Kids and pets are a match made in heaven!

Having pets to take care of can help kids in more ways than one. They are more than just entertaining and fun; animals can teach kids about nurturing, companionship and responsibility. Then there are those important but difficult life lessons pets can impart, such as dealing with death and sickness.

Having a pet can also help your child’s physical state. A 2010 study showed that kids who had dogs on average, exercise 11 more minutes a day than those who didn’t have dogs. Playing with a dog or walking them can help get kids that much-need exercise and time outdoors. There’s also that plus factor of improving mental health by keeping kids away from their smartphones and the tv. Pet ownership in early childhood have also shown to help build immunity. Kids who had early contact with cats or dogs have fewer respiratory and ear infections.

It’s not always easy introducing pet ownership to a young family. Here are some tips to get your started:

  • Gauge if your kids are interested in animals. Take young kids to the zoo to show them the different types of animals. Petting zoos are always a great idea for their first interaction with animals.
  • Discuss the different types of animals you can take on as a family pet. Getting that buy-in from everyone will make it much easier to transition a new pet into your life. Dogs and cats are popular choices, but birds, fish, turtles, hamsters, Guinea pigs and rabbits are also good options. You also need to decide whether it will be a young animal or an adult.
  • Check for allergies. Before you even adopt a pet into your home, make sure it can stay. Check if any family member has allergies to fur. It would be heartbreaking to take in a pet and discover that you can’t keep one.
  • Take your pet to the vet. Before you bring any pet home to introduce it to your family, make sure they are healthy. It is also good to get your pet registered at the veterinary clinic and schedule periodic check-ups.
  • Create a space for your pet. Your little one may become a little over-excited about pet handling which may lead to accidental bites or scratches. To prevent this, make sure your pet has a gated space or a crate where it can feel safe.
  • Show your kids how to handle pets properly. Let them know where it’s safe to stroke pets and how to do it gently. Let them know that picking up a new cat or a dog isn’t a good idea — especially when your pet is eating or sleeping.
  • Consider enrolling dogs in puppy preschool. While kids have to learn how to handle pets, pets also need to learn how to follow simple commands so they are kept under control around children.
  • Talk to kids about proper pet food. There are a lot of things dogs and cats shouldn’t be eating because it’s dangerous for them. Talk to children about using only the right pet food and when it is appropriate to feed pets to avoid overfeeding.
  • Leave the cleaning to the adults. Bird cages and kitty litters need to be cleaned out daily. This is a task best left with the adults to prevent diseases from parasites.

Having a pet can be a wonderful experience for children. It is important that they also understand that this is a big responsibility and commitment for the lifetime of the animal.