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Milestones: Is my child ready for a pet?

Kids and animals are naturally drawn to each other. But before you make a four-legged friend a member of the family, consider whether your child is mature, responsible and eager enough to help you take on pet ownership. If so, give thought to these points before giving a pet a home:

  • Interest. Some kids like animals, but not 24/7. Don’t jump the moment your child says he or she wants a pet—give it time to see whether interest wanes.
  • Child’s age. Try to resist the pet temptation if your children are younger than 3. Babies and toddlers increase their chances of getting bitten or scratched by animals since they may be too rough around pets. Experts advise against reptiles like turtles, snakes or iguanas for homes with children younger than 6. These pets carry salmonella bacteria, which cause fever, diarrhea and vomiting. Kids must always wash their hands after handling reptiles or touching their cages or food.
  • Type of animal. Fur, feather or fin? Match the right pet to your child’s age. Animals like guinea pigs make good pets for the 3- to 5-year-old set because they like to be held and seldom bite, according to the ASPCA. Preschoolers can also help fill the water bottle or food dish (but you’ll have to be on cage-cleaning duty). Kids ages 5 to 10 are capable of caring for “shelf” pets like hamsters or fish, and kids 10 and older are mature enough to have a cat, dog or rabbit.
  • Your own commitment. Let’s face it. Even the most conscientious kid slacks off occasionally. Be sure you’re on board with pet ownership, too—especially the financial aspect, which, depending on the species and the animal’s age, can cost thousands a year.