A young girl sitting in the grass with her dog on a leash.

How to Tell If Your Kid Is Ready to Adopt a Pet

“Mooooom, can we get a dog?? Please, please, pleeeease!” It’s a question every parent hears eventually. And if you don’t already have a pet, the thought of adding one to the mix might sound like an extra hassle that you may not need – no matter how cute the little fuzzball might be.

But if you’re prepared and know when your child is actually ready to take on the responsibility pet ownership requires, adding a furry pal to your family can be a breeze.

Are you financially ready for a pet?

Before you consider if your child is ready for the shared responsibility of pet ownership, think about your ability and willingness to take care of pet expenses. Adopting a pet means committing to caring for it in good times and bad.

Pet ownership may have more costs associated than new owners realize, including:

  • Routine veterinary care, twice yearly
  • Emergency or urgent veterinary care
  • Spay and neuter services
  • Grooming costs
  • Boarding during family vacations
  • Quality food
  • Toys and enrichment

You may also need to account for training classes, chronic disease care, vitamins or unforeseen events that might be expensive.

Each pet can cost more than $1,000 annually, and even more than that in the first year. Additionally, it’s a smart idea to have some money saved in case of a pet emergency. ConsumerReports.org says the average dog owner spends $500 annually on urgent veterinary care.

If you are comfortable taking on these expenses, your family may be ready for a pet.

How to tell if your child is ready for a pet

  • Is your child comfortable around animals?

Many kids have a natural fear of animals. Introducing a pet into your home without addressing this fear is a sure way to cement it forever. Instead, show your child how to interact with animals safely by practicing with friends’ pets.

If your children are able to calmly and respectfully interact with animals, they are more likely to be ready for a pet of their own.

  • Does your child respect animals?

As children grow, they develop and hone their social skills. Kids who understand that their pets are living, breathing creatures (not teddy bears or roughhousing playmates) are more likely to be ready for a pet.

  • Can your child handle chores?

A pet is a big responsibility, and many parents want their child to take part in caring for the animal. You can gauge whether your child may reliably take care of pet-related tasks by watching how they handle age-appropriate household chores. If your kids are able to remember their daily chores without nagging, they might be ready to add a pet-related chore.

Age 4-8: Brush the dog or cat regularly while supervised.

Age 9-12: Refresh water and food daily. Scoop litter box.

Age 13-17: Walk the dog. Pick up droppings from yard. Attend obedience classes with the dog.

Remember, even if your children agree to take on these chores, the fact is that kids and teens just forget stuff. And eventually, that will include forgetting to take care of their pets. For the health of your dog or cat, make sure you are overseeing all pet-related chores and ensuring the pet is well cared for.

  • Is this a fad — or a real desire for a pet?

If your children’s requests bounce around from wanting a horse one day to wanting a dog the next, it may be a sign that they are more interested in the idea of a pet than in actually having one.

To determine whether or not your child’s interest in a pet is a fad or a real desire, listen to your child over a period of several weeks or months. How your child discusses the topic over the long term will help you decide if this desire is genuine or not.

  • Is your child able to share?

Pets require attention and love, so it can become stressful if your child is unable to understand that someone else requires attention as well.

Typically this is an issue for younger children. If your child is not ready to share with a pet, it may be a sign to wait a bit longer before introducing a pet into your family.

  • Have you done a trial run?

Whether it’s volunteering together at an animal shelter or asking to dog-sit for a friend, participating in a trial run is a great way to gauge your child’s interest and ability to handle the responsibility of pets. 

  • Is your entire family ready for this responsibility?

While your children may have a genuine interest in having a pet, it doesn’t mean that they are ready to take on the full responsibility. When you consider adding a pet to your family, remember that you are more than likely going to be the main caretaker.

  • What kind of pet suits your family best?

When thinking about adopting a pet, puppies and kittens are often the first that spring to mind. Some families find a better fit with an adult pet – a dog or cat who has already gone through their rambunctious stage and are ready to curl up on the couch for movie-night cuddles.

Ready to adopt?

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The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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