Pets offer numerous benefits to children, from boosting their self-image to providing defense against allergies. It sounds like a no-brainer, but having a pet is also a big responsibility. When your two-legged offspring starts begging for a four-legged friend, lay it on the line for them: Pets are not only expensive, they take a lot of time each and every day.
But there are several ways your kids can get in on the pet care routine (which also provides the benefit of learning responsibility!):
Depending on your child’s age, there are many ways they can help at mealtime. Scooping food into the bowl, offering the bowl to their furry friend and cleaning up after dinner (including washing dirty bowls) is all helpful. Make sure your child knows how much food your pet should get to avoid overfeeding. Fresh water should be available at all times, and this is an easy job for both young kids and their older siblings.
Younger children may need help with this one, but starting early fosters responsibility and enforces good habits with children and their pets. If your pet is up for it, ask your child to brush them daily. This can be an important bonding time and will strengthen their relationship. Ask them to let you know if they feel any strange or new lumps and bumps, or notice anything off about their best friend. Older children can bathe pets and learn how to trim toe nails.
Basic obedience classes are a must, and I always encourage pet parents to go one or two steps further by taking the intermediate and advanced obedience classes, too. No matter how many hours you log in class, however, you still have to keep up with your homework. Even long after your days in the classroom are over, you’ll have to practice obedience skills daily to keep you and your pet sharp. You also want your pet to respond to commands given by all family members. Bring your kids to obedience classes, and make sure they practice with their pet at home, too.
It’s important to note that you shouldn’t just leave your pet’s preventative care totally up to your child — always double check that these responsibilities have been performed. Things like administering flea and tick medications, giving monthly heartworm prevention and even scheduling wellness exams are all par for the course when caring for a pet. Why shouldn’t your older child get involved?
Also show your kids how to brush your pet’s teeth. Daily brushing is best, but if life gets in the way some weeks, make sure that you still brush at least four times a week. Your pet is counting on you (or your kids!).
This is the least sought-after pet responsibility, which is why it’s a good one to make your kids do! Show your kids how to properly scoop the litter box, and how to change the litter box entirely. Clean up extends to the yard, too — picking up those land mines should be on the daily responsibility list. Obviously, this is a responsibility for children old enough to practice good hand washing techniques.
If scooping is on the bottom of the list, exercising your pet is definitely on the more desirable side of the pet responsibility spectrum. Exercising your pet is good for both the body and the mind, and I don’t just mean your pet’s. Whether your kid’s taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood with your dog, teaching them how to play hide and seek or playing a rousing game of fetch, they are participating in exercise together. This is not only good for their health, but it’s also fun, which further strengthens their bond. I can’t tell you how many belly laughs I shared with my childhood dog while off on grand adventures with her.
Your cat can benefit from play time, too. Most cats could stand to shed a pound or two, and arming your kid with a laser pointer could just do the trick (while providing some seriously hilarious entertainment for all).
Before you assign responsibilities, consider your children’s maturity level as well as your pet’s tolerance level, and use your best judgment (don’t send your 3 year old out to walk your feisty, strong dog alone). Also, make sure your kids know that these responsibilities are part of having and loving a pet. They aren’t “chores” to be rewarded for doing — they are part of being one big happy and healthy family.