Best Pet for Special Needs Child

Growing up with a pet has shown to have many benefits for children, including showing them responsibility and teaching them how to show kindness to other living things.

There are so many options for getting a family pet: cat, dog, bird, rabbit, lizard, fish, and on and on. The kind of pet a family gets usually depends on their lifestyle and preference towards the level of care needed and the kinds of animals they want to have in the house.

When you have a child, or children, who has special needs getting a pet may not be as simple as the kind of food the pet will need or how much activity and interaction they need.

Picking out a pet that will work well with your child’s specific needs can take a while to do, and since there could be some very specific circumstances it makes sense you will want to make sure it will work out in your home.

If you’re searching for a pet for therapeutic reasons for your child with special needs, here are a few things to consider for each kind of pet.


We all love the four-legged family members with their wagging tails and wet noses. They really are our best friends and are always there for a good game of fetch or cuddling up on the couch.

While many people love dogs, they are not always the best option for everyone. There are benefits and drawbacks to getting a dog, like any pet. Here are a few things you’ll need to consider to help determine if a dog is right for your family.


Dogs are known, for the most part, to love people and be very sociable as well as being trainable to suit the needs of your child and the rest of your family.

Breed options

There are many different breeds of dogs out there, and each breed can be known to have different traits that make them desirable for certain needs.

For example, if your child has epilepsy retrievers and labs have been known to be easily trained to detect when your child is about to have a seizure so they can alert you accordingly.

Kid with special needs playing with her dog

If your child has a condition, you may want to do some research as to whether there’s a specific breed that may be better suited for your family. If interested, you can learn more what is the best dog for special needs child.

Exercise for the family

Dogs need to be walked daily, and sometimes twice daily. Getting a dog can encourage your family to get a little more regular exercise and you can get out for family walks together.

Care requirements

The care for dogs can be a much larger commitment than for other animals. Some dogs, depending on their breed, require regular grooming and hair trimming. They also require regular veterinary checkups and vaccines – so there could be a large financial component to having a dog.

Allergies in the family

Many dog foods could have traces of eggs, nuts, and dairy in them. If anyone in your family has a severe allergy to these foods they could have a major reaction to the dog food being in your house.

You can, of course, find foods that do not have specific allergens in them but that food will come at a cost so that is something to keep in mind.

Resource guarding

Not all dogs, but some dogs do not like to be disturbed while eating or sleeping. Kids who grow up with dogs usually have learned to give their dog the appropriate space when doing these things.

If your child with special needs doesn’t exactly understand or cannot grasp that they need to give a dog space when doing these activities you may want to reconsider getting the dog.

Dogs may snap if they are disturbed and children with special needs may not know how to interpret that. Give some thought to your child’s needs and abilities before bringing a dog into your home.


While cats are not exactly the same as for dogs in terms of needs or the kind of pet they will be, they are still a great family pet to have.

Many cats are social with their families and like people around their people, playing with toys and chasing them around. Getting a cat might be a great option for a family that cannot provide the level of commitment a dog requires.

Kids playing with their cat

Easy cleanup

When compared to dogs, cats are pretty easy to clean up after. They have a designated litter box in the house where they will do their business and it will need to be cleaned out a couple of times a week (likely).

This could double as introducing your children to chores by making it their job to clean out the litter box.


Dogs, when they bark, can be really loud – especially if you get a larger breed dog. Cats are relatively quiet animals, aside from some meowing once in a while.

This can be a major benefit if your child with special needs is sensitive to sudden, loud noises. They will still be able to have a companion animal without being scared with the barking or on alert all the time that it’s going to happen.


Cats are known to spend upwards of 70% of their day sleeping and lounging around, with very little playtime.

If your family is looking for a pet that will always want to play and chase around the kids in the backyard then a cat is definitely not the option for your family. They may not be near as involved with their family as dogs are, and definitely not as playful.


Many people are allergic to cat hair and dander, so you will need to check to see if anyone in your family is allergic to cat hair.

Additionally, like dog food, a lot of cat food will have peanuts, dairy, and egg products in them so anyone with an allergy to these food products could have a problem with bringing them into the house.


Watching a fish tank can keep almost anyone occupied for hours: the colours, swimming effortlessly through the water and interact with each other. There are definitely some positives to choosing fish as a pet for a child with special needs, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.

Kid playing with her pet fish

No allergies

For those with allergies to pet hair and dander, it might feel like they will never be able to have a pet. Fish will not stir up any allergies so they are a great pet for those with them.

Easy for small spaces

If you live in an apartment, or just a house that’s too small for any other pet, a fish tank can fit perfectly into small spaces. They are available in multiple sizes so you can pick the one that best suits your space.

Lots of maintenance

Aside from the fact that fish are great for those with allergies, the maintenance requirements are pretty high with having fish. The tank needs to be cleaned regularly and some fish have very specific needs when it comes to the water levels and temperatures.


Fish require quite a bit of equipment, so there could be a lot of money needed at the outset of getting fish. There is also quite a steep learning curve in terms of figuring out how to care for the fish.

Additionally, the regular maintenance for the tank may require you to purchase specific items and those can definitely add up over time.

Not good for all children

If your child with special needs is hyperactive or displays destructive behaviors then it is possible they could knock over the tank – causing the fish to die and make a big mess everywhere.

Fish can require delicate care and sometimes young children just don’t have the patience for it.

Can’t play with them

Many children think of a pet as an animal they can hold and play with – at least a little bit. Fish are pets that are more for looking at an observing rather than playing with.

Your kids may want a pet they can spend time with and play with, which fish will not work for them. This means your kids may get bored with the fish really quickly when they can’t do anything except watch the tank.

Wrap Up

Getting a pet for your children is a really exciting time for the whole family. A pet can help teach your children patience and responsibility, as well as how to appropriately treat another living thing.

Additionally, getting a pet for your child with special needs can give them a friend and a companion – which is especially helpful if your child has a hard time making friends or in social situations.

Pets are great for everyone as they have been shown to increase our quality of life. Before you get one, though, it’s important to look at the lifestyle of your family and determine what will work best for everyone involved.

Once you know what you can realistically do, you’ll have a great time discussing the options with your children and everyone can help pick out your family’s new pet!