Growing Reader

How to Pet Your Pet: 8 Books That Show Kids How to Treat Animals

by Jennifer Ridgway

The Forgotten Rabbit by Nancy Furstinger; Oh Theodore! by Susan Katz; What Pet Should I Get? by Dr. Seuss; Let's Get a Pup! Said Kate by Bob Graham

After being without a pet for seven months, we recently decided to adopt a new rescue cat. We had two cats when our twins were born, but Tux passed before they were one, and Padiddle passed earlier this year. Our kids love animals, but I wanted to find books that explained, in kid-friendly language, what having a pet means, how our new cat, Larry, would (and would not) like to be treated, and what it means to take care of him.

If you are looking to adopt a new animal or just want to teach your kids about pets and pet care, below are some books to get you started. And don’t worry, I included animals other than cats!

  • Tails Are Not for Pulling

    by Elizabeth Verdick, illustrated by Marieka Heinlen

    Part of the award-winning Best Behavior series, Verdick’s book about how young kids and pets can get along won the ASPCA’s Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award. With the series’ signature bold illustrations, it shows what pets like (gentle scratches, nuzzling) and don’t like (pulling tails, squeezing). It also includes tips for caregivers and parents on how to share the book with kids and how to help teach them to treat animals kindly.

  • May I Pet Your Dog?

    by Stephanie Calmenson, illustrated by Jan Ormerod

    A great book for any child who encounters dogs out and about, Calmenson helps teach the proper way to approach dogs (or when not to), starting by asking the owner, “May I pet your dog?” Written in straightforward, easy to understand language, it is not a story, but it imparts valuable information.

  • What Pet Should I Get?

    by Dr. Seuss

    The newest addition to the Dr. Seuss library shows how it can be difficult to choose a pet and make decisions. With Seuss’s signature fun rhymes and language, this is perfect for any child. It also includes a note about Seuss’s own pets.

  • How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Cats?

    by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague

    We’ve had this book since the twins were little. Part of the How Do Dinosaur series, it shows how not to treat a kitty using silly questions, and follows it up with the proper behavior. I like that it offers ‘what not to do’ in addition to ‘what to do.’ All the titles in this series feature actual dinosaur species along with the species name subtly written in the illustrations. (There is also a dog version available too.)

  • Let’s Get a Pup! Said Kate

    by Bob Graham

    After Kate’s cat dies, she convinces her parents to get a dog. Graham’s book celebrates the idea of rescuing an animal and the idea that the pet chooses you, as Kate wants a puppy but falls in love with an older dog.

  • Oh, Theodore!

    by Susan Katz, illustrated by Stacey Schuett

    Guinea pigs are popular pets both in homes and in classrooms. Katz’s book about Theodore, a guinea pig, is written as a series of poems and reveals what it takes to take care of Theodore (feeding, cleaning his cage, giving him exercise) as well as learning how to become friends with the new pet.

  • The Forgotten Rabbit

    by Nancy Furstinger, illustrated by Nancy Lane

    With beautiful illustrations, this book shows the importance of caring for our pets and not neglecting them. After a rabbit is neglected by its family, a little girl comes along to rescue it, caring for it, and showing it love.

  • Sparky!

    by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Chris Appelhans

    While I in no way advocate getting a sloth as a pet, this is a very sweet book about accepting our pets for what they are, rather than what we want them to be.

Looking to add a four-legged member to your family? Consult these additional pet adoption resources for more information:

  • The ASPCA, a non-profit that has been preventing cruelty to animals since 1866, is a fantastic resource for your basic adoption questions. With tips on choosing the right animal and caring for new pets, the organization’s adoption site is a must-read before your family takes the next step.
  • Petfinder is an online database of animals that need homes in North America. Families can easily search for all kinds of adoptable critters at shelters by zip code — including dogs, cats, rodents, and amphibians. Just make sure to set aside time to meet them all in person! (If you want to skip the online search and head straight to the shelter, Petfinder has an extensive list of local animal welfare groups here.)
  • AdoptAPet is another online pet adoption database that you can cross-reference with Petfinder in the search for available shelter animals.
  • More mobile-inclined? Then try BarkBuddy, an app that connects you with cute pups that need a home. Download the Tinder-like app in the iTunes store here.