Child Safety: Pets
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.
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 things put children at risk for injury. To help prevent such problems with dogs and other pets, you can:footnote 1
- Redirect nibbling, pouncing, or swatting behaviors to toys instead of people.
- Get your pet accustomed to nail trims.
- 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:footnote 1
Before the baby is born
- Talk with your veterinarian or pediatrician if the thought of your newborn being around your pet makes you uneasy.
- 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.
- Train your pet to remain calmly on the floor beside you until you invite him or her on your lap.
- 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.
- 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
- Before your pet meets your baby, have someone you know take an item with the baby’s scent (such as a blanket) to your pet. Have your pet sniff and check out the item before he or she is in the room with your baby.
- 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.
- 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.
- To help reduce the risk of fur or dander bothering your baby’s airways, you can keep your pet out of your baby’s sleeping area. When you play with your baby on the floor, place your baby on a clean blanket or mat to help keep dust, carpet fibers, fur, and dander away.
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 example:footnote 2, footnote 3
- Don’t tease pets.
- Don’t bother pets while they eat, sleep, or are with their babies.
- Wash your hands after touching pets or pet items.
- Don’t pet unknown dogs or cats.
- If you have reptiles, amphibians, rodents, ferrets, or baby chicks or ducklings as pets, don’t let these pets roam freely. Keep them away from your kitchen or other food-preparation areas. And don’t allow your child younger than 5 to be around these animals at all. This can help prevent infection, injury, and allergic reactions.
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.
- Humane Society of the United States (2010). Introducing your pet and new baby. Available online: http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/pets_babies.html.
- American Academy of Pediatrics (2012). Safety around animals. Available online: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/Pages/Safety-Around-Animals.aspx.
- Pickering LK, et al. (2008, reaffirmed 2011). Exposure to nontraditional pets at home and to animals in public settings: Risks to children. Pediatrics, 122(4): 876–886.
Current as of: December 12, 2018
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:John Pope, MD, MPH – Pediatrics & Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine