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How to Choose a Family Pet

Pick the Right Family Pet in 10 Steps


A picture of a girl and her dog

The right family pet will bring so much joy to you and your kids.

Photo © susieq3c / Flickr
Bringing home a family pet involves more than finding a cute face. Feet or fins, fur or feathers, make the right decision for you and your kids when you're ready to expand your family.

1. Get the Kids Involved in Choosing the Family Pet

We've all seen the movies or TV shows where dad pulls a puppy from behind his back to surprise his daughter and she falls in love immediately. Or there's the impulse buy to bring home that sweetly-meowing kitty staring back at you at the pet store.

But the process of choosing a family pet together can be memorable for all of you. Get the kids involved in the decision making so they can take more ownership in the pet-picking project.

Talk over the family pet possibilities with your kids. Show them pictures. Ask them what they like about the animal. The decision is still yours, but getting the kids involved builds everyone's excitement about selecting a new family member.

2. Keep the Ages of Your Kids in Mind

You may be psyched about getting your two year old his first pet. But does he understand you can't squeeze Mr. Hamster or pull Rover's tail just to see what happens?

Choose a family pet that's right for your child's age. Even then, you'll want to play police when your child is around the pet. The most mild-tempered animals can be spooked or get defensive in situations we would never imagine.

3. Examine Your Budget

The cost of the family pet is just your initial expense. Annual vaccinations, unexpected vet bills, boarding fees and flea and tick medicines are just some of the costs you can expect with a dog or cat. That doesn't include a pet bed, leash and collar, food, toys and grooming. A pet bird, hamster, snake or turtle will at least need food and a cage but could require visits to the vet too.

Evaluate your family budget before you promise your kids a Great Dane. The long-term expense may show you a fish is the best choice right now.

4. Assess Your Living Space

Apartment dwellers are limited in the types of pets that will fit into their space. Families with a lot of land around their house have more options.

You might be excited about adding a large pet to your family, thinking you'll come home and walk him every day so he gets his exercise. But the newness will fade away and that tiny-puppy-turned-big-dog will become a burden your family can't accommodate in your small home or apartment anymore.

Be realistic about the square footage your pet will roam when you're not around. If he's not happy within your four walls, you won't be either.

5. Consider the Pet's Activity Level

Does your family prefer nature hikes or cozy afternoons reading books at home? Your activity level should match the pet's.

Bringing a pet that craves lots of activity into a home where the family's most-daring adventure is filling out crosswords will only lead to a bored pet. Bored pets usually equal destructive pets who wreak havoc on the family's belongings in search of fun.

6. Study Your Future Family Pet

Not every animal is suited for life with kids. There are a number of factors you should investigate before you make a final decision.

Research the animal's temperament to see if the pet's behavior will fit in around small children. Look at potential health problems associated with the pet. What is the average life expectancy? How big will he be when he's an adult?

Arm yourself with information now so you're not caught off guard later. The more you know about that type of pet, the easier your decision will be.

7. Talk to Other Pet Owners

Speak with pet owners to see what they have to say about life with the type of pet you're considering. Thanks to the Internet, there are numerous ways to reach out to other pet owners. The family pets showcase asks pet owners the pros and cons of their family pet.

There are also message boards for schnauzers, tabby cats, even iguanas. Post a message about your potential pet to find out about others' experiences.

So people can get a better feel for your situation, be honest about your family life. Tell readers about your living space, the ages of your kids, the free time your family has to take care of the pet and how long the pet will be alone during the day. Ask these pet owners how much they spend per year on that particular pet, how he behaves around children and if they would recommend this animal as a family pet.

You'll get plenty of opinions and additional advice you didn't even ask for when you posted your message. Most of the information will be very useful and maybe even eye-opening.

8. Watch Out for Allergies

That adorable fur ball could be a menace to your child's body. Even reptiles can cause allergic reactions.

Expose your whole family to the pet before you commit to making him a part of your lives. This time can reveal common allergic reactions associated with pets, such as itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing and eczema.

If you're considering a dog, spend time with the exact breed you're interested in adding to your family. You can be allergic to one dog breed but not another.

9. Decide on Family Responsibilities Beforehand

The family pet will be a huge responsibility. Will everyone help out with age-appropriate duties or will it be left up to mom to feed, walk and clean the dog?

Make a plan before bringing home your new pet. Everyone should agree on the role assigned to them before you move forward.

Younger children can help out too. Brushing the dog daily or feeding the rabbit a carrot are small steps they can take to contribute to the care of the family pet.

10. Determine Whether You'll Buy or Adopt

To buy or to adopt? It's really a personal choice.

If you're buying, make sure you're dealing with a responsible breeder. You don't want to begin your child's pet experience with an animal that's been abused or is sick.

Shelters take in so many animals that would be perfect family pets. We often think of dogs and cats in shelters, but there are other types of rescue shelters for pets that may be on your shortlist. There are rescues for exotic pets like guinea pigs, potbelly pigs, gerbils, ferrets and more.

Whether you decide to buy or adopt, your kids are sure to have a lifetime of memories with your new family member. After all, everyone remembers their childhood pets.

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