By Mercedes Wood
Pets can bring joy to your home and family for many years. Whether you already have pets or are thinking about adopting a new pet, it’s important to teach your children how to care for your family’s pets, too.
Pets need a lot of care and attention. Teaching children to help care for a pet can provide important lessons on responsibility and empathy.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you think about teaching your child about responsible pet ownership:
Give your kids age-appropriate chores. Certain chores are better suited for certain ages. For example, kids ages 3 to 4 can help scoop pets’ dry food. At ages 5 and 6, they can help clean a cat’s litter box. Around ages 7 and 8, they can do things like clean cages, take the dog for a walk or play with the dog in the yard to help exercise them. Kids aged 10 and up can usually help with all of these things and take on the responsibility of doing them independently and regularly. The pet-related chores you give your kids should depend on their individual maturity and what they – and you – are comfortable doing.
Model good behavior for your kids. Rather than just telling your child it’s his or her responsibility to feed the dog, make sure they understand how to do it. Show them where and how to store the food, explain the feeding schedule, and show them how much food to give. Model it first, and then let them practice. Doing this with any pet-related chore will help your child feel comfortable and confident, and ready to take on the responsibility.
Have them help create a budget. While it’s important that your kids are involved in things like walking the dog or feeding the family pet, they probably aren’t thinking about all the other responsibilities of owning a pet, like the financial responsibilities. Have them help you create a budget, and teach them about all the other costs of pet ownership besides food and toys, like beds, water bowls, veterinary visits, a monthly heartworm preventive, and regular grooming. This exercise will help them think about how pets impact the whole household, and understand that pets need more than just food and toys.
Teach them proper feeding. Kids may think that because they love candy and pizza, their pets will too. Explain to children about different foods that are toxic to pets, like chocolate or onions. It’s important for kids to understand that pets should be fed proper pet food instead of table scraps. You probably teach your kids that it’s important for them to eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. Explain to them how it’s important that their pets eat appropriate amounts of their pet food so that they stay healthy and strong.
Show how grooming helps health. While you’re teaching kids how to care for themselves, you can show them the care that pets need. Teach children about proper grooming for pets, and how it’s important to do things like brush your dog’s hair, keep pets’ nails trimmed, and take care of their teeth. Older children can help with things like giving dogs a bath or brushing their hair.
Mercedes Wood is the Youth Education Specialist for SPCA Tampa Bay. She oversees several youth education programs, including seasonal camps for children of all ages.