Happy Together: Pets and Your Kids

Many family pets are great with kids, and most kids love animals too! But, be sure to follow these special safety and health tips when letting your children interact with pets.

Pet or No Pet?

Mom carrying her baby down the stairs while their dog watches
  • Animals are lots of work - just like having a child! Ask yourself: do you have a big enough yard? Do you have time to train your pet? Can you afford veterinarian bills and other needs? Be sure your home and lifestyle are ready for a pet before you get one.
  • Take your time. Do some research and pick a pet that works for your family. A family dog with a calm temperament may be best for small children, while a hamster is better for older kids who can be more independently responsible. Be aware of any allergies or asthma that your children may have before choosing a pet.

Around the House

  • Keep areas that the animal sleeps, eats or lives in tidy. Make sure the animal is taking care of its business outside, or that you clean up after it immediately.
  • Have your pet checked by a veterinarian regularly and kept up to date on all shots.
  • Put food, toys, leashes and water bowls away from where small children can reach. Do not allow babies or small children to put anything the animal uses into their mouths or around their necks.
  • Always wash your hands after touching pets and before eating, and have your kids do the same.

Supervising

  • Never leave babies or young children alone with any animal, even your own family's pet. Always sit or stand close enough to protect your child and the animal from each other.
  • Babies and toddlers are exploring the world. They don't know that pulling tails and poking fingers into eyes or mouths is painful to animals. Teach them from a young age to be gentle, and to never hit or kick their pets.
  • If your child is afraid of an animal, be kind and understanding. Allow them to keep as much distance from the animal as they want.

Aggression

  • Dogs and cats are sometimes territorial about food or people. Don't allow your kids near when animals are eating. Speak to your veterinarian immediately if your pet shows any signs of aggression to children.
  • Any animal bites or scratches should be washed with soap immediately and seen by a doctor.

Neighbors and Friends

  • Teach your children how to interact with animals they don't know: no running, no petting without permission, etc.
  • When kids come to your house, ask them or their parents if they are okay with animals before letting your pet go over to them. People are often too embarrassed to admit their fear or discomfort while a friend's huge dog is jumping on them!
  • If there are aggressive dogs in your neighborhood, teach your children to stay away. Speak to the owner if you can, and if necessary inform police or animal control.

For More Information

These interactive pages from KidsHealth show kids how to be safe around their animal friends. Also available in Spanish. [go now]