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How to pick an age-appropriate pet for your child

Thinking of adding a pet to the family? Make sure you're bringing home an animal appropriate for your child's age.

Infants: Infants cannot handle or take care of pets. If you already have a pet when your child is born, or if you adopted soon after, make sure to introduce your infant to your pet. Supervise them as they get to know each other.

Toddlers: Toddlers are curious and will pull at an animal's fur, limbs and ears in an attempt to make contact through touching. Make sure that the pet you've adopted can handle being touched in this way. As your pet and child spend time together — under your supervision — take great care that your child doesn't hurt your pet by grabbing. Also be sure that your child doesn't grab your pet's food and water dishes, or your cat's litter box. If you have fish, keep hands away from aquarium wires and out of aquariums.

3-5 years: At this age, your child is learning about contact and empathy. ASPCA experts recommend a guinea pig for a pet. Guinea pigs like to be held, seldom bite and will whistle when excited or happy, to the delight of most kids. Your child can also help with responsibilities by filling the water bottle and food dish.

5-10 years: Kids this age have inconsistent attention spans and are best off with small pets such as gerbils and goldfish. Supervise them during play sessions and while they do chores such as cleaning cages, filling water bottles and bowls, measuring food and scrubbing cage furniture and toys. This is a good time to develop good hygiene habits around pets with an emphasis on washing hands and surfaces when done handling or playing.

10-13 years: Kids in their early teens have a great interest in animals and a good capacity for responsibility. They are ready for pets such as dogs, cats and rabbits, and can handle feeding and walking the pet, cleaning the cat's litter and cleaning out the rabbit's cage. Adults should always check that pets have adequate food and water and that the cage or litter box is clean. Kids can participate in dog training classes, which can be an excellent learning opportunity.

14-17 years: Teens tend to be busy, and animals will have to compete for their time and attention. Recommended pets are birds and aquarium fish. They're old enough to take on the responsibilities of caring for their pet, with adult supervision. They may even spend their allowance on treats. Parents should note that dogs and cats acquired at this time will probably stay in the home when the child leaves for college.

How to pick an age-appropriate pet for your child 03/05/12 [Last modified: Monday, March 5, 2012 2:00pm]
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