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Choose Proper Pets To Join The Family
By Jamie Vickers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Bringing a new pet into the family isn't all fun and games. It is a decision best made by adults that allows children to gain a new best friend and learn responsibility and proper behavior around animals.
"Consider all the aspects of having a new pet before you rush out to get one," said Dr. Thomas Lenarduzzi, exotics and wildlife veterinarian at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. "Consider size and temperament of the pet and the responsibility level of children involved."
Parents should research what is required in owning a pet. Talk to a veterinarian or research needs and characteristics of different pets and breeds on the Internet or at a library to be sure the pet and children will be compatible.
"Children often want exotic pets but don't know the requirements or disposition of the animal," Lenarduzzi said. "This is when a parent needs to decide if their child is responsible enough to own that particular pet and allow it to live a long and healthy life."
Pet ownership can teach children responsibility because pets are completely dependent on humans for food and shelter. Pets also teach children the value of life, which cannot be learned through toys. Lenarduzzi said children will use these lessons for the rest of their lives.
The responsibility level of a child and the needs of a pet should compliment each other. Some pets may need more maintenance, special food and care. Other pets are not tolerant of children, especially if the pets were not socialized with people at a young age.
"Many low maintenance pets are suitable for young children," Lenarduzzi said. "Some exotic pets like snakes and iguanas are low maintenance but are more complex because of their environmental requirements such as temperature, light and diet."
Low maintenance pets require food, water, appropriate temperature and a clean cage. These pets are usually kept in an aquarium or enclosure. Small rodents such as hamsters, gerbils, mice and socialized rabbits, as well as fish and parakeets, are low maintenance pets.
Pets that require more maintenance include dogs, cats, snakes, iguanas and ferrets. A commitment must be made to maintain the health of these animals. Other pets that require considerable maintenance are horses, cows, pigs and sheep. These pets usually are not suitable for children, but are better suited for teen-agers.
"The low maintenance pets usually have a life expectancy up to 10 years, but some of the higher maintenance animals may live about 20 years," Lenarduzzi said. "Children will become more responsible as they grow with the animals."
Parents should make sure their children are ready to take on the responsibility of a pet. There is no set age limit when a child can own a pet because each child is different.
Dr. Louise Davis, child and family development specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the best way to teach children responsibility is for parents to model responsible behavior.
"Children learn from us and watch everything we do," Davis said. "Parents should show their children that the pet has to be cared for everyday."
An easy way for children to remember their responsibilities as a care giver for a pet is to make a job chart. Mark each job off as the task is completed. Children also can accompany visits to the veterinarian or raise their own money to pay for the pet.
"Another way to teach responsibility is by reading a lot of books before deciding on a pet," Davis said.
Keeping a pet in the family requires adult help because children may not always remember to feed the pet. Pet responsibility is a gradual process for children, and they learn over time to be more responsible.
"Parents should decide not only is the child ready to own a pet but are the parents ready, too," Davis said.
Contact: Dr. Thomas Lenarduzzi, (601) 325-3432