However, some prospective adopters have found having pets a barrier to adoption and some parents have faced the challenges of keeping a pet safe from a traumatised adopted child.

Growing up with a pet can have strong physical, emotional and educational benefits for children.

A 2002 study by Warwick University, even suggested children with pets have stronger immune systems and take less time off school for sickness. Having a cat or dog exposed children to more infections early in life, but this boosted their immune systems, so they attended school on average for an extra nine days each year to their peers.

Other research has suggested that close physical contact with a much loved pet can lower stress levels and help avoid depression.

A decision made by the whole family

The RSPCA promotes the benefits of pet-owning, but believes buying a pet should be a decision taken by the whole family. They will need to have the facilities, time, financial means and level of interest necessary for long term care. Pets can be expensive to care for, and children often lose interest, leaving the caring responsibility with the parents.

Tips on introductions

If you're an adoptive parent introducing a child to a family pet, the RSPCA gives the following advice:

'Animals may be wary of unpredictable children, and children coming from homes where there has been no pet may be scared of animals, especially dogs. Help them to understand each other and be friends.

'Make sure the child is gentle with the dog or cat and play doesn't become too boisterous. If the animal has had enough, respect that.

No matter how kind and trustworthy your pet may be, if a young child is pulling its tail or poking a finger in its eye, it may lose patience and snap. Don't put your child at risk by leaving it alone with an animal.'

They also advise parents with pets to watch out for scratches on their children, where play has become too boisterous.

Key points to teach your children are:

  • To recognise danger signals i.e. growling
  • Never to tease the pet
  • Not to approach it when eating or sleeping
  • Not to carry food near it
  • To keep their face away from the animal's claws and face
  • Loud or sudden noises will startle it

If you have any questions about how your pets might influence your adoption process, or be affected by an adoptive placement, why not visit our Forums to share your concerns: Forum