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Child Safety: Pets


Topic Overview

Keep pets in good health

All pets, whether they are kept indoors or outside, should be in good health, show no evidence of disease, and be friendly toward children. The following suggestions benefit your pets and may also help protect young children from both illness and injury:

  • Immunize cats and dogs, and use flea-, tick-, and worm-control programs.
  • Keep pet areas clean. Dispose of all pet waste immediately. Keep litter boxes away from children.
  • Spay or neuter your pets. It can reduce aggressive behavior.
  • Seek a veterinarian's advice immediately if your pet becomes aggressive.

Train and prepare dogs

If you have a dog, train and prepare it for contact with children. Many dogs will try to dominate children because of their small size. Also, some children aren't well-behaved around animals. These factors put children at risk for injury. The following suggestions can help prevent such problems. Some of the suggestions may also work with other pets:1

  • Teach your dog submissive behaviors, such as rolling over to show its stomach.
  • Don't play aggressive games with your dog, such as wrestling.
  • Redirect nibbling, pouncing, or swatting behaviors to toys instead of people.
  • Closely supervise all interactions between children and pets.

Pets and newborns

Be especially careful when bringing a newborn home where a pet has enjoyed "only child" status. Animals can become jealous, aggressive, and defensive about trying to protect their place in the family. Also, newborns don't act, smell, or sound human, which may confuse pets. The weak, high-pitched cry of newborns may also sound like prey to animals. Even a very loving, well-behaved pet can quickly transform into predator mode with a newborn.

Try the following to prepare your pet for sharing its home with an infant:1

Before the baby is born

  • Slowly reduce the amount of time you spend with your pet before the baby is born. This will help prevent an abrupt change in the amount of attention your pet receives.
  • If your pet is quite attached to the mother-to-be, have another family member develop a closer relationship with the animal.
  • If possible, borrow an item with a baby's scent, such as a blanket. Bring it home and allow your pet to sniff and investigate.
  • If you have friends with infants, ask them to bring their baby to your home. Watch the pet and baby at all times.
  • Carry a doll around.
  • Introduce new scents gradually, such as the lotions and other items you have for the baby.
  • Talk to your pet about the baby, using the baby's name if you chose one.
  • If possible, play recordings of baby noises, such as crying. Also turn on items such as baby monitors and swings periodically to get your pet used to new sounds.
  • Consider enrolling your pet in obedience school, and practice the techniques you learn.

After the baby is born

  • When the baby comes home for the first time, have a friend or relative stay with the baby in a different room while parents reacquaint themselves with the pet.
  • Bring your pet with you to sit next to the baby. Give the animal treats to develop positive associations with the baby.
  • Don't force your pet to be near the baby. This only causes anxiety and increases the chance of injury.
  • Don't allow your pet to sleep alone in the same room as a baby. Large pets, such as dogs, can easily overturn bassinets or disrupt a crib. Other animals, such as cats, can smother a baby.
  • Never leave a baby alone with a pet. It only takes a moment for a pet to misbehave and cause a serious injury.
  • Although extra time can be hard to come by when you have a newborn, try to spend some one-on-one time with your pet each day.

Pets and young children

Children will likely encounter pets whether or not they have them in their own home. Teach your children how to approach animals, and set rules for your children to follow when they are around a pet:

  • Don't chase pets.
  • Don't tease pets.
  • Don't bother pets while they eat, sleep, or are with their babies.
  • Always keep your face away from a pet's mouth, beak, or claws.
  • Wash your hands after touching pets or pet items.
  • Don't approach unknown dogs. Ask permission from the owner, if present, before petting the dog. Let the dog smell your hand before you pet it.

Also, teach children how to react if they are confronted with an aggressive pet. The following apply specifically to dogs, but some concepts can apply to other household pets:

  • Never scream and run. Stand still, with your hands at your sides. Avoid looking directly into the animal's eyes.
  • Keep avoiding eye contact, and slowly back away after the dog loses interest.
  • If a dog attacks, put an object between you and the animal—a coat, bike, ball, or anything that you happen to have with you.
  • If the dog makes you fall, curl into a ball with your hands over your ears, and stay still. Don't scream or roll around.
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