What do most children want? A dog, of course. Or a cat or a horse, or a rabbit or a canary. But at what age do you introduce a rabbit to a child? And at what age can a child take care of a dog? And did you know, by the way, that a pet can give your child more than something cute to care for—it can give him a boosted self-esteem.
According to Ulla Björnehammar, certified vet of small animals and chairwoman of the organization Manimalis, which works to spread knowledge about the importance of pets to humans, it is well documented that it is great for a young child to have contact with a pet. Studies show that children who spend time with animals get a deeper understanding of the non-verbal language, which makes them more empathetic to animals as well as to people.
“In addition, it is shown that children’s self-esteem gets strengthened when they take care of animals,” says Björnehammar. But in order to have a pet in your home, you as a parent also need to be interested in the animal. If you aren’t, then Björnehammar suggests you find other ways for your child to have contact with pets. Perhaps by visiting petting zoos or farms. “You should never ever put the responsibility of a pet on a child; the number one requirement is that the parents are engaged. This is more important the bigger the animal is, but even for as small a pet as a hamster, a parent needs to be involved.” Pet suggestions for a child’s age:
1 year old: A 1-year-old cannot help with pets, but fish in a tank are a living mobile with moving colors. A dog can also be a companion for a small child. A social, kind cat may also work.
4 years old: A 4-year-old can help the adult with pets like guinea pigs, rabbits and birds, and they enjoy fish as well as reptiles. A 4-year-old can also help brush dogs and cats, and clean cages and so on, but cannot be responsible for the pet’s care.
7 years old: Your child is now big enough to take the dog to training classes, and may even hold the leash when you’re out for a walk. Still, the responsibility for the pet rests with the parents. Depending on how mature you 7-year old is, he may be able to be responsible for a smaller pet like a guinea pig or rabbit, small birds or a small fish tank. Still, a parent or older sibling must be engaged and show how it’s done.
10 years old: At this age, many children are capable of sole responsibility of most animals, although you may not let your child walk the dog alone after dark. Otherwise it is all about routines. Björnehammar says to wait for big pets like horses, until the child is 13 or older.