A family pet is becoming an ever-popular addition to many US households. 67% of US households now own a pet, according to the 2019 – 2020 National Pet Owners Survey That equates to a staggering 85 million families who include a pet within their household. By contrast, in 1998, just 56% of households owned a pet.
With more people welcoming a pet into their family, it’s wise to consider how you can share out the many tasks associated with owning a pet. With a bit of thought and negotiation, it’s possible to include even very young children in the care of a pet but often parents are hard to persuade to get a pet.
In this blog, we’ll consider how you can make caring for your pet a shared task involving family co-operation and inclusion.
“Know Your Why” in Relation to Sharing out Pet Care Tasks
I’m sure you’ve heard from other families that classic tale of fickle children, who spend months and months begging for a pet and promising faithfully they’ll be fed regularly. You’ll recognize the ending of such a tale: one month in and those same children have lost interest in the new addition to the household. Yet, with a bit of careful pre-thought and planning, this does not have to a universal story for you and your family. The trick is having a firm grasp of your “why” when it comes to insisting on pet care being a family effort that includes everyone.
Author Simon Sineck has something useful here for pet-owning families. Sineck’s 2009 bestselling book, “Start with Why” encourages us to postpone considering the “how?” and the “what?” of a challenge in order to concentrate on the “why?” It might be tempting to begin by creating a family rota to look at who is going to do what, and when, in terms of caring for your pet. But, it makes sense to first work out why sharing out the tasks of caring for your pet. What are the benefits to you, your family and, of course, your pet, in having each family member involved in your pet’s care in some way?
Owning a pet and interacting with that pet is a boost to our wellbeing. Research has shown that human-animal interactions (HAI) can influence the health and wellbeing of both parties. Even being in the presence of a companion animal is associated with health benefits, including improvements in mental, social, and physiological health status. Exercising a pet that benefits from a daily walk helps family members to get their own exercise. And stroking a pet has been shown to result in the reduction in the stress hormone cortisol for pet owners.
Therefore, getting every family member involved helps you all to benefit from caring for your pet.
When we think specifically about children it makes real sense to include kids in pet care. Many schools now include a therapy dog within lessons, and it’s been shown that reading to a dog is an effective way to boost children’s literacy skills and confidence. Children can also learn a great deal about care, responsibility, and connection though the everyday tasks of pet care.
Pet’s benefit too from everyone in the household being involved in their care. Dogs, in particular, are pack animals who enjoy knowing they are part of a tribe or group. With everyone keeping check on your pet’s needs, it’s more likely issues and problems are spotted promptly, which will benefit your pet’s comfort and health.
Finally, owning a pet carries financial and time costs. In the past 10 years, American pet spending has more than doubled and 45% of American pet owners now spend the same amount of money, or even more on their pet’s health care as they do on their own. Caring for and meeting your pet’s needs takes time and commitment. You might say that owning a dog, or indeed any pet, is no walk in the park. Including everyone in the shared care of your pet allows you all to take on a share of this sizeable commitment.
The “How” of Sharing out Pet Care Tasks
We’ve covered the why of taking shared responsibility for pet care within a family. Knowing why its so beneficial to take a collaborative approach makes it easier to sustain motivation in encouraging everyone to play their part. Let’s consider practical tasks that can be allocated to different family members.
Get everyone involved in the planning and decision stages of choosing a pet that’s a good fit for your family. Before you welcome a pet into your household, it’s important to gather information and identify the right pet for you. You’ll want to consider your lifestyle and the age of any children in the house, as well as any other pets you already have. Finances and level of time commitment will be part of the decision-making process. You may consider what pet and what breed of animal best suits members of your household who have any allergies. If you are looking to get a pet like a dog, the Kennel Club website has plenty of helpful information.
Some families will be best suited to welcoming a fish into their family as their family pet. Indeed, with 139 million freshwater fish owned as pets, fish are the most popular type of pet in the US. Other families will consider a dog, cat, reptile or even a house to be a good fit for their family.
You can begin to share out this initial research work by asking everyone to describe what they’d hope to gain from getting a pet. Identify what sorts of commitments people feel comfortable making in terms of a pet and what concerns they might have about a pet. You can also delegate research tasks to internet-savvy older children, who can be given the task of researching exercise needs, temperaments, and dietary needs of different animals. Adults can also look into costs and insurance as part of this research process.
This will help you decide as a family which pet is right for you. It also sets the stage from the beginning that the pet is a joint-family commitment.
This is another area of pet care that can be shared out between different family members. It’s important there is some co-ordination around who does what and when to avoid accidentally overfeeding or even neglecting to feed your pet. One family member could act as coordinator and draw up a schedule. You can also involve children in many tasks relating to feeding your pet. Shopping for pet food, emptying and cleaning feeding dishes, general cleaning up after your pet and then preparing and serving fresh food and water to your pet is a task that even young children can be involved in with supervision. A toddler will delight in being given an opportunity to top up the hamster’s water bottle, or even helping Dad to tip kibble into the cat’s feeding bowl. It’s also an ideal chance for parents to chat with children about their own diets and why nutrition matters for humans as well as animals.
Pets vary in the amount of exercise they need to stay healthy, and also in the support needed from owners to assist in that exercise. Hamsters will be happy to run around an exercise wheel. Most cats enjoy outdoor exercise on their own terms. Dogs will require you to take them for a walk, and some breeds require longer walks than others so you may want to consider the current ages of your children and what they can adequately provide exercise wise for your pet.
Consider how you can share out the task of supporting your pet to gain exercise it needs. You may like to ask one member of the family to take sole responsibility for this, or again, plan a family schedule. Another option is to combine pet exercise with other everyday tasks, such as walking to visit a friend. Include children in walks wherever possible to help them benefit from exercise.
Some animals benefit from regular grooming. Fur trims and claws may need attending to. These tasks must be performed with care. It’s not appropriate to allow young children to file a dog’s claws for example. And it would be unwise to let any family member loose with the clippers on your dog if they have no idea about how to correctly groom their pet. For this reason, you may like to reserve such tasks for professionals and experts. If so, one family member can take responsibility for booking appointments and scheduling grooming sessions. Teenagers may well be willing to set up digital alerts on their phone that will help as a reminder for key appointments.
Sharing Out Pet Care Tasks
We’ve covered the various benefits of why it’s so beneficial to get all family members on board with your pet’s care. Your pet will soon become part of the family if everyone plays a role in their care. Children, adolescents, and adults can all benefit from pet care. And your pet will thank you for it. The various practical suggestions covered in this blog should make sharing out the pet care tasks a (dog) walk in the park.
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