Friday, 13 March 2020

Choosing Our First Family Pet: Our Tips & What We've Chosen!

For the last couple of years, my eldest son has been asking for a pet.

Having given birth to 3 babies in the space of 3 years, up until now we've always been far too preoccupied with raising them to have given much thought to the topic of a family pet and as private renters, we don't have the luxury of being allowed to own cats or dogs (much to my son's absolute dismay as there's nothing he'd love more than a dog - he's already decided on the breed he'd get and the name he'd choose, having stumbled across the most adorable dog on an ad for!). Unfortunately though, it simply isn't to be right now.
But since he started to ask the pet question fairly regularly, and he's now almost 7 years old - we've been giving it some more serious thought. We think it'd do the children good to have something to care for and help out with, and I think there's a lot of value to be enjoyed in pet ownership - from teaching children about responsibility and the circle of life, to giving them something to both bond with and bond over. And so we decided that for his 7th birthday, he can finally own his first pet!

But now we have the tricky problem of deciding exactly what that first pet should be. We've been mulling it over for a few weeks now, doing some research, speaking to pet-owning friends and visiting the pet store for some additional advice - and I think we've finally reached a decision.

So today I thought I'd share the tips we've picked up for deciding on the ideal first family pet.

1) Make Sure Your Family Is The Right Fit For The Animal, Not Just Vice Versa

I think it's easy to get caught up in whether or not the animal you choose is right for you, and of course it's important to do that - to consider whether you can commit to meeting all of it's care needs (whether you can walk it as often as it needs, whether you can give it the amount of attention needed per day to keep it happy and thriving etc), to think about whether it ticks all of the boxes of what you're looking for in a pet and so on.

But it's equally as important to consider whether or not YOU and your family are the right fit for the animal too. For example, one of the first pets we thought about was a hamster but after considering it further - I realised that my youngest child was very likely to attempt to open the hamsters cage on his own at some point, which would mean the hamster would most likely get out and - given how tiny they are and how they can squeeze into tiny holes in walls etc - become lost in the house. So it would be pretty unfair of us to get a hamster knowing that this would be a likely outcome!

I discussed this with the staff at the pet store when going over first pet options, and they helped me to narrow down some types of pet where this wouldn't be an issue to their safety.

We also made sure to consider the fact that there are three rambunctious young children in our home, so we wanted to be sure that we chose a type of animal that would appreciate a lot of attention and play time.

2) Consider The Ongoing Costs Involved

A lot of people can be focused purely on the initial expense of buying a pet - the cost of the animal itself and everything you need to get set up to care for it, but it's just as important to consider the ongoing cost of ownership too.

For example, our pet store told us that caring for a guinea pig would cost us on average around £40 per month whereas caring properly for a rabbit could cost up to £150 per month when pet insurance is taken in to account. Quite a significant difference, and certainly something to really weigh up when making the choice. Fortunately, insurance doesn't always have to be super expensive as there are affordable and reliable options like Bivvy

3) Think About It's Life Span

Different animals can live for very different periods of time, which is also something to take into account not just from your own point of view (thinking about whether your child will be ready to experience the loss of a pet hamster in 2 years time), but from the point of view of the pet too - certain types of parrot can live up to 80 years and often outlive their owners for example, so is this an ideal choice as what happens to the pet then? Is there someone prepared to take over its care?

You also need to consider whether you're willing to care for the pet once the children have grown older and possibly lost interest in it...this was quite a deciding factor for us when considering that rabbits can live for up to 15 years, as I can imagine my son may be far less interested in caring for it when he's in his late teens so the responsibility would most likely fall solely to us. 15 years is quite a long time to commit to a pet so you need to be sure that you're ok with that.

4) Think About Your Pet Sitting Options

If you're a family who travels fairly often then you need to consider this when making a decision about pet ownership. Are there any services local to you that offer pet sitting while you're on holiday, and if so - can you afford them? Failing that, do you have friends or family who would be willing to help out with pet sitting duties and if so - are they on board with looking after the type of pet you're choosing? There's no sense in going for a pet snake if Great Aunt Hilda is your only pet sitting option and she's terrified of them!

5) Talk To Your Child About The Commitment Of Pet Ownership, and Make A Family Choice

Choosing a pet should be a decision that the whole family makes together, not a choice based purely on the preference of a child without any consideration for the cost and practicalities involved in being good, responsible pet owners. So be sure that you've weighed up and discussed every aspect before making a choice together, and make sure your child knows what is expected of them and what pet ownership will involve beyond just the fun stuff!

So having taken all of the above into account and discussed it as a family, we've decided that the right choice for our family is...a guinea pig!

Or rather, guinea we'll getting two to make sure they're not lonely, since our research shows thats what they prefer.

I'm almost as excited as my son is to bring them home in a couple of weeks!

Did you experience the first pet discussions with your child? What decision did you reach? I'd love to hear your experiences.

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