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My wife and I are thinking about getting a pet, so my daughter (now 3 months old) can learn about animals growing up. What factors should influence the pet we choose? Is there anyway to tell if the child and the pet are compatible?

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When choosing a family pet it is most important to keep in mind the families lifestyle and living situation. How often is someone in the home? How much space do you have? Is budget an issue? Cats are very manageable pets to have and are rather low maintenance and low budget however it may be hard to find a cat that is good with children as many tend to be skittish. Always bring the whole family to look at potential pets to see how the pet interacts with the entire family.

Dogs are great as well but a much larger undertaking. Things to keep in mind for dogs are their size, how much space they need, if they bark a lot, typical health issues for the breed, how many times a day they need to be walked, and if there are any stigmas associated with the breed.

Allergies are of course something to keep in mind so see what type of options the place you choose to get the pet from has if a family member is too allergic to keep the pet.

Lastly I think its important to go with your gut, all of my pets have picked me in a sense, so when you go to the pet store or shelter see who is naturally drawn to you, they will most likely make a good fit with your family.

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We have a rat, two cats, and two fish tanks. Earlier we had more cats, two hamsters, and a dog. My in-laws have a dog, too. Our daughter is now about 2.5 y.o. and our son (now 18) grew with animals, too.

Lessons learned:

  • Children love pets, pay a lot of attention to them, and usually don't conflict with pets at all. Different pets are not equally sociable, though: a chinchilla or a rabbit will pay less attention to humans than a dog or cat or a rat or a big parrot. Fishes don't interact much with humans, but are interesting to watch nevertheless.

  • To successfully cope with child's love, pets should be durable enough. A grown-up phlegmatic dog (preferably rather large) is the best. Grown-up cats are ok, too, though these are more keen to avoid intense interactions. Little kittens and puppies are reasonably handled by children of at least 5 y.o., and are way fragile for a toddler. A rat can only leave the cage when the toddler is away. Fishtanks have to be kept reasonbaly covered, with various pipes and wires hidden from easy reach.

  • You have to do all the maintenance yourself. You walk the dog and then wash it, you clip claws of the cat and groom its hair, you feed hamsters and rats and fishes. Children are interested in interaction and would gladly try to help. But don't expect a child to be capable of really lessening your load before age of about 7-8.

  • You can't skip walking a dog. Doing this with a child younger than 5 y.o, especially if the weather if not fair and dry, is more challenge than fun if you're alone.

  • Animals grow, change and eventually die. Seeing this at age of 8 and 10, our son learned, it seems, something important about this. But avoid adopting a pet that is going to die when your child is 3, this would be traumatic.

  • Before you commit to adopting a pet, check whether you and your baby are allergic to it! A short direct contact, like 15 minutes in a pet shop, may be enough to develop an allergic reaction. Probably there are better tests, consult your pediatrician.

  • You have to enjoy the pet yourself. Small children are real copycats. If you neglect or abuse a pet, so will your child (and this would hardly be a positive lesson).

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  1. What is your lifestyle like and how will your pet fit into it?

    Some pets require lots of daily exercise and attention, others are more low-maintenance. Some are cuddly, some want to do their own thing. Some require training, others don't. Some pets are great companions on outings, others are better left at home. The biggest factor in finding the right pet for your family is how that pet will fit into your lives.

  2. How long can you commit?

    Some pets are good for a few years or less. Others will be with your child long after you are gone. Choose a pet with a natural lifespan you are certain you can commit to.

  3. How much space do you have to dedicate to your pet?

    Too often, people buy cute baby dobermans, iguanas, etc. without thinking about how big their new pet will grow up to be. Before you choose a pet, think about what you really have room for.

  4. What is your experience level with various types of pets?

    Getting a hyper puppy or a traumatized rescue dog to behave properly around an infant takes work and skill. An easygoing adult dog will be easier to adapt to living with a baby in the house. Cat litter, iguana nails, etc. can pose health risks for infants if not handled correctly. Choose a pet that you know or will learn how to handle properly so that your child will have the best possible experience.

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