If you’re more than a few months pregnant or have a baby or a toddler, wait until your child is 3 or older before bringing a new dog or cat home. Adopting a pet is a big commitment of time and resources, and the added responsibility can be hard for new parents. You’ll spend as much as three hours a day training and exercising a new puppy, and up to an hour with an older dog. Plus, there will be an adjustment period after you bring a new animal home. During this time, accidents will happen more often and trouble spots will be identified.
It’s important that your child be mature enough to behave responsibly when your new pet’s behavior is unknown and unproven. And keep in mind that your child probably won’t be mature enough to help with a pet until he’s 7 or 8 years old.
At first, you can expect to spend up to $400 a month on your pet for food, training, and other expenses. This is especially true in the first six months, when you’ll be buying supplies and going to the vet more often. Buying a dog or cat can set you back anywhere from $100 to $200 for a shelter animal to $2,000 or more for a purebred, plus extra costs for spaying or neutering, vaccinations, and microchip identification.
If you still have your heart set on getting a pet now, consider a dog or cat that’s a “young adult” — from age 1 to 5. Dogs and cats in this age range are best with young children. They’re not as excitable and prone to rough play as puppies and kittens, and they’re not old enough to suffer from arthritis or other health problems, which can make pets crotchety and add to your responsibilities as a pet owner. Many shelters and rescues have foster programs, in which young adult pets get training and experience living in a home, so these programs will have a more accurate picture of those animals’ behavior with children and families.
No matter where you find your pet, be sure to choose one that’s comfortable around kids.
Editor’s note: A 2006 study on dog bites published in Pediatricsrecommends that parents wait until kids are school-age before bringing a dog home. The study found that babies (up to a year old) were the most likely to be bitten — often by dogs they knew and had provoked unintentionally. The number of attacks dropped as children’s ages increased. Study authors recommend that parents train their children to act appropriately around dogs and always supervise interactions between dogs and kids.