Children and Pets- Creating wonderful memories

Having a pet can be a very positive part of childhood but sadly, many children, especially in Bangkok, never get to experience this. I encourage parents to consider the benefits of bringing a pet into the family and to plan carefully to make sure it is a positive and healthy experience for everyone.

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The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry believes that children raised with pets show many benefits. A child who learns to kindly and patiently care for an animal gets invaluable training in learning to treat people the same way. Owning a pet can help children think about other’s needs, express themselves better, develop self-discipline, self-esteem, and improved social skills.  In short, a close relationship with a pet can help a child to become well-adjusted and emotionally healthy. Caring for a pet also helps your child develop compassion and empathy- two critical qualities we all want our children to possess. Finally, having a pet can help children learn about life (reproduction, birth, illnesses, accidents, death, and grieving), as well as develop a connection to nature and a healthy respect to other living things. At the same time, careless treatment or neglect of animals can be very unhealthy for both the pet and your child. Parents serve as role models. Children learn responsible pet ownership by observing their parents’ behavior.

Parental involvement, open discussion, and planning are essential to help make pet ownership a positive experience for the whole family.  Here are a few things to consider.

1)      Do not rush into pet ownership! Pets should not be purchased at the spur of the moment or for emotional reasons around the holidays. Bringing a pet into the family is a long-term commitment. Dogs, cats and many birds can live 10 to 20 years!

2)      Conduct careful research on the breeder before you buy. Unfortunately, in Thailand, there are many unscrupulous and unknowledgeable breeders of dogs and cats who are mainly concerned with making money rather than raising healthy and safe pets. Visit the breeder and make sure the facilities are clean, well-organized and humane. Insist on receiving a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian and a written guaranty from the breeder before you buy.

3)      If you decide on a dog, keep in mind that some breeds are much better with children than others. Also, the size of the dog has little to do with its suitability for children. Some very large dogs are wonderfully patient and protective of children, while some smaller breeds can be snappy and quick tempered.  Do your homework!

4)      Dogs need exercise and human interaction. Just like people, if not given proper exercise dogs can become nervous, overweight and unhealthy. Often a dog that is not well exercised will bark constantly or chew destructively. Teach your child that both people and dogs need daily exercise. In fact, having a dog can be an excellent way to make sure the whole family gets regular exercise!

5)      Like children, dogs and cats need to be vaccinated. Let your child come along for the visits to the veterinarian to learn lessons about preventive health care.

6)      If you decide on a dog, plan on attending obedience classes with your pet and your child. Dogs can be quite intelligent and the process of learning manners is fun and healthy for both the pet and your child.

Some parents are concerned that keeping a pet in the house is “dirty” or unhealthy, but I disagree.  Properly groomed and vaccinated dogs and cats present no disease risk to children.  I do caution against buying turtles, snakes and other reptiles as pets for younger children.  This is because these animals can carry salmonella bacteria that can cause diarrhea. I also advise against keeping exotic animals such as monkeys, squirrels, wild birds and so forth. These types of animals should remain in the forest and can carry dangerous diseases or inflict nasty bites.

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Starting from as early as three years of age, the joy that comes to children who enjoy the presence of a loving dog, cat or other pet helps create lasting memories of a warm and nurturing childhood. It also creates many opportunities for family bonding. Talk with your spouse and your children and consider the many benefits of bringing a special pet into your family.

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