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The pets in schools debate

There is evidence for and against schools having pets, all of which has to be taken into account when deciding whether to introduce a pet into the school environment. Here are some of the pros and cons which you should consider:

Positive aspects of having a school pet

  • Pets have been shown to help children develop social skills and learn about human behaviour, identify body language, parenting skills, social responsibility and help self esteem.
  • A pet can be used to help discuss complex and sensitive issues such as death and sex education.
  • Regular contact with animals has been shown to help children concentrate, show more cooperation and help make them calmer.
  • Studies have shown that children with pets may be healthier and are absent from school less than those without a pet.
  • Pets can help engage pupils and form the basis of projects, such as a maths project based on the cost of keeping the pet.


Negative aspects of having a school pet

  • All five welfare needs of animals must be met, no matter what the pet is. This can sometimes be difficult as classrooms can be a stressful environment for an animal.
  • Risks of injury to both pet and people exist due to incorrect handling.
  • Staff members may leave the school and finding a new home/responsible adult to care for the pet may be difficult and can lead to neglect.
  • Teaching and learning about animals can be done through relevant schools trips, inviting visitors such as animal handlers or animals charities to talk to pupils..
  • Caring for a pet can be expensive , who will pay for the day to day care and any veterinary care?
  • The pet will also need to be cared for during the holidays and the adult who bought the pet is legally responsible for providing for this animals Five Welfare Needs.


Five Welfare Needs

The five welfare needs

It is not only against the law to be cruel to animals but you must also make sure that your animals have their five welfare needs met.  If you are getting or already have a school pet it is important that your animal has all of their welfare needs met. 

The five welfare needs are in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and state that all animals need:


  • A suitable environment - pets need a suitable place to live


  • A suitable diet - pets need a balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs.


  • To be housed with, or apart from, other animals - different pet have different social needs. 


  • To exhibit normal behaviour patterns - pets should be able to behave normally.


  • To be protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease - owners and carers are responsible for their pet’s health. All pets should be checked at least once a day (twice for rabbits) for any signs of illness.


For more information on how to care for your pet, you can download our pet care leaflets.

Teacher and pupils cleaning rabbit hutch

Getting a school pet

Think carefully about what type of animal is best suited to the school environment, including time, space and resources available. Make sure you research they type of pet the school is considering.


Choice of pet

Why not get pupils involved in choosing a pet. Ask them to consider all of the needs of each type of animal and debate whether they could provide for those needs within school.

For example a social animal like a rabbit shouldn't be kept alone, so you'd need two - a neutered male and a neutered female. You would also have to provide a safe outdoor space for exercising, lots of hay to eat, care at weekends and during the holidays and cover the cover of veterinary treatments too!

Hamsters are not a good pet to have in a school, as they are nocturnal and pupils will not see an active pet. If they are woken unnaturally they can become unsettled and bite.

Guinea pigs are one of the best choices as they are awake in the day, they enjoy being handled when properly socialised and rarely bite.

PDSA has a fun online tool called Your Right Pet which helps you choose the right animal for your lifestyle. Why not use this as part of the debate? Pupils might also decide that they don't feel any animal can be properly provided for in a school environment; in this case, you could subscribe to our Pet Protectors Club and involve pupils in animal activities that way.


Buying your pet

  • We encourage the rehoming of pets rather than buying them, why not get your school pet from a rehoming centre. By rehoming a pet you can teach pupils about the importance of choosing the correct pet and how thousands of people think getting a pet is a good idea but quickly realise that they do not have the time or money to care for a pet and meet their welfare needs. This is why there are so many pet in rehoming centres or being abandoned. Pets in rehoming centres are given regular health checks, so you know that you are getting a healthy animal.


  • If you are going to buy a pet, it is important that you go to a recommended pet shop or breeder. Many pets can carry parasites and diseases, but those bought from a reputable supplier are usually bred in captivity and have regular health checks.


  • Handle the animal and have it at home for a few days before taking it into school, this allows you to become familiar with its behaviour.


Hygiene and safety

When you have a pet in school you must consider both hygiene and safety of the animal and pupils. We recommend that a risk assessment is completed before getting the pet, so that a clear action is set out incase of allergic reactions and any injuries that may occur. You must also think about the following points: 

  • Ensure that pupils and adults wash their hands thoroughly after handling or cleaning out the pet. 
  • All animals can bite, peck or scratch when handled, it is important that pupils are taught to handle the pet gently to avoid stressing the pet.
  • The cage/pen/hutch of the pet must be kept clean at all times.
  • Make sure that the animal is secure and cannot escape.

*The symbols featured are subject to Crown Copyright protection and are reproduced with the permission of the Welsh ministers.


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Choosing 'Your Right Pet' is the most important decision a new pet owner can make.

Use our online tool to find out which animal might be the right pet for you.

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