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One in four parents say it’s safe for kids to have a pet at any age

7 min read
6 Apr 2020

Pet ownership rates in Australia are among the highest in the world, with two-thirds (61%) of Australian households owning an animal.[1] Around two thirds of dog and cat owners refer to their pet as a member of the family[2], but how many parents feel it’s safe to have their newborn, toddler or primary-school aged child around their ‘fur baby’?

New research reveals one in four parents believe newborns are perfectly safe around cats or dogs, however large.

Leading online insurance comparison service comparethemarket.com.au commissioned a survey of an independent, nationally representative panel of 1,002 Australian parents[3] to find out at what age they think is appropriate for their children to have a pet (both cats and dogs). On top of this, parents were questioned whether the size of the pet matters, and what would be the reasons for not allowing kids to have pets at an earlier age.

Newborns

Interestingly, a quarter of parents (25%) think it is safe to have a pet with a newborn baby. Furthermore, when it came to the size of the dog in particular, this didn’t seem to alter their views. Twenty-eight per cent of respondents think it is safe to own a small family dog with a newborn, an equal 25% agree in the case of a medium-sized dog, and 24% said having a large family dog wouldn’t be an issue. A quarter (25%) were also comfortable owning a cat with a newborn baby.

While it’s not recommended that young children are left unattended with pets, there are benefits to having a furry friend around the house with a newborn. A child who gains exposure to pets during infancy may develop a sturdier immune system and a lower chance of allergies.[4]

Babies up to age one

Comparethemarket.com.au also found that more than a third of parents (34%) are comfortable bringing a pet into the family when a baby is younger than one. When it comes to canines, as long as it is small in size, 38% of parents think it’s safe when the child is younger than one. This compared with 35% if it’s a medium-sized dog, and 31% when it comes to large dogs.

Meanwhile, 36% of parents think it’s safe for a cat to join the household when a baby is under one. Pets can be more than just companions, they can provide a soothing presence and non-judgmental support for children too. This is particularly the case when animals are used as part of a treatment plan to help children develop communication skills, along with medical, developmental and emotional disorders.[5]

Primary-school aged children

Nearly a third of parents (30%) believe children need to be older than five before having a pet in the house. Forty-four per cent of parents think this in relation to introducing a large family dog, 31% in relation to a medium-sized dog, and 22% for a small dog. On top of this, 21% think children need to be five years of age or older to introduce a cat safely into the home.

Regardless of age, children who have four-legged friends are found to benefit in various ways, such as gaining greater self-esteem, better social skills and are less likely to experience loneliness.[6] So much so that the NSW Government has implemented three programs – Living Safely with Pets, Living Safely with Dogs, and We Are Family[7] – in primary schools to teach children how to be responsible pet owners and ensure children and pets can live harmoniously together.[8]

It’s important for parents to teach kids how to behave appropriately around pets once they are old enough to interact with them independently, for the safety of both parties. Kids should also be taught to recognise the signs of when their pet is unhappy or unwell, and how to practice good hygiene with animals too.

Reasons why parents don’t introduce pets to younger children

Comparethemarket.com.au also asked respondents the reasons why they would not allow children to have pets at an earlier age and presented four scenarios: the pet might harm the child, the child might harm the pet, not wanting the added responsibility of looking after a pet, and not liking pets in general.

The most common reason, chosen by more than half (54%) of parents was that the pet might harm their child, followed by 40% who were concerned the child might harm the pet. Knowing the task of looking after the pet would rest on their hands, 34% of parents said they didn’t want the extra responsibility.

A further quarter (25%) of parents said they think it’s safe for their children to have a pet at any age, while a mere six per cent of respondents don’t like pets in general.

The responsibility of owning a pet also comes with rising vet bills, an expense that Aussies are forking out for more than ever. Our national veterinary expenditure increased by $414 million since 2016 – hitting $2.6 billion in 2019.[9] Last year, the average annual household spend on veterinary services for dogs hit $470, with 84% of dog owners saying they had taken a trip to the vet in the past 12 months.[10]

Check-ups and vaccinations are among the most common reasons we visit the vet,[11] starting from around $80 and up to $90.[12] Meanwhile, puppy vaccinations can cost anywhere between $170-250.[13] The rates of microchipping and desexing have also increased over time, with 86% of dogs and cats now microchipped, and 81% of canines desexed.[14]

Comparethemarket.com.au spokesperson Claire Rosenberg says:

‘It’s common for parents to be hesitant about bringing a pet into the home around young children, as kids and animals are both notoriously unpredictable! However, being prepared and doing your research around the most suitable pet for your situation is important – taking into account the personality and size of the dog or cat you choose. With pets often viewed as part of the family, looking after their health and protecting them from harm could prove costly if something were to happen.

‘Households may want to consider getting pet insurance for peace of mind. Comparison services such as comparethemarket.com.au can help find an appropriate level of cover at a competitive price to help protect your furry friend – both big and small.’

Case study available – Erin, parent to a six-year old daughter and pug

Erin and her husband introduced their pet pug, Blaze, into the family when their daughter Avery was just three years old.

Having grown up with dogs themselves, they wanted Avery to have the same positive experiences they had. Erin intentionally chose a smaller breed as Avery was sometimes frightened by larger dogs.

While it took around a month to adjust to the new four-legged family member, Avery now refers to Blaze as her brother, reads books to him regularly and even plays dress-ups with him. Erin admits they would have introduced a dog earlier if it wasn’t for the added responsibility, alongside juggling work and taking care of their first-born toddler.

Now, Blaze is very much a part of the family and travels interstate on holidays too. Blaze is even having a party thrown for his third birthday next month, with party hats included!

Cost of common veterinary procedures without pet insurance[15]

Veterinary procedure Cost of treatment for dogsCost of treatment for cats
Annual vaccinations and veterinary check$90From $80
Puppy/kitten vaccinations$170-250$170-200
Desexing$200-500[16]$115-300 (male or female)
Microchipping$60-80$60
Flea and worming treatment, and heartworm prevention (the first year)$120-300$100
Annual flea and worming treatment (ongoing)$120$100-150

 

Costs associated with pet ownership – average annual household spend[17]

Product or serviceCost for dogsCost for cats
Boarding/minding$108$96
Clipping/grooming$154$45
Training/behavior/therapy$70$36
Pet healthcare products$224$147
Alternative healthcare treatments$57$44
Pet insurance$147$69

 

For interviews and more information, please contact:

Macrina Lim | +61 2 9279 3330 | +61 430 547 751 | [email protected]

Sources:

[1] Animal Medicines Australia, 2019, https://animalmedicinesaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/ANIM001-Pet-Survey-Report19_v1.7_WEB_high-res.pdf

[2] Animal Medicines Australia, 2019, https://animalmedicinesaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/ANIM001-Pet-Survey-Report19_v1.7_WEB_high-res.pdf

[3] Survey commissioned by Pureprofile, February 2020, of parents who have children aged 16 and under.

[4] RSPCA Australia, 2019 https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-are-the-health-benefits-of-pet-ownership/

[5] Raising Children Network Australia (supported by Australian Government Department of Social Services) https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/therapies-guide/animal-assisted-therapy

[6] Pet Industry Association of Australia, 2017 https://piaa.net.au/national-kids-pets-day-26-april-2017/

[7] NSW Government, https://www.olg.nsw.gov.au/public/dogs-and-cats/responsible-pet-ownership-program/promoting-responsible-pet-ownership

[8] NSW Government, https://www.olg.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/Living%20safely%20with%20pets.pdf

[9] Animal Medicines Australia, 2019 p. 40 https://animalmedicinesaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/ANIM001-Pet-Survey-Report19_v1.7_WEB_high-res.pdf

[10] Animal Medicines Australia, 2019 p. 34-44 https://animalmedicinesaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/ANIM001-Pet-Survey-Report19_v1.7_WEB_high-res.pdf

[11] Ibid, p.41

[12] RSPCA NSW, https://www.rspcansw.org.au/what-we-do/care-for-animals/owning-a-pet/costs/

[13] Ibid

[14] Animal Medicines Australia, 2019 p.43 – 44 https://animalmedicinesaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/ANIM001-Pet-Survey-Report19_v1.7_WEB_high-res.pdf

[15] RSPCA, https://www.rspcansw.org.au/what-we-do/care-for-animals/owning-a-pet/costs/

[16] Depending on age, gender and size

[17] Animal Medicines Australia, 2019, p.35 https://animalmedicinesaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/ANIM001-Pet-Survey-Report19_v1.7_WEB_high-res.pdf

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Written by Hannah Twiggs

Hannah (or Twiggs as she's known by most of her colleagues) is a non-stop talker, avid snack eater, dog lover and passionate writer. When she's not chatting to journalists or writing up new story angles, Hannah enjoys a good Netflix binge, going away camping with friends and big brunches - preferably with extra bacon.

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