Newswise — ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A new puppy or kitten may be at the top of some children’s holiday wish lists but few parents are easily saying yes, a new national poll finds.
About one in six parents (18%) say they would allow their child to receive a pet as a gift while 42% say no, according to the nationally-representative C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan. Fifteen percent of parents have given their child a pet as a gift.
Another 40% of parents say “maybe.”
Top reasons parents say it’s important for children to have a pet is for fun and companionship (63%) and that a pet would teach responsibility (57%). Thirty-nine percent of parents also want a family pet because they grew up with one, 30% believe pets provide protection and another 31% say their child is asking for a pet.
In families without pets, top cons listed for pet ownership were the extra hassle (62%), pet allergies (55%), cost (48%), children not being ready for the responsibility (43%) and that it would not be safe for a child (39%).
“Some families see great benefits in getting their child a pet, such as teaching responsibility and valuable life lessons like reliability, compassion and patience,” says poll co-director and Mott pediatrician Gary Freed, M.D., MPH.
“But adding a new pet should not be an impulsive purchase. Families should carefully consider the decision to have a pet as well as what kind of pet is right for them. Parents should make sure a new pet fits their family’s lifestyle and that everyone is prepared for the new responsibilities.”
Among parents who already have a family pet, 56% say their child always takes care of pet responsibilities, while 40% say their child sometimes is responsible. The most common age parents say is appropriate for a child to assume responsibility is eight years old for feeding the pet, nine years for washing, brushing or cleaning up after the pet, and 10 years for walking the pet.
Before bringing a new pet home, parents should have detailed discussions with their children to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to animal care – but also be prepared to be the backup plan if their child abandons pet duties over time.
“Getting a pet can be an exciting milestone for a family but parents need to be prepared for children losing interest in caring for a pet when the ‘newness’ wears off,” Freed says.
“It’s important for parents to have realistic expectations about how much children can be expected to contribute to the care of a pet depending on their age and maturity.”
Finding the right pet is also important, experts say. A fish or turtle may be better for families who travel often and require less playtime than a cat or dog for example.
Two thirds of parents (69%) say their family currently has a pet, and 16% say they had one in the past. The most common pets are dogs (76%), cats (41%), fish, birds, and reptiles (24%), and small mammals such as rabbits or guinea pigs (9%.)
While there is a long tradition of giving pets as gifts for special occasions, experts caution that animal shelters are filled with “former pets” from families who could no longer care for them.
“Surprising a child with a pet may seem like a fun way to celebrate a holiday, but families should first be prepared for the lifestyle adjustments that come with it,” Freed says.
This report is based on responses from 1,712 parents who had at least one child age 5-18 years.