Parents often ask pediatricians and other experts for advice on how old a child should be before getting his or her first pet. The answer ultimately depends on the individual child and the type, age, and temperament of the animal; however, there are some general considerations to take into account.
Some authorities recommend waiting until the child is at least 3 years old. In fact, most child development experts believe a child is not sufficiently mature to take care of a pet with minimal supervision until the age of 7 or 8. Delaying the acquisition of a pet gives you and your child time to form your own bonds and develop routines, and presents less stress and expense for you as parents. A new dog owner typically spends several hours a day training and caring for a puppy, and at least an hour with a mature dog.
If you want to go ahead and introduce a new pet when your child is still very young, consider a “young adult” cat or dog from about 1 to 5 years old. Animals of this age are not as unpredictable and easily excited as their younger counterparts and present fewer health complications for a growing family to cope with.
If your child has allergies, consult his or her doctor for information on the best pet breeds in your particular situation. Some pediatricians believe that having a dog or cat in the home during a child’s early years may lessen the likelihood of allergies developing later in life.