I am frequently asked about the right age for children when it comes to adding a companion animal to the family. In general, it depends on the particular child and the preparation and education done by the parent. My daughter, as a preschooler, was as gentle with our cats as I could’ve ever hoped for. On the other hand, I have been in homes with children who are six or older where the decision to bring home a pet resulted in injury (either to the child or the companion animal).
Choose the Right Pet
Don’t make impulsive decisions about bringing an animal into your home. This is an important decision that affects the animal and your family. Take the time and do your homework to make sure you’ve made a good decision. Too many animals end up being brought to shelters, banished to the outdoors or worse, euthanized, because of bad decisions on the part of the new pet parents.
Make sure your family will have the time for a pet. While it may seem like a fun idea at first, will this pet get the time and attention necessary? Life for an animal is more than just shelter, food and water. This pet will need training, attention, and most of all, love. If you’re thinking of getting a kitten because your children think they are the cutest animals, keep in mind that a kitten can be easily injured by rough or inappropriate handling. Also, a kitten grows into an adult cat by one year of age and will look grown by six months. If the appeal is only with the look of a young kitten, how will your children and family feel about the cat when he no longer has that kitten face? It may seem harsh, but I’ve seen a number of cats lose the attention of the family or even end up in shelters because they’re not “cute” anymore.
Nothing Comes Before Safety
Regardless of a child’s age, there’s nothing more important than safety when it comes to interaction with an animal. If you’ve had a pet in your family for years and that animal has always been gentle and tolerant, it’s still important to teach your children (if old enough) how to interact, how to read body language signals and when to leave the pet alone. Keep in mind that with toddlers, their arms and legs will move without much control. Sudden grabbing of a cat’s tail as he passes by, or sudden running up to the dog’s food bowl as puppy is eating may happen before you can give instructions otherwise. A child should never be left unsupervised around the family pet. Pets also need to know they have total security when engaging in mealtime, elimination activity or sleeping.