What’s the best age for a child to get a pet?

By lee cleveland - July 16, 2022

I wanted a puppy more than anything when I was a child, but my parents refused. They insisted I wouldn’t be responsible enough to take care of it.

Unfortunately, I struck out with my parents from the ages of 4 to 13. In fact, it wasn’t until I was 25 and on my own that I adopted my first pet, a cute kitty.

As a child, could I have managed to take care of a dog? It would have been easy to love and play with a dog but the daily walks, baths, and occasional cleaning of messes are responsibilities some children, especially an only child like I was, might struggle with.

So, what’s the best age for a child to get a pet?

In my case, mom and dad would have tolerated a dog so long as I, the child, was 100 percent responsible. But, if you’re a parent who is willing to assume most of the responsibility of taking care of a pet, the dynamic is very different.

Dr. Laura Marusinec, a pediatrician, recently told moms.com that prior to parents bringing a pet into the home, their child should be old enough to (preferably) help with duties and, most importantly, know how to treat an animal. Children, for example, who don’t understand the subtle nuances and boundaries when dealing with pets are more susceptible to getting attacked.

Dr. Marusinec suggested parents wait until a child is at least 4 years old but cautioned not all kids are developmentally ready for a pet at that age. It’s simply a base age from which interested parents should start considering the adoption of a pet.

She also reminds parents there’s an onus on them as well. They must take their daily obligations – as parents of a young child – into consideration.

Raising a newborn or toddler requires a lot of commitment and bringing a pet into a home could make things even more challenging for mom and/or dad if they’re not ready.

… So while it would be wonderful if your 4, 5, or 6-year-old could help a bit with your new pet, it’s probably safer not to expect much from them in the beginning.

Lastly, having adopted two cats, it’s fair to say the responsibility threshold for them is probably lower than it is for dogs. However, be advised kittens can be a handful because they are very inquisitive, always probing, and extremely feisty, and they are far less likely to understand instructions.

Children and Pets: Pros & Cons of Owning a Pet
When selecting a pet, keep your child’s developmental stage in mind. If this is going to be his pet – and thus he agrees to care for it – choose an animal whose needs can be met by your child. Some pets – like dogs or cats – require daily attention; they must be fed, groomed, cleaned up after, and exercised. Others – like fish, turtles, birds, guinea pigs, and hamsters – demand minimal care and may be a good choice for a younger child who needs to learn about what is involved in having a pet.
Tags: parenting, pets