Teaching Your Child to Care For Their First Pet

Family playing with their dog

Teaching Your Child Pet Care Basics

Is your child eagerly looking forward to the day a dog, cat, guinea pig, or fish joins your family? Caring for a first pet offers many benefits for kids and may encourage them to become more responsible and compassionate. Here are a few ways your child can help care for your new addition.

Feeding, Watering, and Cleaning

Providing food and water is one of the most important aspects of caring for a pet. Children can add food and water to dishes, give pets treats, or handle cleaning duties.

When you shop for pet food, explain that you need to choose a food that has the nutrients your pet needs to stay healthy. Just as junk food isn't the best food for people, foods that contain too many fillers or unnecessary ingredients may be bad for your pet's health.

Even very young children can help clean food and water dishes. Although the dishes may not look dirty, it's important to wash and dry them every day to prevent bacterial growth. If bacteria remain on the dishes, your child's new pet could become ill.

If you have a turtle or fish, your child can help you clean the tank or terrarium and gradually take on more and more of the responsibilities as he or she gets older.

By the time your child is about 9 or 10, they may be able to handle feeding or cleaning with little supervision.

Brushing Your Pet

Brushing removes loose hair and debris from your pet's body and can prevent hairballs in cats and rabbits. Demonstrate how to use gentle strokes in the direction that the hair grows. It may be easier for young children to understand how much pressure to use when brushing if they try out the brush on their arms.

Many pets benefit from weekly brushing. If your pet has long hair or sheds heavily, more frequent brushing sessions may be helpful. Older children can also help sweep or vacuum pet hair from floors, carpets, and furniture.

Depending on what type of pet you have, like a dog, they made need a bath every so often to avoid any odors and to clean them if they get dirty. When bathing your pet, your child can help to lather and rinse the shampoo from your pet.

Walking or Exercising With Your Pet

Unlike you, your kids may never grow tired of playing fetch or frisbee with your dog in the backyard or entertaining your cat with a kitty fishing rod. Exercise not only keeps your pet healthy but also improves socialization.

Teach your kids how to walk your dog or cat on a leash or harness by practicing in a fenced yard. When your child is comfortable and can control your pet safely, let them take control of the leash occasionally while you're out for a walk. Eventually, they will be able to take your pet for a walk without you. Michigan Health notes that children may be able to handle solo walks when they're 12 or older.

Don't leave young children alone with pets during exercise sessions or at any other time. Even normally well-behaved kids may be tempted to tease a pet or pull its hair or tail when you're not around.

Cleaning Up

Cleaning the litterbox or cage and picking up poop from the backyard isn't the most fun pet care task, but it's certainly essential. When your children are about 9 or 10, they may be able to start helping you with these tasks. Show them how to dispose of waste properly, and teach them to wash their hands thoroughly after cleaning the litterbox, cage, or yard.

Some Things to Keep in Mind

Every child is different. Some may enthusiastically participate in pet care while others need a little prodding. Before you give your children pet care tasks, consider their ability to handle other chores responsibly. If your child tends to be forgetful, they might be better suited to exercising and grooming your pet rather than feeding it.

Ultimately, your pet's health and well-being depends on you. If your children forget to feed your pet or take it for a walk, you'll need to step in and do these things yourself.

Has your pet been to the see the veterinarian yet? A visit will help you ensure that your new addition is as healthy as can be. Contact our office to schedule an appointment.

Sources:

FamilyEducation: Pet Care for Kids: Age-Appropriate Ways for Kids to Help, 11/14/19

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Pets and Children, 1/19

The Animal Foundation: The Basic Necessities of Proper Pet Care, 1/23/18

https://animalfoundation.com/whats-going-on/blog/basic-necessities-proper-pet-care

Michigan Health: Is Your Child Ready for a Pet? 6 Questions to Ask, 12/16/19

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