“Can we have a pet?” It’s one of those refrains dreaded by so many parents. Often closely followed by: “I’ll look after it, you won’t have to do anything.”
As those of us who have trodden this path know, that’s never the case. But if your precious cherubs catch you at a weak moment, you might need our guide to some of the most popular domestic household pets.
Generally top of the wish-list – or, more specifically, a puppy. Who can resist a cute bundle of fluff that wants nothing more than to sniff your nose and enjoy a cuddle?
- Pros: A dog will be your child’s best friend for life. It will be the confidante and playmate who never judges, is always loyal, and will protect your home into the bargain. (Not necessarily by violent means – if nothing else, it will lick burglars to death.)
- Cons: Puppies grow up and your dog needs walking. Every day. Yes, even when it’s raining. Somebody will need to clear up any, erm, presents left in the garden. Guess who that will be? (Clue: Not your child.) You’ll have to fight for your spot on the sofa each evening and, assuming you don’t for one of those hairless breeds, there’ll be loose fur everywhere.
Often a more attractive proposition if the house is empty all day. Cats are independent; as long as there’s food, water, and somebody to sneer at, they’re happy. You’ll know if yours isn’t as it will decamp to the neighbour’s place until further notice.
- Pros: Cats can be just as happy to snuggle up on your lap as a dog and, contrary to popular opinion, they do show affection. Generally in anticipation of some tasty morsel of food. You won’t need to find time to exercise it.
- Cons: If you install a cat-flap, choose one that’s microchip-activated. Otherwise, every feline in the neighbourhood will use your home as a drop-in centre. Remember cats lie in the most inconvenient places – like on the stairs in the dark. They tend to grow an extra leg with super-sharp claws when you try to stuff them in a cat-carrier for a trip to the vet.
Once seen as the ultimate easy-care pet, goldfish used to be a fairground sideshow staple – few children would leave without one. Luckily times have changed – but they’re still very popular.
- Pros: It can be quite entertaining to watch them swimming around the tank. If anything untoward happens, a goldfish is possibly the easiest pet to replace before the kids notice the original has gone belly-up.
- Cons: Not as low-maintenance as you might think. Goldfish are sensitive to their environment, so you’ll need a proper aquarium, complete with water filter. Oh, and it will need cleaning every week. You’ll become obsessed with checking pH levels. Get it all right, and your fish could live for years.
Both are commonly chosen as a first pet. They can live outside in a hutch if you don’t want them in the house and, if your outside space is secure, go free in the garden or a large run during the day.
- Pros: They’re quite sociable animals so your child will enjoy interacting with them. They’re also fairly low-maintenance as long as their basic needs are met, and it can be fun to watch them hopping around.
- Cons: If you let them loose in your house, you’ll need to clear up their pellets. We wonder who’ll end up with that job? Hutches need regular cleaning, a job that holds no charm for a small child. If there are cats nearby, be careful – a guinea-pig is small enough to be prey.
Small rodents like these will need to live inside. A simple cage doesn’t really do the trick these days – tunnels to connect various chambers are more popular.
- Pros: They’re small and fairly easy to look after. They don’t have the longest life-expectancy so you’re not committing yourself to caring for them long after your child has left home.
- Cons: They’re nocturnal, so your child might not see too much of them. If they escape, they can be tricky to track down; they could end up gnawing on the insides of your sofa or, worse, electrical wiring. You’ll probably get more than one – lots more than one, if you mix the sexes.
Who doesn’t want a parrot? The thought of being able to teach it all kinds of words and insults is too much to resist! If your children see one, they will want it.
- Pros: They are intelligent and sociable. A parrot will enjoy spending time around the family, be a great companion and, of course, provide endless entertainment.
- Cons: A healthy parrot will live for a very long time – as in the best part of a century. This really is a lifetime commitment. Parrots can hide illness well, so you’ll need to be vigilant of its health.
Seen as an ideal pet by many – no fur, no exercise, easy to feed. Tortoises are surprisingly strong and expert diggers and climbers.
- Pros: They sleep for half of the year, so a tortoise won’t make great demands on your time or energy. Children find them endlessly fascinating so they’re unlikely to get bored or lose interest.
- Cons: Like the parrot, they can live for decades. The hibernation process needs to be handled carefully – a tortoise won’t survive if it’s too cold. They’re quicker than you think and master escape artists, so make sure you keep them in a secure area.
If your child enjoys horse-riding, at some stage they will beg for their own. It’s not a realistic option for many families, so you might want to have your arguments ready.
- Pros: A horse won’t take up half your bed at night or insist on going for a walk in the snow. Your child will really learn what it means to provide hands-on care for another living creature. Grooming and mucking out are great exercise, as well as the actual riding, so you’ll all be fit and healthy.
- Cons: Horses are very expensive. The stable fees, food, equipment and vets’ bills will conspire to keep your bank account as empty as possible. And are you really going to make your child get up at 6.30am to trudge to the stables in the winter snow so they can rug it up, turn it out and muck-out before school? No. Which means either doing it yourself or handing over yet more money to pay for a livery service.