, they are more likely to continue with the more dull aspects of their pet's care. A cat provides its owners with love and companionship - and most breeds are small enough to sit on your lap of an evening - something that all children, young and old, will appreciate and enjoy.

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