Happy Together: Pets and Your Kids

Many family pets are great with kids, and most kids love animals, too! Most animals are friendly, but sometimes bites and scratches happen. Whether it is a family pet, a stray animal, or an animal at a “petting zoo,” it is important to teach your kids how to be safe around animals.

Pet or No Pet?

Mom carrying her baby down the stairs while their dog watches

Animals are a lot of work. They require a lot of care and attention. Before bringing a pet into your home, ask yourself: Do I have enough space for a pet? Do I have time to train a pet? Is everyone in the house ready for a pet? Can I afford veterinarian bills and other needs? Consider anyone in your home that may have allergies or asthma. Be sure your home and lifestyle are ready for a pet before you get one.

Remember to 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 children who can be more independently responsible.

If you do decide to bring a pet home, here are some things to consider:

  • Keep areas that the animal sleeps, eats or lives in tidy. Clean up after your pet regularly.
  • Have your pet checked by a veterinarian regularly and keep up to date on all shots.
  • Put food, leashes and water bowls away from where small children can reach.
  • Teach children not to disturb a pet while it is eating or sleeping.
  • Bites tend to happen if an animal is teased, hurt or played with too roughly. Always supervise babies and young children. Teach them from a young age to be gentle, and to never hit or kick animals.
  • Wash your hands after touching pets and before eating, and have your children do the same.

Safety

Any animal bites or scratches should be washed with soap immediately and seen by a doctor the same day.

Teach your children how to interact with animals they don't know. Never pet an unfamiliar animal and if the owner is present, always ask permission before.

If your child is afraid of an animal, be kind and understanding. Don’t force an interaction and allow them to keep as much distance from the animal as they want.

When friends come to your house, make sure they are comfortable with your pet. If not, keep your pet in a separate room or outside until they leave.

If your child is approached by a dog off-leash, teach them not to run. Instead they should avoid eye contact and slowly back away. If on a bike, the child should get off the bike and place the bike between himself and the dog and stand still. The dog should lose interest and move away.

For More Information

KidsHealth and the AAP’s Healthy Children site have more great tips. Also available in Spanish.