When my daughter was little, she was always asking for a new pet. Often, I gave in, and my excuse was, “Well, she wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up.” Actually, though, I think I just wanted all the pets too. If you’re considering choosing a family pet, I have some experiences and tips to share. (More tips at the end!)
We got our first family pet when my daughter was only 18 months old and my son was 4 – Lucy, a beautiful, sassy, Siamese kitten (who grew up to be a beautiful, sassy Siamese cat.) In hindsight, I might have waited a little longer.
I had to be so vigilant when my daughter and Lucy kitten were in the same room. My daughter had a crazy sense of humor, even as a toddler. She’d pop out with, “Here kiddly, here kiddly, kick!” Then she’d pretend to kick. (I know this makes her sound like the meanest toddler ever. But she wasn’t! She was always a kind child, and she would never have really kicked the cat – she just thought it was hilariously funny to imply it… From a cartoon?)
Lucy with her Super Scratcher (We had some cat scratched furniture until we got her a few of those.)
Younger Lucy (and friend), around 1995
Obviously (or not so obviously), an 18 month old toddler and a kitten aren’t always the best combination! My daughter’s hilarious sense of humor is still in play at age 26. She remains kind and does not kick kittens. (smile)
Eventually, my daughter wanted a hamster. The biggest downside of hamsters is, they bite. So, probably not the best choice for small children, but they are popular. They’re fun to watch, but they’re nocturnal, so they’ll run on their wheel at night. Noisy! Something to keep in mind. (We learned that the hard way.)
The first hamster we had was Goldie 1. After Goldie 1 passed, we had a funeral in the back yard. It was a solemn affair, and my daughter “pledged allegiance to the snowball bush.” (She felt that some kind of serious recitation was required at a ceremony, and she was really little.)
Then came Goldie 2. When Goldie 2 died, my daughter couldn’t bear a funeral. This hamster lived over 3 years, which is a long time for a hamster. Goldie 2 ate a blueberry every day. (A plug for the healthy benefits of blueberries!) When Goldie 2 passed, I wrapped her in pink paisley tissue paper, and my husband buried her in a pink photo box.
Goldie 1 or Goldie 2? They looked similar!
We then had 2 guinea pigs for about 7 years, Molly and Vanessa. Guinea pigs are wonderful pets, but are actually a lot of work. (You will need a bigger cage than you think you will, and it will need to be cleaned..a lot.) I wrote a post about guinea pig care here. Molly and Vanessa were fun and adorable.
Both guinea pigs were buried in the rear of our backyard, that sadly, was bulldozed by the metropolitan sewer district (thankfully after we moved!) I do recommend guinea pigs highly. They usually don’t bite and are much more social than hamsters.
I’m not even going to go into detail about the hermit crabs my daughter had for a while. Their pretty shells are enticing at the pet store or mall, but I’ve since learned that hermit crabs need a huge amount of humidity and don’t do well when kept as pets. Because of that, and other reasons, I don’t recommend them as pets. They will sadly die much before their time.
We also had a few goldfish, Pinks and Cupcake. Pinks didn’t live very long, and my little daughter didn’t understand that fish die. So, the day Pinks died was a very traumatic day. I don’t know why I assumed my daughter would understand death. (Something to keep in mind when you are getting a small child a pet.)
Later came Larry, the beta fish, who I accidentally killed when I forgot to dechlorinate the fishbowl water the morning of my daughter’s 11th birthday. (Happy birthday – I killed your fish! Not a good way to begin a birthday…)
Fish are great pets, though, and we had a lot of fun choosing the items for their bowls, and later, the aquarium. An aquarium is a much more time intensive project than a fishbowl, but beautiful (when kept clean…) We didn’t realize the amount of work an aquarium would require when we bought ours. It was quite a shock after the ease of the fishbowl, but we enjoyed it.
Are there even fish in there?
Of course, the jewels of the pet crown were our Lucy (the aforementioned Siamese kitten, who lived for close to 18 years) and our Sunny (our puppy-mill rescued Yorkie.) Sunny is 15 now, and we call her our “old lady baby.” She’s joyful and wonderful.
This is when Sunny was not an old lady, just our baby.
My daughter had begged for a dog for years, and was overjoyed with Sunny
I always loved Siamese cats. This was my first one, Clarence.
Me with my first dog, Missy
Pets are wonderful additions to a family. (Although, it’s probably not necessary to have as many as we did…)
Tips for Choosing a Pet:
- When choosing a cat or dog, research the breeds, and choose one that fits your family. Some are more long lived, some require more exercise, some aren’t suited for families with small children, etc. For instance, Sunny, our Yorkie would be a bad choice for families with small kids. She is only about 6.5 to 7 pounds and could be injured easily.
- Some cats have milder temperaments than others. Persians, and other long haired cats, tend to have milder personalities. Keep in mind, though, that long haired cats will shed more and won’t be great choices for people with allergies. Here’s a great site that has a lot of information about cat personalities by breed. Breed Characteristics and Personalities (Cats) Siamese cats are highly intelligent in general, (especially our Lucy of course.)
- Choose a pet with your child’s/children’s age in mind. How much time do you want to spend on pet care? (You will be doing a lot of it, if your kids are small!)
- The Humane Society recommends dogs in general for ages 5 and up. And I wouldn’t get a small breed until your child is even older.
- Hamsters aren’t recommended for kids under 8 years old.
- Research the pet’s care completely before you choose it. Guinea pigs, for example, seem like low maintenance pets. They are not! They need a lot of interaction and socialization. They do well with a cage-mate chosen at the same time. Aquariums are quite a bit of work. Etc.
- I recommend adopting a dog or cat, rather than purchasing one. Puppies at pet stores are almost always from puppy-mills. Puppy-mills are horrible and are worthy of a post all to themselves.
- Never choose a pet without considering all details. Dogs, especially, require a big commitment. Consider cost, how much time you will be away from home, other pets you have, etc.
Do you have pet memories to share?