My six-year-old daughter has been promoted in the eyes of my cat Victoria. She now lets my daughter approach and pet her while she’s resting — a privilege this ex-feral reserves for only a few trusted souls. The reason is simple; we now have a two-year-old (human) in the house. Before she arrived, the six-year-old was the loose cannon who might at any time act in an inappropriate manner (from the feline perspective). Now Victoria must think that in comparison to two-year-olds, six-year-olds behave like upstanding, responsible members of society.

I bring up the way that animals and children of different ages relate because I always worry when I hear a family mention that they are considering getting a dog or cat “for the kids” when the kids in question are relatively young. Pets thrive on consistency, and I’ve met very few members of the toddler/preschool set who could be described in that way. I’m in no way saying that households with young children should not have animals. The right kid-pet combination can be a thing of beauty. The adults involved simply need to be realistic about who is really going to be taking care of business.

Most younger kids simply aren’t able to avoid becoming distracted and don’t understand the consequences of substandard pet care. This is not to say they can’t help, but expecting them to do something important, like feeding every day, without oversight is courting disaster. Here’s a sampling of what appropriate pet care duties look like according to a child’s age (assuming the animal is accommodating):

 child care for pet, childs responsibilities for pet

Of course the devil is in the details. The individual natures of both the pet and child in question need to determine exactly what tasks can be assigned when (if ever).

What do you think? When can/should kids be expected to do more than just help out and actually take responsibility for certain aspects of pet care?

Dr. Jennifer Coates

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