Whether they have fur, feathers or scales, pets hold a special place in the hearts of many Australians. We have one of the highest rates of pet-ownership in the world and according to research by Bankwest, ninety-six percent of pet owners consider their pet to be a member of the family.
Often that first companion is extra-special; in fact take a snap poll of any two dozen people and most will instantly be able to tell you the name of their first pet.
As well as the emotional bond, growing up with pets can have health benefits too. A 2008 Deakin University study of more than 1,100 children aged five to 12 found the children who owned a dog were less likely to be overweight or obese compared with those who did not have one in the family home. And international studies have found that growing up with animals can help to reduce the risk of developing asthma or allergies later in life. Pet ownership for children has also been linked to improved social skills and an increase in self-confidence.
But before you rush to the nearest pet store, there are a few small considerations…
- What sort of lifestyle do you have? The choice of pets is many and varied – everything from a goldfish to a guinea pig to a great dane. To a certain extent the type of pet that is right for you will depend on your lifestyle. “If your children are at school and you are not at home during the day, some pets will become bored and a bored pet can become a destructive pet,” says Petcare Information and Advisory Service (PIAS) http://www.petnet.com.au/ spokesperson Susie Willis. “Plenty of exercise is a must for dogs and the kids can help in this area by making sure they spend time outside with the dog after school.” Alternatively a cat, rabbit or bird could be another option.
- What type of pet lifespan are you looking for? While it may sound a bit morbid, often your child’s first experience with death is through the death of a first pet. While dogs and cats can live to a ripe old age, fish, guinea pigs and some birds tend to have a shorter life.
- What sort of pet can you afford? A 2010 Bankwest Social Indicator Survey (the Family Pooch Index) revealed that the average Australian family outlays $2,452 per year for the care of their dog, including food, veterinary care and grooming. Cats had an average cost per year of $1,772 per year, while birds were around $810 each year. Pet fish were significantly cheaper. “While many pets are quite inexpensive to keep, it is important to consider the cost of looking after a pet before you – or your child – falls in love with a puppy or a kitten,” says Susie. “You will need to consider all the day to day expenses such as food, registration, training and care but you should also plan for unexpected costs such as a veterinary emergency. You can purchase pet insurance and many people find that this provides peace of mind.”
They can be your child’s best friend, their constant companion, an entrenched member of the family or simply a cute and fluffy distraction. Either way there’s no question that pets - and particularly that first pet - can help children benefit both physically and emotionally. And a child who learns to care lovingly and patiently for an animal, learns to treat people the same way.