Getting your first pet is a childhood rite of passage. I vividly remember the first kitten my dad brought home for me when I was a little girl – I can still picture that cute little face and all the fun I had with him. I also remember being the one responsible for his care.

Admittedly, there are many reasons to not get your kid a pet. The expenses can be huge, and well… some animals are going to think the new carpet in the living room makes a perfect toilet.

But there are also some compelling reasons to go ahead and take the plunge. You'd be surprised by some of the benefits of having a pet for your child.

The Benefits of Pets for Kids

Being responsible for a pet is a great (and fun) way to instill an understanding of money management in your child’s life – not to mention a greater level of responsibility. Obviously, the older your child is, the more responsibility they should assume for the pet in question.

If you have a teen with a part-time job or a steady income, then it’s safe to say they should take care of the bulk of the costs for their pet. Sit down with them and come up with a plan before you bring that cute little puppy home, though. They should also be in charge of walking, feeding, grooming, and cleaning up after their own pet.

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My Daughter's Kittens

When my daughter was offered two free kittens, I thought it was great. I was happy to purchase food and litter for them. We agreed in advance that she would purchase all of their toys and take care of the vet bills. Naturally, one of the kittens has been sickly and has cost her a fortune in vet bills. “Free” isn’t always the economical way to go when it comes to pets.

Because my daughter was older and I know that kittens have to go to the vet a lot, I required her to have at least $300 in an emergency fund just for cat care before we got them. This really came in handy when she had to take the sick kitten to the vet three times in the first month on top of completing their vaccinations.

It also shows a real commitment on the part of your teen if she’s willing to make sacrifices and show discipline in order to save for a pet.

This is crucial if you expect them to take care of the pet for more than a week. Far too many parents are walking dogs they never wanted or cleaning litter boxes when, in fact, their children had committed to doing those things.

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For a younger child, you have several other options, since chances are they aren’t going to be able to save up $300:

1. Allow Them to Get Involved in the Purchase

Set a budget and don’t go over it. Write one out that includes vet care, food, and everything else you’ll want or need for the new pet. Talk about the benefits of purchasing from a breeder versus adopting from a shelter and everything in between. This is a great opportunity for your child to learn life skills that will stick with them for years.

2. Give Them Small Responsibilities

Younger children can be responsible for food, treats, toys, or some combination of those three. It allows them to participate actively in the care of the pet within reason. It also allows them to experience the real costs of those items. This way, they better understand how expensive it is to care for a pet.

3. Leverage Their Allowance

If your child gets an allowance, you can charge a percentage of that money for pet expenses rather than having him make specific purchases. Does your kid normally get $5 a week in allowance?

Then agree up-front that they will pay one or more of those dollars back to you each week, and that you will use the money towards pet needs.

This is another great way to help kids understand that pets aren't free and that you have to set aside money to care for them.

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The Bottom Line

Raising money-smart kids doesn’t come easy. It takes a lot of time and planning to do well. But if we remember to simply use real life to teach these lessons, it really isn’t that hard. And when you aren’t the one walking the dog or buying cat treats? It makes life that much easier.