British Columbia·Point of View

Pets and kids: Are you ready to add a fur baby to the family?

Raising kids can sometimes feel like running a zoo. But bringing pets into the family can be beneficial for everyone.

Animals can be incredible companions for kids. How do we make sure everyone in the pack gets along?

Pets can provide pure love and devotion — something most kids, and their parents, can use. (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

This story is part of Amy Bell's Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

Raising kids can sometimes feel like running a zoo — but I would honestly have an actual zoo in my house if I could get around some city bylaws.

While my own family has been filled with dog, cat and gecko love since before the kids were born, I know that many parents choose to remain pet-free.

And to that, I say: "What do you have against pure love and happiness?"

Pets can help kids physically and mentally

Will a pet be more work? Yes.

Will they do things that annoy you? Most certainly!

But so do children, and we still have lots of them in the house. 

What pets bring to the table is a dose of much needed love and levity — and that can have both mental and physical benefits. 

Rebecca Ledger, a Vancouver-based animal behaviourist, knows first hand — from her work and from her own family — how much pets can help kids and adults. Decreased anxiety, lower blood pressure and increased activity levels have all been shown in people with pets. 

"There are all sorts of studies that have documented incredible learning and health benefits for those children who are raised with pets," says Ledger. "But I think the first thing is, it's just a lot of fun." 

Admittedly, while my family was incredibly lucky to have no problem mixing pets and kids, sometimes they can get along about as well as — well, cats and dogs. And that can be for a variety of reasons.

Decreased anxiety, lower blood pressure and increased activity levels have all been shown in people with pets.  (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

'What if he turns on the baby?'

I spoke with a lot of people who found that once the kids arrived, their precious pets simply couldn't get on board with the new arrival. And tired and stressed parents don't always have the time or the resources to deal with the drama.

Shawn Webster, a Surrey realtor and former broadcaster, knew that her dog was not happy with a new baby — and that led her and her husband to question whether they could trust their dog with their newborn. 

"He just got stranger and stranger," says Webster, who noticed her dog's increasing anxiety and over-protectiveness. "He's protecting the baby, but what if he turns on the baby?"

It's that fear that leads a lot of people to either give up their pets when kids arrive, or just not get one at all.

So how can families make sure that kids and animals can be part of the same pack?

Being realistic is key. Understand what you and your kids are capable of handling in terms of time, space and patience. And look outside the box — not every pet has to play fetch or climb on your lap for cuddles. 

Lessons about empathy, care, grief

I've seen and felt first hand the joy and comfort a pet can provide to children. It can be a trusting and valuable relationship, but it comes with a huge responsibility — and that's one of the most important parts of the whole experience.

Kids — and some adults — need a reminder that the world doesn't revolve around them. Making sure a dog is walked daily, or a lizard has its worms, can teach them a lot about empathy and care. 

Even the death of pet can provide lessons in saying goodbye and mourning something you loved.

And while they might eat your socks or destroy a few stuffed animals, maybe it's not such a steep price to pay for all the love and joy pets can give you. 


Amy Bell is a digital contributor to CBC. She can be heard weekdays on The Early Edition as the traffic and weather reporter and parenting columnist.


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