Pet Ready: When Is a Child Old Enough to Care for His Own Pet?

By Erin Shea

Looking for a new furry or scaly addition to your family but don’t know where to start?

The Lexington Humane Society, ASPCA and Lexington veterinarian Dr. Butch Schroyer have a few recommendations for families.

First, parents should judge the maturity of their child before getting a pet.

Many experts say that children should be 6 years old before having a pet of their own. (Of course, a family pet is a different story.)

“Parents should be cautious, and need to protect pets from younger children,” said Dr. Schroyer of Animal Care Clinic.

“Children under the age of two probably do not need a pet.”

For families with infants and toddlers, the ASPCA recommends gradually and carefully introducing the child to a pet.

Make sure your pet can handle the child’s reactions such as grabbing at its fur and limbs before introducing the two.

ASPCA experts say that guinea pigs, goldfish and gerbils can be the best pets for younger children.

They are easy to care for and can teach children responsibility.

Guinea pigs especially are friendly, seldom bite and squeal when happy.
Goldfish are inexpensive, require minimal daily care and can provide much entertainment for children.

Middle school age children can handle larger pets such as dogs, cats and rabbits.

Pre-teens can walk the dog and scoop a cat’s litter box with some supervision.

Some of the most kid friendly dog breeds, as recommended by, are: Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Poodle, Irish Setter and Vizsla.

“Goldens and Labradors that are 60 pounds can knock a small child over,” warned Dr. Schroyer.

“Dogs over 80 pounds can be difficult for a child to manage. Parents should match the size of the dog with the age and maturity of the child.”

“As children get older they can handle one that needs more training.”

As cute as puppies and kittens are, the Humane Society suggests that families consider adopting an older pet.

An older animal, especially one that has been around children before, can be a welcome addition to a family.

With any animal, children can learn responsibility and the pride of accomplishment when caring for a pet.

As always, the Humane Society reminds families to be safe and that all child and pet interactions should be monitored by adults.

For families looking for a pet, Dr. Schroyer recommends trying the Pet Selector on the Animal Care Clinic’s website: