Are Your Pets Training You to Be a Better Parent?

Published: 6/28/2021

In May 2021, a study from AskVet revealed that 1 in 3 Americans believe that their pet is training them to be a better parent. The survey collected responses from 2,000 American pet parents and raised one very interesting question: Does raising pets help make you better at raising kids?

As far as we’re concerned, being a pet parent can go some way towards preparing you for the rigors of raising children — we’ll go into the specifics of why that’s the case in a minute. At the same time, if you’ve successfully cared for and nurtured a four-legged family member, please don’t assume that having kids will be a walk in the park. It won’t. 

But first, let’s take a closer look at the ways pets can help you be a better parent.

Pets teach you about responsibility

You’re responsible for every aspect of your fur-baby’s care — food, shelter, health care, and so on. Realizing that you have complete responsibility for another living creature can be a slightly daunting prospect at first, but you know you have to step up to give your pet a chance at the best possible life.

As newborns, kids are even more dependent on us than pets. You’ll have to do literally everything for your kids, and not just for a few weeks but for a very long time. It’s a big and sometimes overwhelming job, but it’s worth it.

Pets teach you to put others first

The result of this responsibility is that your own needs and wants will no longer always win out. Quite simply, sometimes you’ll have to put your pet first — it may be cold and rainy outside and you don’t want to leave the couch, but if your dog needs to be walked, then this takes priority over your own comfort.

And when you have kids, your own needs never come first. Raising a pet is a good way to start getting used to the idea that the world doesn’t revolve around you.

Pets teach you about sleep deprivation

Whether your cat has the “midnight crazies” or your puppy is struggling to settle into their new home, welcoming a pet into your home means you won’t always get a perfect night’s sleep. Particularly if you’re raising a puppy or kitten, or an adopted pet who’s taking a while to adjust to their new surroundings, you’ll soon get used to the idea of disrupted sleep.

Of course, once you bring your newborn home from the hospital, that’s when you learn what sleep deprivation is well and truly like. And then a lack of sleep becomes a part of your life for the foreseeable future.

Pets can be expensive

From collars and bedding to food and vet bills, raising a pet isn’t cheap. Pets aren’t anywhere near as expensive as kids, of course, but first-time pet parents can be quite surprised to find out just how much it costs to look after their fur-baby.

So spending a big chunk of your paycheck on your dog or cat rather than yourself is good practice for when kids start to put a drain on your finances.

Pets can cause you a whole lot of worry

Pets can bring so much joy into your lives, but another emotion you’re sure to become familiar with is worry. It’s a strange feeling the first time your dog or cat gets sick and you don’t know what’s wrong with them. Before you know it, you start imagining worst-case scenarios about your pet being struck down by some life-threatening ailment.

And when you have kids, there is quite literally always something to worry about. From health and behavior issues to stressing about whether every decision you make is the right one for your child, it’s often a nerve-racking experience.

Raising a pet gives you an introduction to dealing with the stress and worry of parenting.

Pets need to be cleaned up after

From potty training accidents to big steaming piles of yuck, raising pets means dealing with your fair share of mess. And while it can be unpleasant, tackling these less-than-glamorous tasks will stand you in good stead for the dirty diapers, being vomited on, and general household mess that are part and parcel of raising kids.

Why raising pets is different from raising kids

While being a pet parent can help give you some idea of what it’s like to raise a child, kids are a big step up for a number of reasons. Basically, it all boils down to the fact that kids are much, much higher maintenance than pets.

Their developmental needs are much more complicated, they need constant care, and raising children is significantly more expensive. Want to duck out of your house at short notice? Maybe to do some shopping or catch a movie with a friend? When you’ve got a cat or dog, it’s a piece of cake. When you’ve got a kid, it’s just not possible.

Another key factor is simply the fact that with pets, bad times can pass much more quickly. As an example, when my dog Ruby was a puppy first settling into our home, we had maybe 4 to 6 weeks of disturbed sleep while she adapted to her new circumstances and sleeping arrangements. It was inconvenient and occasionally frustrating, sure, but it wasn’t all that long in the grand scheme of things. In comparison, my son didn’t start sleeping through the night until he was 18 months old.

So, yes, pets can help prepare you for parenthood in several important ways, and give you some level of understanding as to what it’s like to be completely responsible for another being. But raising kids is very different from raising pets. No matter how much experience you have with animals, a steep learning curve awaits every new parent. The good news is that just like it was with your fur-baby, the hard work and stress are well and truly worth it.