Pets: who says you can’t?

bimba con cane

I remember as a little girl my greatest wish was to have a kitten. I remember repeating like a broken record the sentence ‘I want a cat’ alternating between mum and dad, depending on who was in front of me at the time. I hoped that wishing out loud ‘I so would love a kitten’ and being polite and saying “Please, will you get me a cat?” would do the trick. 

But no, nothing. My parents would not be moved, not even when faced by my endless screaming tantrums. I would come home after visiting my friend Benny, who didn’t just have a cat but a dog too, thinking: How unfair is that?! And I would read pet magazines, dreaming that one day I would also have a cat to play with. I had even chosen the name I would give it. 

Growing up, I got more information (from the same magazines), and discovered that the world of pets wasn’t just limited to cats and dogs, but that there were lots of animals that can live in a flat and that could be just right for me. In the meantime I finished primary school, then secondary school, and then college. And my parents’ “Big No” never changed, not into a “Big Yes” but not even into a small “yes”. This is my short (not that short) sad, pet story. 

So I resigned myself, thinking that once I was older I would have all the cats I wanted. For now, I have a boyfriend: well, he definitely keeps me company. 

I can’t blame my parents though: taking care of a pet is a big commitment. Whether it is a dog or a goldfish, a pet means extra worries and expenses. Of course, explaining this to a child is veeery difficult. Some of us know it better than others, for example people like me who have experienced it;  in any case, it is a matter of fact. Just as is the fact that children love puppies and kittens, and that one of the most desired and wished for gift is that of a pet they can care for at home. 

Often this could be a momentary whim: if lots of their classmates have a dog/cat/rabbit, it is inevitable that our children will also come home saying they want one too. However, if it turns out not to be just a temporary want, it might not be such a bad idea to give our kids what they desire. Quite the opposite!

True, pets are gorgeous and infinitely sweet: it is impossible to stop ourselves from wanting to cuddle them. But have you thought about how expensive they can be, and how much commitment they require? Pet food, dog walks, vet fees, and so on.

Having a pet however, can help our child develop a sense of responsibility, respect towards nature and towards others. It might seem predictable for us adults, but a child who makes sure their pet is fed, takes it out for walks, changes the cat litter, shows maturity, respect and sensitivity. 

Lots of experts – paediatricians, psychologists, vets –  also confirm that the presence of a pet at home is absolutely beneficial and educational for our children.

dog and child

What are the benefits of having a pet at home?

Several studies have demonstrated that children who live with an animal friend have a more highly-developed Emotional Intelligence (EI). If you are asking yourself what that is, here is a brief explanation: “Emotional intelligence is the ability to effectively understand, manage and communicate our feelings and to correctly read those of others, and it is considered a key skill for a better and fuller quality of life”. 

Having a pet allows children to learn how to relate to another being, and to understand their own emotions better. Feeding their pet, caring for it, keeping it company, playing with it, are all daily actions that our children see us parents do first, and that they learn by mirroring them. 

Therefore, welcoming a pet into our home, of whatever kind, helps our children understand how to take care of someone, and helps develop more empathy and compassion, not only towards animals but also towards humans. 

Being in close contact and sharing a space with an animal therefore positively impacts on children on both an emotional and psychological level. If we really think about it, they learn to recognise their own emotions, to relate to others, and to understand the circle of life, simply by being with their pet.

Children play with their pets, they talk to them, they care for them: are you aware of how much these things influence their cognitive development? Well, a lot. Yes, because from a very young age our children learn to be responsible, to improve how they speak, and to be capable and independent, “simply” because they know how to feed their pet, for example. It even appears that talking to a pet can help improve stutter in children. 

All very positive then. Of course, deciding to get a pet is not a decision that can be rushed. Us parents have lots of reason to worry and to be uncertain about it all. 

What if it hurts my child? What about infections and diseases? 

These doubts are all legitimate, but if we use the right precautions, there is nothing to worry about. Especially where hygiene is concerned, unless children are suffering from specific pathologies or have a weakened immune system, all you need to do is care about your pet’s cleanliness, and the spaces and items they use. So:

  • Check that your pet is healthy, keep track of their vaccination schedule and have regular check-ups at the vet’s
  • Clean their spaces and bowls with disinfectants every week
  • Get your children to wash their hands after playing with their pet

Of course, if you end up getting a tortoise, a goldfish or a hamster, you will have even less to worry about. Your kids will not be able to cuddle them, but they will certainly be able to find a way to play with them and grow fond of their new friend.

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