Most children love animals. Pets are good for them not only psychologically, but also physically, as many studies have concluded. There’s much to be said for letting your child grow up with an animal pal. The question is: Which animal?
“Not every animal is suited to every child,” cautions Lea Schmitz of the German Animal Protection Society in Bonn. The world of pets is a varied one, just like with the families looking to take them in. Whether it’s a fish, bird or dog, a child-animal pairing is not a no-brainer. Adults are always responsible for teaching their children and so they in particular need to consider what care is needed.
After all, the pet is a family member who ideally moves into a home for life. So, what must parents keep in mind? Pet-by-pet, here’s some advice:
In principle, dogs are wonderfully suited to children. They are faithful companions. You can run with them, play ball games, practise tricks, cuddle with them, find comfort. A true friend. A further positive point is that children playing with dogs are more physically active, according to a research group in Bremen, Heimtiere in der Gesellschaft (Pets in Society).
But which dog is best suited to which family depends on many criteria. For example, young and clumsy dogs are not so good for small children, especially not when the young pups are so big that, in the heat of their play activity, they can knock the child down.
Matters are different with grown-up dogs. “Big dogs can be gentle giants if from early on they have become positively acquainted with children,” Schmitz notes. Such self-assured animals are suitable even for small children.
With older children, it’s possible to buy a puppy, so that the child and puppy can usually grow up together without any problems. However, parents must lay down clear rules for both the animal and the child.
Younger children, above all, cannot yet correctly interpret dogs’ body language, so it must be made clear to them about when the dog needs its rest, be it for eating or sleeping. Likewise limits must naturally be set for the dog.
In general, small children should never be left alone with animals.
Children and cats can also become close friends and sometimes play well together. In the view of the German Animal Welfare Association, cats, along with dogs, are among the pets best suited for children.
“Among cats, there are also many different kinds of characters,” Schmitz points out. Some like to cuddle and play, and seek close contact with their humans. Such cats are well-suited to children, who however must learn to accept their pet’s wilfulness.
Cats usually show very clearly what they want. Cats are more self-reliant than dogs, something which has both its advantages and drawbacks. They don’t cause as much work, but for that there is less that can be done with them. The bond is therefore often less close than with a dog.
Small pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters are also popular, according to the IVH, but are only suited to older children.
Small animals do not wish ever to be picked up, held, and even less, to be cuddled. But unfortunately for them, they cannot show it or ward the physical contact off.
“They are only suitable for observing. This must be made clear to children,” Schmitz says.
Rabbits and guinea pigs usually have a natural shyness towards humans. Being kept solely in a cage is taboo because they need to move about. So being let out of the cage at least once a day is a must. With an appropriate shelter, they can also be kept in the garden all year round. They need at least one friend of the same species.
By contrast, golden hamsters are solitary creatures. What they need is the largest cage possible, with a running wheel. They also like further activities, such as searching for hidden food. They, too, need to run about freely every day. Children get little or absolutely nothing from such hamsters, because the animal will only be waking up when they are going to bed. Also, a hamster as a rule lives only two to three years.
Similar to small animals, birds are only attractive to children who enjoy watching and caring for them, Schmitz says. It is difficult trying to keep such pets in an apartment anywhere close to a species-appropriate way.
The usual cages are much too small, and even a spacious aviary is often not enough. In any case, birds need their daily free flight. They like it best living in a small group. With proper human attention, birds can become hand-tame, so that children can at least deal with them a bit directly.
The disadvantage with fish is clear – they can’t be touched and so aren’t suited for any closer bond. “Their advantage is the relatively small space needed for an aquarium,” Schmitz notes. Also, a child can have fun in creating the aquarium decor.
Aquatic animals are suitable for older children who simply like to watch. – dpa/Sabine Maurer