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Fur, Feathers, Scales, and Tails

Is your family ready for a pet? Check out our family pet guide for helpful tips and information about bringing an animal into your home.

So, the kids are asking for a pet. Is your family ready? Before you start falling in love with sweet, furry faces, check out our family pet guide to learn more about the responsibilities, commitments, and fun of nurturing a pet.

Table of Contents:

Is Your Family Ready For A Pet?

Pets can bring so much joy and happiness to our lives, but they also come with a load of responsibility. Before you make the decision to add a pet to your family, think about these questions to make sure your family is truly ready for the responsibility.

1. Why do you want a pet?

a. For family companionship.
b. To teach my children to care for another being.
c. We love hiking and walking with a pet.
d. We want to share our home with an animal that is in need.
e. So my kids will stop asking for one!

None of those answers are wrong, except for that last one. Although it may be tempting to get a pet “for your child,” know that you will be ultimately responsible for every aspect of the pet’s care and well-being, whether it’s a fish, bird, cat, dog, or gecko. Children, no matter how dependable yours might seem, are simply not mature enough to be responsible for a pet on their own.

2. How much time do you have each day for your pet?

a. We have about an hour each day to dedicate to a pet.
b. We are hoping to include a pet into much of our day.
c. With three kids, multiple activities, and two busy adults in the house, we have very little spare time.

Daily pet care, feeding, grooming, training, and exercise all require time. Yes, the children can help with tasks, but you will need to oversee all care. While a fish may require only a little time each day for feeding and bowl maintenance, a dog—depending on the breed—will require at least an hour, likely more, of your time each day for basic care and exercise. Consider how much time is available in your home for a pet and work with a shelter representative or vet to decide which pet, if any, might fit best in your schedule.

3. Are you committed to your pet for the duration of its life?

a. Yes
b. No
c. Maybe
d. As long as it’s convenient for me/my family

The only correct answer here is yes. Bringing any pet into your home is a commitment to care for and provide a loving home for the pet’s whole life. Before getting a pet, consider that cats have an average lifespan of 12-18 years, dogs, depending on the breed, an average of 8-12 years, even some birds can live 10-30 years. Small animals like rats or hamsters have shorter life expectancy. Ask yourself if you are ready to make the commitment, then ask for how long.

4. How much do you have budgeted for pet expenses?

a. Our home budget has a pet-expenses line item.
b. We’ve researched the cost of owning a pet and it fits comfortably in our lifestyle.
c. Huh? How much can it really cost to have a cat?

According to the ASPCA, the average total cost of owning a dog or cat for the first year alone is more than $1,000, almost double that if you fall in love with a large breed dog. Annual costs don’t fall far below that, in the $700-$1000 range. Remember the lifespan of a cat can be up to 18 years or more. And just one serious illness or injury can end up taking a huge bite out of your budget. Consider your family budget carefully to ensure you have the money needed to give a pet the care it needs and the spoiling it deserves.

Where to Start Your Search

Thousands of dogs, cats, and other small pets are available for adoption each year. Although it’s enticing to fall in love with that puppy in the window of a pet shop, shelters and rescues are full of wonderful pets of all sizes, breeds, and ages looking for their furever homes.

Check Here First:

Colorado’s Top Pet Names*

*Top dog names according to Top cat names according to

Want Something Different?

Take inspiration from your child’s pop culture favorites.

Also, watch for a revival of the names Nala and Simba as a live action version of the Disney classic The Lion King hits theaters this summer.

Get the Kids to Help

Kids can participate in the care of a pet, but a grown-up is ultimately responsible. “If you’re adopting a pet “for the kids,” you must be prepared and willing to be the pet’s primary caretaker,” says Maia Brusseau, public relations manager for Dumb Friends League in Denver. “Children can help take care of the pet as long as the responsibilities you give them are realistic for their ages and maturity levels.” Here are some ways each age group can help with pet care.

Preschool/ Kindergarten

This age should only do pet-related tasks side-by-side with a parent.

Early Elementary

This age group is gaining independence but should still be guided or assisted by an adult in any pet-related tasks.

Tweens & Teens

Although they are capable, tweens and teens can get easily distracted by activities and friends, so be sure to check that their tasks are completed.

Help, I’m Lost!

When a pet is lost, you are frantic, the kids are worried, your pet is likely frightened, and a kind neighbor who finds your furry family member may be confused about how to find you. Here are the best ways to ensure your furry friend will make it home safely:

Know the Paw Laws

How many pets can you legally have in your home? Are there any breed restrictions or bans? What about leash laws? Visit your city’s website to learn the laws and ordinances related to pets in your area. Keep in mind that they can vary from Denver to Centennial to Louisville. Moving from Westminster to Denver, for example, may mean relinquishing your beloved pit bull, as they are banned within the city of Denver.

Typical Colorado Dog Gear

We love our four-legged canine companions. Commonly referred to as the “first child,” these fur babies are just as much a part of the family as the rest of the kids. So much so that they often come along on our day-to-day adventures, whether it be a day in the office, school drop-off and pick-up, soccer practice, or hitting the trail.

Here are some “good boy”-approved goods from one of Colorado Parent’s resident pups.

Local Favorites

While the items above can easily be purchased online or at a local or national pet store, these Colorado businesses make treats your pet will pawsitively love.

Unique Services for Pets

Take a Shelter Dog Out for a Day

Interested in adopting a dog, but not sure it’s the right fit for your family? The Doggy Day Out program at Teller County Regional Animal Shelter (TCRAS) in Divide, Colorado allows families to take a shelter dog out on an adventure. It could be a hike, a camping trip, or even a sleepover in a home, lasting anywhere from an hour to overnight. “The impact [on the dogs] has been huge,” says Eric Rice, enrichment developer and animal care technician at TCRAS. “The outings help dogs manage the stress from being at a shelter, burn off energy, and get more community exposure, helping them find homes more quickly.” Anyone who wants to experience Doggy Day Out for themselves can volunteer. “This is a great bonding activity for families,” says Rice. “Plus, kids or families who haven’t had a dog before can get some practice in and see what it feels like to spend time with a canine companion.”

Hire a Dog Doula

Introducing a newborn into the home can be a stressful event in a dog’s life. That’s where a doggy doula comes in. As a certified dog trainer and founder of Family Pupz in LoHi, Tanya Lim specializes in preparing expecting and new families with dogs for life with a baby or toddler. Through her private doggy doula services, Lim goes to a client’s home to meet the dog, go over safety around the house, discuss relationship building exercises, and help parents develop a plan for including the dog in everyday life once the baby arrives. “[A new baby] is obviously a huge change in the dog’s routine,” says Lim. “The dog is used to getting a lot of attention, the dog is used to its space, and now everything is changing…It’s good for parents to have a plan.”

Say Goodbye at Home

Saying goodbye to your beloved four-legged friend is by far the hardest part of pet ownership. To help ease your (and your pet’s) worries during this tough time, Caring Pathways offers in-home hospice care and pet euthanasia to the Denver community. With their help, your pet can receive veterinary care in the comfort of their home, making their final days as comfortable and stress free as possible, and eliminating the need to transport the animal to a vet’s office. When the inevitable time comes, the vet gently and compassionately euthanizes the pet in the peace and comfort of your home—allowing you and your family time to grieve.

Ask the Vet

As pet owners, just like new parents, we have many questions for the experts. We asked Dr. Jeanne Hill from CityVet Capitol Hill for her quick takes on her top five frequently asked questions.

Is it possible to train my cat to do tricks?
Although it is more challenging to train a cat compared to a dog, they can be trained to do simple commands, use the toilet, and walk on a leash. Clicker training is the easiest way to teach your cat.
When should I spay or neuter my dog?
New research has shown that the old rule of six months may not be best for all pets, especially large breed dogs. Ask your vet what age is best based on your dog’s breed and expected adult size.
What does it mean if my pet eats grass?
Although some dogs just like to graze, eating grass can be a sign of indigestion or an unmet nutritional need, such as lack of fiber. In general, eating grass is considered a safe and normal behavior.
My older pet seems to be stiff and slowing down. How can I help make them more comfortable?
If you suspect your pet has arthritis, talk to your veterinarian about options for comfort. There are new medications that are safe for older pets, and supplements such as glucosamine and turmeric can help ease stiff joints. Many pets respond well to complementary treatments such as laser therapy, acupuncture, and physical therapy.
Is my pet overweight?
More than half of pets in the United States are overweight. As a general rule, your pet’s ribs should be easy to feel and they should have a “waistline” or tuck when viewed from above. If your pet is overweight, try swapping baby carrots for treats, decreasing the amount you feed by 20 percent, and increasing daily activity.
Hailynn Clements with her rescue pup Burton.

Giving Back

Hailynn Clements didn’t want an iPad or the newest toy for her 11th birthday. Instead, she asked for donations to the Douglas County Canine Rescue (DCCR), where she found her new best friend only weeks before. Her pup, Burton, was a little unaware of his size and needed some professional training. So, in Burton’s honor, Hailynn asked for donations to DCCR to specifically fund training for other pups who lack skills, manners, and confidence. With the $280 donated in Burton’s name, DCCR launched a new campaign, Sit, Stay, Find a Home!, highlighting some of their longest-term residents. Through Hailynn’s gift, DCCR reignited their focus on these dogs and public education about the importance of professional training for rescue dogs in need.

Host Your Child’s Next Birthday Party at a shelter:

Birthday parties at a shelter give kids the opportunity to learn more about animals and their care from the shelter’s staff, while interacting with furry friends. In exchange for a donation, the shelter provides the venue, with crafts and games, while the family hosting at the shelter provides food, drink, and cake for the guests.

Show Off Your Pet

Sure, we have photos of our pets, but the whole family can share their pup, cat, or even gecko love in many more ways. From custom portraits to notebooks to jewelry. These also make special gifts to memorialize a pet who has crossed over the rainbow bridge.

A dog is shaking hands with a child on a meadow

Teaching Kids How to Approach a New Dog
(The Right Way)

Walking down the sidewalk, tongue flopped to one side, my happy-go-lucky-looking dog Forrest can’t wait to get to the park. We approach a young boy and his mother grinning from ear to ear. I know what’s coming… “Can I pet your dog?” the child politely asks. “We have a golden at home,” his mom adds. But to their surprise, I politely decline. I see a quizzical look spread across the kid’s face. But it’s a golden retriever, they undoubtedly think as we pass. I appreciate them asking, but I know my dog, and he needs time to warm up to strangers.

Just because a dog looks friendly doesn’t mean the animal is comfortable meeting new people. It’s important to teach kids the appropriate way to approach a new dog that they may encounter in everyday life.

Amanda Kludasch, humane education manager at the Dumb Friends League (DDFL), teaches a humane education program, called RESPECT, to educate young children about respecting and meeting dogs and cats the proper way. Here are her tips:

3 Steps for Meeting a Dog (or Cat) Properly

  1. Children should always ask a parent or grownup before meeting a dog they’ve never met before. “In the (RESPECT) classroom, the grownup is the teacher, and we have the children practice by asking their teacher first,” says Kludasch. “A lot of times we bring in an ambassadog, which is an ambassador dog for the Dumb Friends League. Kids then all have an opportunity to practice what we talk about at the end of the lesson.”
  2. Always ask the owner of the dog. “We explain [to the kids] that ‘if you’re not feeling well yourself your parent probably knows that…you don’t want a stranger coming up to you shaking your hand or petting you,” says Kludasch. The dog owner knows the dog best, so it’s important to always ask.
  3. Always ask the dog. “Everyone always says, ‘Dogs don’t talk, how do we ask them?’” says Kludasch. In class, students go over dog or cat body language. Is the dog’s tail wagging? Do they seem comfortable? Once a child has the animal’s approval, they should put their hand out flat to let the dog sniff it, and get down on the dog’s eye level so they aren’t large to them. Alternatively, have the child pat their leg and invite the dog over. If the dog wants to interact with the child, the dog will come.

Now that you’ve gotten approval from your grownup, the owner, and the dog, where do you pet the animal for the first time? DDFL’s behavior team suggests petting the dog on the shoulder or the neck first so that the dog can see your hand—this makes the dog feel more comfortable.

As much as your child may want to interact with the cute dog on his evening walk to the park, it’s important to remind kids to follow these three steps. After all, it isn’t up to you or the child, it’s ultimately up to the dog.

Note: The DDFL typically only offers the RESPECT program for schools or community organizations like libraries and rec centers. Interested parents can request that the program comes to your child’s school by calling DDFL and passing along the information to the school’s principal. 

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