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Pets and Kids / The Child/Pet Bond and Kids taking care of Pets

"Pet-Themed" Gift Ideas for Children

The bond between pet and child can be breathtaking to behold -- unconditional love and tender care at their finest. But there's more to the kid-pet relationship than sentimental moments. Children can tend pets, but they need help and guidance to do the job right. Here's how to bring out the best and work with the worst when kids and pets live side by side -- or just visit back and forth.

For Pets in General

The Age of Responsibility
The age at which a child can assume the basic responsibility for a pet depends on the animal and the child's maturity level. If a youngster really loves the animal, is willing to care for him, and enjoys him, somewhere around age nine is a good time to start. Some children are ready a year or two earlier, and some are never ready.

The Buck Stops with Mom (or Dad)
Although it boosts a child's self-esteem to call a pet her own and she can certainly take on quite a bit of pet care, a pet is a living thing and a member of the family. Don't leave its well-being up to the kids. Be prepared to nurture the pet  with the best the household has to offer, independent of what the child is able or willing to do.

Let the Kids Choose Their Own Pet Friends
Accept that some children just aren't "animal people." Don't force them to feel guilty that they really don't want to be around the household parakeet or spend hours tending the dog, especially if it's a pet that was adopted when the children were babies or that they never asked for.

Don't Dish out the Empty Threats
If you adopted a pet at one child's urging and whining and that child has lost interest, threaten to give the animal away only if you really mean it. Otherwise, you will just provoke guilt and bad feelings and will still end up caring for the animal yourself. Don't be a martyr!

Set Reasonable Goals Regarding your Pet and your Child
Forget lines such as "This is your pet. Don't expect me to feed it (or walk it, or change its litter box)." If you adopted the pet because you thought you'd never need to tend it, you must rearrange your thinking. Adults always have bottom-line responsibility for every member of the family. Better to say "If you aren't going to be able to take care of the cat this week because of football practice, you need to help me work out a schedule of who's going to fill in and how you'll make it up to them." That's a feasible project.

Let Me Walk the Dog - your child yells!
Establish pet care duties as a privilege, not a grudging chore. "Let" a child walk the dog only after she has proved that she can bootstrap.min.css the concept by, for example, "walking" a pull toy on a leash regularly for a week or two. Take away a pet care privilege as a consequence of other infractions: "You won't be able to brush Fido tonight because you haven't finished your homework." Of course, to make the tasks seem alluring, you'll have to do them yourself with a cheery grin.

Duties for Younger Pet Owners
Although very young children shouldn't be expected to take full responsibility for a pet's care, even the youngest can help to tend pets. For a toddler, helping fill the dog's water bowl or clean the bird's cage is diverting and sets up an attitude of "It's my job to see that the pets are taken care of" that will last a lifetime. If you don't have children in your household, invite a neighbor's child to help out, or a grandchild or other relative.

Give a child who's five to eight years old a regular duty, such as feeding the fish or brushing the cat. Once you've shown the youngster how and supervised him for five to ten days, set up a checklist or calendar so that you can note "job well done" each day. Work toward a small reward for consistent performance.

Rewards will work (on kids and pets)
Surprisingly, the "prize" can work just as well if it's more for the pet than the child. For example, offer to let the child help you pick out a new water bowl for the dog after the youngster has done water detail for 21 days. (For example, tell your young ones, "We'll spend $1.79 just on treats for Jake after we've changed his cage three times.")

For Dogs and Cats

Look Out -- It doesn't taste that bad after all
Keep the dog's or cat's food dish where a child younger than three years old can't sample the wares. Believe it or not, the concern here is not that the baby might eat something harmful -- pet chow is fairly nutritious and digestible -- but that the child could choke.

Medicine Safety
Keep all pet medicines in a child-proof cabinet, particularly the heartworm medicine, which looks like brown bread pellets or gum balls.

If you have a small child, or if a toddler spends a lot of time at your house, don't buy those round kitty treats that look like gum balls and are the perfect shape for a toddler to choke on.

These Dog Snacks Weren't Meant to Be Shared
To discourage your young child from habitually munching on dog biscuits, keep pet treats on a high shelf. But don't panic if a baby or child picks up a dog biscuit and gnaws on it -- as long as the treat isn't broken into pieces so small that the youngster could choke. The ingredients won't harm the little one.

See, Dad? Jake Really Likes These Treats!
Babies have a charming habit of giving people food to a dog or cat in undreamed-of quantities or of handing out every treat in the box. Monitor the children and pets when they're together. It doesn't take a super smart cat or dog long to figure out how to take advantage of a youngster.

So Nice to Come Home To
Children who come home from school to an empty house feel much more secure and loved if a pet is waiting for them. If you don't have children, consider loaning your pet, especially a well-trained dog or playful cat, to such a household for the after-school hours.

Jake Will Be Expecting You
If you work outside the home during business hours, or if the child's home is strictly "no pets," consider loaning the youngster a key to your house. You'll be training a potential pet-sitter at the same time. Of course, you'll need to check with the child's parents first. You'll also need to lay down (and write down) ground rules about which areas of the house he may use and how long he should stay (probably half and hour or so). And make sure the youngster knows emergency phone numbers and how to lock the doors behind him.

For Dogs Only

Grumpy Elderly Dogs
Remember that an aging dog might not be able to handle the same treatment he could even a couple of years ago. When a child starts walking and can pursue the dog, establish a "dogs only" area where your dog can keep away from sharp pokes and too-hearty thumps without resorting to nips and growls of his own.

For Other Pets

Incredibly Inedible
Keep gerbils, hamsters, fish, water turtles, and frogs out of baby's reach. A baby might squeeze the tiny animals and hurt them. But it's even more likely that the tyke will pop a tiny creature into her mouth. If this happens, call the pediatrician for advice on whether the baby should be brought to the doctors office

Screen All Pets
Install on top of the fish tank a tight-fitting screen that clicks into place. Available from fish stores, these screens keep toddlers from dipping in to terrify the fish or pull out seaweed, snails, or gravel for consumption.

But Mom! You Said We Should Share Toys!
Other pet toys are small enough for babies to choke on and fascinating enough to lure little folks. Keep small cat toys, seed sticks for birds, cat pellets, charcoal for the fish tank, and similar objects out of children's reach.
















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