• Two out of five kids seek out their pet when they’re upset.
• Kids with pets tend to develop more responsibility and discipline.
• Kids who regularly care for a pet usually become more socially competent with other kids and adults.
• Two out of five kids play with their pet when they’re bored.
• Kids with pets are more likely to interpret nonverbal communication and body language correctly.
• Four out of five kids say their pet is one of their playmates.
• Kids tend to be more empathetic when they have a pet.
• Almost all kids name their pet when asked to name their 10 most important individuals in their lives.
What’s key, however, is that pets are a big responsibility for parents too. Even when a child (or teenager) wants a pet, a parent needs to be in charge of the care. Kids and teenagers can help care for the pet, but they’re not old enough to take sole responsibility for a pet.
Our family has always had pets: lots of them. Even before our kids were born, we had two cats. Our kids consider both cats part of the family, and both our kids are quick to grab a cat when they come home. They talk to the cat and tell him all their problems. They play with our cats. We can’t imagine life without our cats.
Over the years, we’ve owned fish, crayfish, and a hamster.
But we really took pet ownership to a new level when we recently agreed to let our son get a very different type of pet. After dealing with the frustration of hamster bites and scratches for two years, he decided to research which rodent made the best pet. He checked countless books out of the library and did a thorough research study by looking at primary sources on the Internet.
Was it the guinea pig? Nope. Hamsters? Nope. Gerbils? Nope. Mice? Nope.
It was the domesticated rat. That’s right: our son is the proud owner of two rats.
Most people grimace when I tell them this. They think rats are something you trap, not something you bring into your home as a pet.
Apparently, if domesticated rats are handled often, they rarely bite. They can be taught simple tricks, and they bond and interact with people like a dog.
What was exciting about getting rats was that only one breeder in our area raised rats. We got pulled into all the excitement of following the pregnant rat on the web until the day she gave birth (to 14 babies!). We then scrutinized the posted weekly photos of the baby rats as they developed until we could pick up our two male rats when they were four weeks old.
Over the years, my kids have mourned the passing of our pets, helped us lead funeral services for them, and helped us research and choose family pets. We’ve taught our kids from an early age that a pet is another family member. Pets need as much love and care as a human being.
And as long as your child understands the responsibilities and risks associated with pet ownership, and your pet is gentle and trained, a pet can become a great family member.
Tell Us: ——> Does your family have a pet? If so, what kind? How have you seen your kids change because of having a pet? Bonus points for all the rat owners out there ; )
1. Stanley Coren, “What Pets Can Teach Kids,” ParentsCanada.com, 2007.
2. Patricia Collier, “Researchers: Pets Are Good for Kids,” Animal News, October 25, 2003.
3. Image via fashiontru on Flick’r.