Age Appropriate Pet Responsibilities

May 9, 2019   Tracey Aston   Pet Safety

 Not only is the family pet a great first friend for children, pets can be a great way to teach children age appropriate pet care and responsibility. Including your child in your pet's daily care allows them to observe and understand how much care a pet requires and how to properly and respectfully care for a pet.

Toddlers and preschoolers must always, under all circumstances, be under the supervision and guidance of an adult before attempting any interaction with a pet.  Young children as simply too exuberant and animated at this age and could unintentionally cause a fearful or startled reaction from a pet.  At this age, children should be taught the basics of pet care, such has pet respect, what gentle petting means, where to stroke a pet and how to safely approach a pet. With a parent's supervision, they may start learning to fill a water or food bowl but an adult must still put the food down for the pets. Animals often get excited at meal time and could accidently knock a young child over while getting to their meal. 

After they have been taught basic respectful interactions with a pet as a preschooler, children age 5-6 can start taking a more hands on approach to their pet care responsibilities, but still with an adult close by.  At this age, children can start going for walks with a pet and even hold onto the same leash as the pet during the walk. Never allow a young child to hold a leash themselves, even a well-trained pet can get scared and take off running, dragging a young child behind them. Many companies are now making “I can help” leashes which have an extra loop on the leash so a young child can hold onto the leash with a parent.  With a parent present, they can start helping to teach the family pet commands such as stay, sit, give paw and fetch. It must be noted, while kids this age can play fetch with their best friend, it's best if a parent retrieves the object from the pet and allows the child to throw it and give the command. 

By age 7-9 kids can really start to get more involved in pet care duties, while still be supervised. At this age, they can start to fill and deliver food and water bowls to the pet. Depending on the type of diet given, a child can even start to learn measurements by measuring out the pet's food. Due to the risk of salmonella, children should be taught to wash their hands after handling any kind of dog food. Using a ball, Frisbee or kitty wand, a child can start to exercise the pet under supervision and in an enclosed space.  An open back yard with a loose pet could end in disaster if the pet doesn't listen to a small child.  They should also be able to learn basic waste cleanup, such as using a pooper scooper and litter box cleaning. Always make sure the child knows to thoroughly wash their hands after picking up any kind of waste. They may also now give a trained pet a treat with an open hand, allowing the pet to take the treat out of their hand. Explain to the child that treats are special and shouldn't be given all the time to avoid overfeeding.  

Preteens and teenagers are now in their stride in regards to pet care and take on even more responsibilities, such as walking a pet who has been leash trained, bathing and brushing a pet, be involved in teaching simple tricks and taking the pet on walks. 

Children raised in families with pets were reported to have better health, be more physically active and have few behavior problems.  By allowing age appropriate responsibilities, both children and pets can benefit from their time together and grow to form healthy bonds at all stages of life.

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