When it comes to getting a new family pet, it can be both exciting and stressful in equal parts to prepare kids for the responsibilities and changes that come with this territory. Dr Chantelle McGowan is a vet at Royal Canin, and she has given us the lowdown on how best to prepare your child for a new pet.

How to prepare your child for a new pet

1. Involve your child in the discussion about the responsibility of having a new pet.

Take time to share with them the requirements of a new pet in a language they can understand.

  • If age appropriate, help them understand how many times the pet is fed each day, that they need access to clean water, they need to be walked/naturally enriched (like food puzzles in the cases of rabbits or cats that might not be suited for ‘walks’), and ALWAYS human food is a ‘no no’ unless checked by a vet, as many human foods can make our pets very sick.
  • It’s also important to start to introduce children to the notion that pets need to go to the vet, sometimes they get needles (just like when they have to go the doctor & dentist every now then).

2. Discuss with your children that your pet cannot eat all the things that they eat, and how it is important to not sneak them treats or share their food with them.

  • Take this time to talk about what food your pet can eat and the importance of nutrition for your pet. It is important to note that different pets at different ages and sizes have different needs. Brands like Royal Canin provide tailored nutrition for different ages, sizes and breeds of cats and dogs and can be the perfect choice for your furry friend.
  • Show your children how to measure out your pet’s food using the eating guidelines on the back of the packet, but never let them do it on their own.
  • Portion control is really important, particularly when it comes to dry food, not just for obesity prevention, but also avoiding life-threatening conditions like Gastric Dilation and Volvulus. A mountain of kibble in a dog’s food bowl may result in an emotional trip to the emergency room!
  • Very few owners realise that just like babies, puppies and kittens have specific nutritional needs during their first 12 months of life. Many are moved to adult food before 6 months, when it varies depending on size of breed. Transition for puppies should be around 10 months for toy-sized breeds and up to 18+ months for Giant breeds. Look for options that offer a range of tailored nutrition for your pet.

Dr. Chantelle McGowan, Royal Canin Vet shares her tips for preparing children for a new pet.

3. Talk to your children about how important it is for your pet to visit the vet to keep your pet healthy and happy.

Just like we visit the Doctor, the vet’s role is to help your pet.

  • Often visiting a vet can be distressing for younger children as they perceive the vet as harming their pet. Help your child understand that your pet’s vet is their biggest ally in health! A vet can help keep your pet happy and healthy for a long time.
  • Any distress from family members can be sensed by your pet and can result in them feeling anxious and stressed, increasing the chances of your pet struggling against their examination. The Royal Canin research shows that more than 50% of cat owners do not take their cat to the vet for regular check-ups, so get your family started on the idea early for a stress-free future.

4. Organise a dedicated area of the house for your new pet, where their bed, crate/carrier, toys and blankets can be.

Let your children know this is the equivalent of your pet’s bedroom – it’s their safe place and they shouldn’t disturb their pet when it is this area of the house.

5. A common trigger for a pet biting a child is when either child or pet is eating and interacting.

Food bowls should never be disturbed – if your child is not of an age where they can understand this, the safest option is to have the feeding area separate from where your child can access.

Feed your pets behind closed doors, and closely supervise your child if they are eating and your pet is around. Rather than lock the pet away when your child is eating (as the pet may perceive this as punishment and develop negative associations with a child eating), give the pet a reward as well (and this doesn’t have to be a food reward, it could be their favourite toy) behind a physical barrier so everyone is safe and happy.

6. Beginning education early on around body language and consent is key to helping prevent dog bites that are not food related.

As a child, I was mauled by a dog we had recently rescued who was very fearful. Always having loved animals, 3-year-old me saw he was anxious and went to give him a big HUG around the neck. Understandably, this poor terrified dog lashed out and I was taken to hospital for multiple plastic surgeries around my face and scalp. I still have a beautiful grey streak from one of the scars I’ve carried through my life as a reminder and motivator to help uncertain and fearful pets become better understood. Most dog bites come from familiar dogs, and usually in situations where their boundaries have been ignored. It is all our responsibility to talk about body language and consent by pets to touch pets, even if only for the purposes of reciprocal safety.

7. Just like us, pets need rest as equally important as exercise and brain games.

They can become overwhelmed or may find an interaction intimidating and scary if we look at it from their perspective. Teaching children (and adults too!) about always giving a pet a ‘way out’ of the interaction and always respect if they choose not to engage.

Getting a new pet is an exciting step for families, and by following these tips from the start, you can ensure your children are ready. By involving them in conversations to help them understand the needs of their new furry friends, they will have a greater sense of responsibility and knowledge of their pets.