16th July, 2020

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It’s exciting choosing a new pet. But bringing an animal into your home is more than just fun and cuddles, especially if you have children.

By taking the right steps, bringing a new pet into your home can be very rewarding. The key to building good relationships is making sure everyone gets off on the right foot, or paw. As long as the whole family is clear about the rules, there should be nothing to worry about.

What’s the best pet for families with kids?

It’s not as simple as going out and buying the first pet you fall in love with. Different animals have different demands, so it’s a good idea to think about what type of animal works best for your situation.

Finding the right fit for your family is important. When thinking about bringing an animal into your home, think about how it might affect your kids.

Here are some things to consider about some of the UK’s most popular pets:

Dogs
Our canine friends tend to have a lot of energy, so they need a lot of time and attention. Can you balance taking care of a young child and a dog? Does the thought of house training a puppy at the same time as potty training a toddler sound a bit chaotic? Even some older dogs and small breeds can need a lot of exercise, so make sure you’re clued up about which dog breeds work best for your family.
Cats
If you’re looking for a less energetic pet, cats can be a good option, but they’re not necessarily ‘easier’. They’re very sociable, but can be choosy about who they want to socialise with. With an indoor cat you’ll need to change its litter box every day. Children also need to be taught that the litter box is off limits, and should be avoided altogether if you’re pregnant.
Rabbits
A Rabbit can make a wonderful first pet for young children. They’ll need fresh hay and food every day, which is easy enough for little helpers to do. You’ll also need outside space to give them somewhere to run around when the weather is good – make sure there aren’t any holes in your fence, or invest in a run. If it gets cold, you might need to bring the hutch indoors.
Indoor birds
Birds can be one of the noisiest pets. They’re likely to be awake at odd hours of the day when you first bring them home, so get ready for some long nights! Bear in mind that this might disrupt young children – especially if they haven’t settled into a good sleeping pattern yet.
Guinea pigs and hamsters
Even though they make adorable small pets, guinea pig and hamster cages take up a surprising amount of space in your home, so make sure you’ve got plenty of room for your new furry friends. They’re fairly easy pets to look after, which makes them an ideal first pet, but their cages will need cleaning out regularly and they need plenty of fresh water. Make sure your kids are happy to do the boring jobs, as well as the fun ones.

Preparing your home for your pet’s arrival

Once you’ve decided on your new pet, you need to make sure your home is ready for them. You’ll want to make sure your pet feels comfortable from the start.

Before the big day - think about the following:

  • Where will your new pet sleep? Make part of your home his or her sleeping area. Provide soft bedding to make it nice and comfortable for them – and remember, your house is new to them, so it’s important to make them feel safe.

    You can also crate train a puppy by giving them a cage to make their own at bedtime. Having this space is important, as it creates a ‘safe zone’ where they can go when they need rest or some time on their own.

  • Look out for unstable objects and potential hazards around your home. Is there anything hanging loose that could fall and break? Make sure you move these items somewhere safe, or fasten them to the wall, until you’ve trained your pet.
  • Hide any electrical wires. If your pet has the freedom to roam about, make sure any exposed wires are out of sight and reach, if possible. Chewed wires can cause electric shocks and are extremely dangerous.
  • Invest in some home comforts. It’s useful to get some toys or comforters to entertain or calm pets while they’re settling in. Maybe a blanket with a familiar smell, a squeaky toy or some special treats.
  • Make sure your doors, windows and outside spaces are secure, at least until your new family member has settled into their new home. Cats can sometimes open window latches, so double-check they’re locked. With dogs and rabbits, you’ll need to make sure there’s no way they can escape your garden.

Preparing kids for the arrival of a new pet

When introducing your new pet to the family home, your children need to understand their role. While they shouldn’t be given too much responsibility at first, it’s a good idea to let them take an active role in looking after their pets. Ask them to help you choose the pet and get involved in preparing your home for your new arrival.

You can also:

  • Teach kids some basic rules, such as:
    1. Don’t interrupt a pet while they’re eating, sleeping or taking some time out
    2. Don’t use physical punishment or threaten a pet
    3. Don’t give your pet unhealthy snacks and treats
  • Give older children jobs to do which help teach them responsibility. Things like changing water bowls, feeding and cleaning out litter boxes.
  • Show your child how to interact with animals. If it’s something they’ve never done before, take the time to show them how to be gentle. Kids can get overexcited, so it’s important to remind them to take it slowly. For example, with dogs, you should:
    1. Approach slowly, or let them come to you
    2. Hold out a closed fist for the dog to sniff
    3. Stroke its head, before moving on to other areas
    4. Stop if the dog shows signs it isn’t enjoying it
    5. Never pull a dog’s tail
  • Let your child know that you’ll be around for the first few meetings, to make sure everything goes smoothly. This is more important for younger kids. It’ll make them feel safe, while also setting guidelines for the right way to behave around animals.

How to introduce your pet to a child

It’s equally important to prepare a pet to meet a child for the first time. There are steps you can take to make their first encounter easier.

  • You can start to familiarise a dog or cat to your family by exposing them to cushions, children’s toys or clothes which have the scent of your family and your home.
  • During the first few weeks, make sure you start training your dog. It’s important for them to know who’s in charge and set some important boundaries. You can attend puppy training classes to get expert support.
  • Take your time! Be patient with your pets and children. Once everyone feels ready, it’ll make introducing pets and children a lot easier. They’ll be best friends in no time.

Bringing a new pet into your home

Here are some dos and don’ts to help make your pet’s introduction to your home as smooth as possible:

Do

  • Get your pet vaccinated and treated for fleas or worms.
  • Introduce a new pet to any existing pets ahead of time – this is especially important for dogs.
  • Have treats ready for good behaviour.
  • Show your pet the part of the house where they’ll be sleeping and set their bed up.
  • Make sure you’re around when your kids play with the pet for the first time.

Don’t

  • Let your pet get overexcited – try and make it clear when it’s playtime.
  • Leave a pet and a child together unsupervised.
  • Allow kids to handle a pet too much – animals need their space.
  • Give your kids too much responsibility at first.

Use these guidelines for life with a new pet. Every animal is different, but some rules can be applied to most situations.

How to tell if your pet isn’t happy

Things don’t always go to plan. If your pet isn’t happy, there are warning signs to look out for. Be prepared to remove your child from the situation if you spot the following:

  • Alarmed barking or meowing. Even if the noise doesn’t sound aggressive, it can be a sign that an animal doesn’t feel comfortable and could be dangerous.
  • Disobedience. If your dog isn’t listening to you, move your child away. Failing to pay attention to what you’re saying can be a sign of anxiety in dogs.
  • Hiding. Did your pet run away or try to hide when you or your child came into the room? This is a sign that they don’t want to play or meet someone new. Always wait for them to be ready.
  • Baring of teeth and growling or hissing. This shows anger and shouldn’t be ignored. If this is something that carries on for a while, you may need to talk to a specialist.

If you spot anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, separate your child and pet. Don’t assume the worst, but be careful. Animals need time to themselves, which is something kids need to learn.

Above all, keep calm and trust your instincts. Introducing a child to a new pet isn’t a science, but you can learn to read the signs of distress and give animals plenty of space. Keep these things in mind when helping your new pet settle into your family home.

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