K-State veterinarian says pets and kids can make a winning combination
By Beth Bohn
Whether they swim, hop, slither or walk on four furry feet, having a pet can be an enriching experience for children, according to a Kansas State University veterinarian.
"With a pet, children can receive unconditional love and have a confidant with whom they can share their feelings," said Dr. Kathy Gaughan, assistant professor at K-State's Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital. "Pets can provide stress relief and be a forever friend who will never judge you."
Pets also can be an opportunity to teach children responsibility and give them a sense of purpose, Gaughan said.
When it comes to selecting a pet it's important to keep the family's lifestyle in mind, Gaughan said.
"My best advice is to research the pet and the breed you are interested in prior to acquiring the pet," she said. "Avoid impulse decisions. Some references I recommend for pet selection include 'The Perfect Puppy' by Ben Hart and 'Paws to Consider' by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson. Some good sources also are available online."
While cats and dogs may spring to mind as cuddly choices for children, Gaughan said there are other good options for kids.
"Frogs and fish can be good pets, too. While they are not necessarily cuddly, they still need to be provided a safe shelter, food and water," she said.
Once the pet has been selected, take care in introducing it to the rest of the family. "Do it as a family. There is no substitute for direct supervision," Gaughan said. "There should always be an adult present when children and pets are together.
"For example, dogs should be leashed when introduced to a child. All pets should be under the supervision and control of an adult while another adult stays by the child. The child should not be forced to approach the pet, nor should the pet be forced to approach the child."
Gaughan also recommends adults think carefully about the responsibilities to assign their preschool and elementary-age children when it comes to the pet's care.
"Feeding and brushing are two activities an adult should always handle, as well as cleaning up after a pet, whether it be the litter box or picking up dog feces in the yard," she said. "An adult should also be present when a child is walking a dog. Be prepared for the unexpected, such as an approach by an unleashed animal or sudden noises."
Children also should not be expected to bathe or clip a pet, trim its toenails or remove ticks from it, she said.
Photos: (Top right) Ben tosses the ball to Calvin.
(Bottom left) Ben feeds a treat to Calvin.
Photos by Michelle Hall.