If you’re a parent or guardian, chances are that your children have asked, more than once, “can we get a pet?”
But won’t the adults end up doing all the work? And if you do decide to get a pet, which one is best for your family? The most important thing is that the animal’s habits and needs fit into a family’s everyday routine.
“An animal needs to be fed and nurtured daily. Every family needs to ask whether they have the time and the space,” says Dr Rainer Wohlfarth, vice president of the International Society for Animal-Assisted Therapy.
Parents also need to decide whether or not they are willing to take on responsibility for a pet – especially if they have younger children.
To test whether the child’s enthusiasm for a pet is really long-lasting, Wohlfarth recommends asking neighbours and friends to let your child help look after their pets. It’s a good way of testing how serious your child is about having a pet.
Wohlfarth recommends a dog or a cat for toddlers. “Dogs and cats that are used to working with people can handle it better when a child wants to cuddle or lift them,” says Lea Schmitz, press officer for the German Animal Protection Association.
Whether a dog and your child are a good match depends on the characteristics of the animal and how it has been raised.
Bigger, younger dogs, which are still quite wild, are better for older children than small breeds, which can easily be knocked over.
Specialist vet Janine Sommer in Germany recommends Golden Retrievers, the Bichon Frise and the Maltipoo. On the other hand, hunting dogs – such as Weimaraners or Cocker Spaniels, as well as Dalmatians – which don’t get tired very easily, are unsuitable for children.
The experts advise against small pets such as rabbits or guinea pigs. “Guinea pigs have a reputation for being cuddly and uncomplicated, but that is not the case,” says Wohlfarth. For small children, these animals can also become a real trial of patience, as they don’t always like being stroked.
Nocturnal animals such as the golden hamster are also not ideal.
“Under no circumstances should the animals be disturbed when they’re sleeping during the day. Touching and picking them up is pure stress for them,” says Schmitz.
Sommer even warns of health problems: “It’s rare, but golden hamsters can transmit a meningitis virus and cause brain inflammation in children.”
Budgies and canaries are relatively easy to look after – but they make a lot of mess. According to Schmitz, older children (10 years or above) are good at looking after small birds.
An aquarium with freshwater fish can be something exciting for toddlers. However, the disadvantage of having fish is that you can’t touch them or build a close relationship with them. This is why they are only suitable for children who enjoy watching and observing.
“Keeping wild animals such as turtles, lizards or snakes should be viewed critically,” says Schmitz.
This is because it is very difficult to look after most wild animals in a way that is appropriate for their species. It’s also important to remember that most reptiles are carriers of salmonella, which can cause serious illness.
To avoid reptile-associated salmonellosis, the Robert Koch Institute in Germany advises parents not to keep reptiles in households with children under five years old. – dpa/Felicitas Fehrer