Before agreeing to get a pet it is essential that you consider your family's lifestyle and the age of your children.
Families with younger children and a busy lifestyle might want to consider a lower maintenance pet like a goldfish or hamster, whereas, families with older kids and a lot more free time might be more suited to a dog or a cat.
No matter which type of pet you choose, it is important that you are your family realise that this is a big decision that can not be taking lightly, as you will now be responsible for this animal's well being for the duration of it's life.
I can remember after a recent trip to Madagascar, I fell in love with the chameleons that inhabit this magical island. When I returned home, I promised my 7-year-old son that we could get one as a pet but I should have done my research. Our pet chameleon "Henry" now resides like a king in his own climate controlled room, he gets misted by water every 12 hours for 60 seconds, and he eats large and noisy crickets like they are going out of style.
Keeping his food alive is just as much work as keeping him alive. Needless to say, if I had done my research prior, I think we might have reconsidered.
Whatever pet you choose, it is a good idea to sit down with your children and discuss what is involved in looking after this pet and who will be responsible for each chore. If not, you will end up doing a majority of the work yourself and resent your decision.
The first thing to discuss is what will this pet eat and who will be in charge of feeding? I recommend that the children be responsible for feeding their pets as this will often help define the pet's social position in the family.
It is also important that the child realise what the pet should or should not eat, and how much, or this may lead to health problems and extra vet bills down the road.
How much exercise will this pet require? Dogs need to be walked and have a lot of energy. Who will walk the dog and how often needs to be figured out before hand. All pets need to their areas cleaned on a regular basis.
For instance if you end up getting a cat, then you will need to make sure that your child in prepared for the unpleasant task of daily litter box changes.
Finally, I think it is important that families discuss the financial commitments a pet might bring. In the first year, a "healthy" puppy's veterinary bills can easily exceed $1000. I recommend that children agree to contribute part of their allowance to their pet's health fund so that they can appreciate this aspect of responsible pet ownership.
A pet can make a wonderful addition to any family. Unfortunately, there are far too many unwanted animals in shelters because a person did not realise how much work would be involved.
Choose a pet that is appropriate for your family's lifestyle and be sure to assign who will be responsible for each aspect of that pet's well being. In the end, your family and your pet will be much happier for your decision.
Dr. Scott Bainbridge is a practicing veterinarian at his own companion animal hospital. He has an interest in both Western and Eastern medicine and is trained in veterinary acupuncture, laser light therapy and most recently, stem cell based regenerative medicine. He lives with his wife and son, their lab/chow Loki, Fester the cat and Henry the chameleon. Dr. Bainbridge formed the FUTURE VET KIDS CAMP in 2010 out of his affection for the landscape and animals of Australia combined with his passion for veterinary medicine. Future Vet Kids Camp is designed for children (ages 6-14) who love animals and aims to educate, inspire and promote responsible pet ownership through veterinary medicine and is taking registrations now on it's website www.futurevetkidscamp.com.au for the winter school holiday session.