Growing up with a family pet is a great experience for a child. It provides them with an unconditional friend, as well as teaching valuable life lessons such as responsibility and coping with loss.
From a parental perspective however, the commitment of a pet can be quite daunting, especially if you haven’t had much experience owning animals before. There are so many things to consider: How much does it cost to house, feed, keep healthy? How long does it live? Who will look after it?
After all, when the novelty wears off, parents are often the ones left holding the proverbial baby. Which can be hard work if the baby ends up being a 70kg Bull Mastiff.
As an animal lover and owner of many pets, past and present, I feel well equipped to share some important things to consider when choosing a new addition to your family.
Fish are a great starter pet for kids as they can be fairly low maintenance, inexpensive and are easy for someone else to look after if you go on holidays. Stick with a simple species that requires minimum setup, such as a goldfish, guppies or fighter fish. These fish are pretty to look at but only require a small bowl and don’t need fancy filters or other paraphernalia. Simply feed and change the water every week. Fighter fish are my personal favourite and they look beautiful in a glass vase on the kitchen bench.
As tempting as it maybe to get Nemo and Dory, keep in mind that salt water and fresh water tropical fish require much more equipment and maintenance.
The best part about fish is they have a relatively short lifespan so you aren’t making a huge commitment and if they happen to pass on, you can always get a replacement easily!
Rabbits & Rodents (guinea pigs, mice, rats)
Compact, cuddly and fairly easy to maintain, these small animals are great pets for children. Our guinea pigs have become beloved members of our family and surprise me daily with the amount of personality they have. Owners of rabbits, mice and rats have told me the same thing. Regular handling will help build the bond with your pet, however it is important to keep an eye on small children handling small animals to avoid injury to the animal and any unwanted nips to the child.
Rabbits are unfortunately banned in Queensland (it’s a $44000 fine!), however other Australian states allow them. Best to check with you local council for any regulations. Guinea pigs, mice and rats generally do not have restrictions and do not need to be registered.
These smaller animals require a suitable cage and/or hutch. They will need regular changes of fresh bedding and appropriate food such as grain mixes, hay and pellets as well as fresh food such as fruit and vegetables.
Regular treatment for worms, lice and mites is recommended and rabbits need to be vaccinated. The estimated lifespan for domesticated mice and rats is 2-3 years, guinea pigs 4-8 years and rabbits 8-12 years. It’s obviously important when choosing your pets to check gender mixes to avoid any unwanted breeding.
There is a wide range of birds that make good pets, so do plenty of research before going down this path. Budgies and cockatiels both make popular choices for pets as they are attractive, tolerate handling and can be trained to talk. They bond well with their human carers however it is important to remember these type of birds are social animals and can fret or become destructive if left alone for long periods so consider getting a pair for company.
Your bird’s cage should be as big as possible to enable plenty of movement and it will need regular cleaning. Breed appropriate food and toys to stimulate your bird are a must. Well cared for domestic birds such as budgies and cockatiels can live around 8 years.
Quirky, affectionate and sometimes aloof, cats make an entertaining addition to any household. Breed choice should be considered for length of hair, level of activity and companionship as these vary widely. Breeds such as Siamese can be very active, inquisitive and talkative while others such as Persian are more sedate and have long hair that requires a lot of grooming.
Regardless of breed, your cat will require a good diet, a litter box, regular vaccinations, flea and worming treatments as well as desexing. In some areas cats need to be registered with the local council. Also check for regulations on cat curfews and number of cats allowed on a property.
The wonderful thing about cats is they are small and fit into most living environments. Even the most active cat will find entertainment indoors – there are millions of funny cat videos on the internet to attest to that! Just keep in mind that the average cat lifespan is around 15 years so cats are definitely a long-term commitment.
The ultimate companion animal, dogs are a great choice for a family pet. As with cats, breed choice is very important in relation to temperament, size and activity level. If you have a small yard, work 12 hours a day and like to laze about on weekends, a working breed such as a Kelpie is not for you.
Unlike cats, size can contribute a lot to the maintenance costs of a dog. A Great Dane will eat much more than a small Terrier. Your dog will also need a kennel, bed or crate for sleeping, a lead, regular vaccinations as well as flea and worm treatments. Some form of basic obedience training such as puppy school is also a must so you both can learn good habits and get the most out of your relationship.
Dogs must be registered with local councils and it is highly recommended they be desexed. Like cats, dogs are a long-term commitment. Depending on breed, your doggie friend could live to around 13 years.
Obviously, this list of pets is not exhaustive. There are hermit crabs, lizards, turtles and even snakes to consider. It is important that you do extensive research before committing to an animal to ensure you know everything ownership entails. Please be choosy about where you get them. Avoid backyard breeders or pet shops that charge premium prices for “purebred” animals without relevant paperwork.
My personal recommendation is to ‘adopt not shop’, so don’t forget to check out the RSCPA or your local animal refuge when you go to choose a family pet. You never know, your child’s new best friend might be waiting there right now.