Letting children and pets play together can be a little nerve-wracking, especially if both parties are younger. Safety is the top priority for both the child and pet. Traditionally, it is more common for an animal to accidentally harm a child. However, kids can hurt pets too. They can easily antagonize a pet without knowing, causing the animal to act out.
This is mostly due to two factors. First, children are still growing, learning, and testing boundaries, coupled with still learning how to verbalize their thoughts and needs. Second, pets can’t verbalize at all, making it more difficult for them to communicate when they don’t like something, want certain behaviors to stop, or are hurting. As a guardian, you are responsible for stepping in and filling this fundamental gap to help them understand each other.
Make Sure Your New Pet Likes Kids
Keep in mind that some animals simply aren’t comfortable around children, and that’s okay. When bringing home a new pet, make sure to talk to the previous owner, shelter, or breeder to see if the animal is comfortable and well-behaved with children (especially if the pet is older). Similarly, if you already have kids and kid-friendly pets but are ready to adopt a new pet, make sure to ask if the animal is also comfortable with other animals. Bringing a pet into a home where it is uncomfortable will only increase their stress, and likely cause them to hurt someone or themselves.
Make Sure Your Kids Like Your New Pet
Sometimes, children may not be comfortable around certain animals or new pets. While it’s important to help a child become comfortable with new experiences, it’s important to remember that sometimes forcing a child to interact with an animal is not okay. Only you as the adult can make that determination.
Kids are also likely to lash out when they’re afraid. This can manifest as crying, screaming, or something physical such as pushing or hitting the animal out of fear or anxiousness. These reactions can create a bad atmosphere for the pet and since the pet is unable to understand, it can create a cycle of tension that will inevitably lead to the animal defending itself.
Train Your Pet to be Kid-Friendly
Pets, especially puppies and kittens, are typically responsive to behavior training. This will help them to be more comfortable around children. Once they’ve been trained, you can intercede with appropriate commands for the pet as well as the child. Sometimes, even pets that don’t like kids can be trained to interact safely. This is crucial, especially if there is a child that doesn’t live with you but visits often or for extended periods of time. Be sure to ask your veterinarian about training professionals near you!
Teach Kids to Play Safely with Pets
Of course, your pets are not the only ones who need training. Kids need guidance too! Young children are still learning the right way to behave around animals. Teaching them the difference between being playful vs. hurtful is imperative. Without being taught, kids will not understand that even though they think pulling on a pet’s ear is funny, that does not mean that the pet likes it.
Additionally, there are things about different breeds that need to be taught. Certain pets, like gerbils or rabbits, require special handling. When interacting with reptiles (or any pet really), they should wash their hands immediately after. Also, the windows of a fish tank should not be tapped on. It is also important to instruct kids when to leave their pets alone, such as when they’re eating, sleeping, or using the restroom.
10 Quick Tips for Kid and Pet Playtime:
- Make sure interactions are supervised, either by you or by someone who understands the importance of child-animal safety. This will enable you to intervene and redirect any poor behavior.
- Keep initial introductions between the child and the pet calm and with you in control. This will influence their behavior and enable a pleasant first interaction.
- Train your pet to not jump on new arrivals, especially children.
- Use treats to reinforce positive interactions and good behavior.
- Do not allow any roughhousing. It can be hard to know if the pet is becoming anxious or if the child is going too far. It can also be hard to ensure your pet will not get too rough during play.
- Learn the signs of anxiety and agitation in your pet (e.g., panting without exercise, growling, bared teeth, defensive postures) so you can tell when to separate your child from the animal.
- Remember that any pet can act out and harm a child through scratching and biting.
- Find ways to prevent pet toys and children’s toys from becoming confused to avoid either from becoming overly territorial.
- Make sure your pet has a safe space to retreat away from children, such as a crate or an elevated bed where the child cannot access them.
- Instruct the child(ren) the appropriate way to approach animals, and to never try to approach or touch any animal that does not belong to your family.
Hopefully, this information gives you the confidence that allows your entire family to live a safe, happy and healthy life. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to give us a call at 510-841-4412. Our veterinarians at University Veterinary Hospital proudly serve new and returning pets in the Berkeley area.