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First Pet

First Pet

A Resource For New (and All) Pet Parents


To help with the start of your journey as a new pet-parent, we have organized a few specific pet products that we think are useful for your new first pet: DOG puppy, CAT kitten, FISH & POND betta fish, SMALL PETS hamster & gerbil or rabbit, BIRD parakeet, or REPTILE bearded dragon.


The information, content and material contained in this blog post is intended to be of a general nature only and is not intended to constitute professional/medical advice. All information, content, materials in this blog and on our site, or obtained from a website to which the site is linked are provided to you “as is” without warranty of any kind either express or implied.


One of the best experiences of childhood is getting a pet. We have all seen the YouTube video or Facebook post of a child meeting their “new best friend” for the first time and the emotion(s) it can generate. In a post on The benefits of a family pet, Tracy Trautner with the Michigan State University (MSU) Extension notes, “there are many benefits to owning a pet…(it can) teach children valuable life lessons like responsibility, trust, compassion, respect and patience.” An article in Time explains, “researchers say that babies who grow up in homes with a pet — namely a dog or a cat — are less likely to get sick than children who live pet-free.” This analysis was published in a Pediatrics Journal article. Another article based on a review of multiple studies concluded that “living with pets may protect infants from allergies” as adults.


With so many well-known benefits, what does a parent say, when their child asks for a pet or their first pet? Here is a strategy Tracy suggests:

If your child asks for a pet, talk with them about responsibility and the permanency of owning a pet. When the “newness” wears off or the puppy/kitten gets older, will they still want to care for the animal? Have they expressed a consistent desire for a pet and understand it will need daily care up and above play time?

Set up and discuss what your child’s pet responsibilities will be ahead of time. Remember, no matter how committed they are at the time of getting a pet, you will have to consider yourself as the backup plan if and when they cannot or will not continue to care for the pet.

One of the major reasons, and an important life skill, for owning a pet is to teach responsibility. Pets require food, water, and love. Many, some more than others, require exercise. They also require grooming (brushing develops large muscles of your child’s arms) and bathroom time (walking the dog develops large muscles of your child’s legs and is good for the development of their heart, brain, and lungs).

Children over 5 years old can have developmentally appropriate responsibilities regarding the care of the pet. Children under the age of 4 should always be monitored with pets , and children under the age of 10 should not be expected to take care of a dog or cat completely on their own.

A second skill children learn is trust. A pet offers unconditional support when a child (or anyone) is sad, angry, or upset. They can teach your child to trust the pet, themselves and build trust in other relationships as well.

Compassion is the third life skill developed. When a child takes care of a pet, they learn to be kind to others through taking care of their furry friend’s basic needs.

Other skills kids learn include:

  • Bereavement. When a pet dies, a child will learn about the grieving process.
  • Respect. Requiring gentle touching and learning about boundaries when the pet is eating and sleeping will develop respect for others in young children, which is a difficult skill to learn at a young age.
  • Self-esteem. When pets show unconditional love, it boosts a child’s self-esteem. Being responsible also develops self-esteem in young children.
  • Loyalty. Pets are very loyal and a good example of how to treat others that are important to the child and family.
  • Physical activity. Walking and throwing a ball is great exercise.
  • Patience. Sometimes bonding with a pet takes time, as well as teaching tricks and learning good behavior.
  • Social Skills. Pets are great in helping “break the ice.” On outings, dogs encourage conversations with others and will improve a child’s social skills.
  • Motivation. Because of all the skills pet ownership provides, young children have a reduced risk of allergies and better grades at school because kids develop internal motivation while caring for their animals.
  • Empathy. Children growing up with a pet do so with more empathy towards animals and more empathy in general.

Research shows children who live in homes with a dog can possibly have fewer ear infections and respiratory tract infections and require fewer antibiotics, perhaps because the exposure to animals at a young age stimulates the immune system. Research found that exposure to pet dander could prime babies’ still-developing immune systems and be able to fend off common allergens and bugs. Young children’s immune systems are more capable of facing them. Kids with a dog did better than those with a cat. The exposure must happen early in life. More information can also be found in the CBS News article, “Babies with dogs less likely to develop colds, ear infections as infants.”

When thinking of which pet to add to your family, pick one that fits your lifestyle. A fish, turtle or hamster will require less playtime than a cat or dog. If your family travels a lot, then maybe an animal that can be left at home with minimal care would be a good choice. If you prefer to go for long walks and play in the yard, then a dog may be a perfect fit.

To learn about the positive impact children and families experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2016 impact report: “Preparing young children for success” and “Preparing the future generation for success.” 


Along with deciding what kind of pet is best for your family, you might also need to decide on the proper breed to fit you and your family’s lifestyle. If you decide on a dog, here is a tool designed by Purina to guide you in selecting the best dog breed for your family. If you and your family decide that a cat might be better, here’s a separate tool by Purina to help. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) can help if you decide a fish is best as a first pet. Similarly, the AVMA can also help if you decide that a bird makes for the perfect first pet. Or other fury friend such as a small pet or reptile. Links to help decide on what’s best for your family as a first pet, are summarized in the table below.

Family’s Choice for First Pet

Our Recommend Resource | Guide

Dog | Puppy

Purina Dog Breed Selector | Selecting a Pet Dog

Cat | Kitten

Purina Cat Breed Selector | Selecting a Pet Cat


Selecting a Pet Fish  | The Female Betta Fish


Selecting a Pet Bird | Lafeber Pet Bird Guide

Small Pet(s)

Selecting a Pet Rabbit  | Selecting a Pet Ferret


Selecting a Pet Reptile | Pet Reptile Video


For our new puppy parents, we also recommend taking a look at this FREE (.pdf) download of a comprehensive guide to make your new puppy feel right at home from Master Pet out of New Zealand. Shop all of the guide’s essential products in the puppy collection.

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