Time for a pet?
Is your toddler ready for man's best friend? Are you?

Getting your toddler a pet may seem like a brilliant idea- it can teach your child about responsibility, nature, animals, empathy and caring for others. But before you rush of to the nearest SPCA or pet shop, remember that getting a pet is a decision that should not be taken lightly. Nursery school principal Joan Tindale says, "Pets can be wonderful but children younger than five are simply not ready for that responsibility- so any pet you get is a family pet. At the end of the day, you, the parent will be solely responsible for it."

Think before you buy

Even if you are ready to handle a family pet (as if dealing wiht night-time nappies, sleep deprivation and toddler tantrums are not enouhg!), think long and hard about what pet you are going to get. Joan is adamant that families should do their reseach before even considering a pet, "Ask a vet, reputable breeder and other families' advice. Remember, pets must be part of the family- find out before you get a pet what you are letting yourself in for," she advises.

Children under five do not yet know how to handle an animal- so small pets like hamsters, rabbits, kittens and rats are often squashed or dropped or limbs are pulled by well-meaning little hands. This not only hurts the pet, but some animals may also "fight" back by biting or scratching your toddler.

Pets are for life

Pets such as fish, hamsters and rabbots do not live for many years, so ask yourself if you are ready to explain loss and death to your child. On the other hand, many pets can live for up to 30 years- so you need to make sure thaat you are ready to still be "putting the kettle on for polly" while your now young adult is backpacking around Thailand. Everyone's favourite pets are puppies, but as Joan explains these cuddly joyful animals are completely unsuitable for under-fives. "They jump, scratch and run at you, and children often panic and run away, making it owrse," she explains. Bear in mind, of course that this is different if your baby was born into a home with pets. 

A pet can be a great source of love and entertainment for your toddler, but they will remain your responsibility until your child is old enough to look after the animal himself- and that is usually not until your child is older than at least five years.

Picking a pet pal


  • Work well for families with young babies, unless they need a litter box and your young toddler is on the move.


  • Are best for families with plenty of time, space, energy, and older toddlers.
  • Some breeds are better with children than others, so do your research.


  • Are best for families with any children, even very young babies, and limited time and space to care for an animal. 


  • Are good for families with toddlers old enough to understand the need to handle a pet gently, but they can live up to 40 years.


  • Are for families with plenty of time for a pet, and with toddlers old enough to understand the need to handle a pet gently. 
  • They are also fed live insects and rodents- which may not appeal.


  • Need a lot of care, have relatively short lifespans and need to be held with care.
  • They are also social animals so you should get more than one- but you may end up with many more than you bargained for.


  • Are good for families with even young babies, but children must not handle them. 
  • The average lifespan is 15 to 30 years.

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