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Children and Pets

Whether you live with children of any age, or have them over as guests in your home, it is important to know several things. Many interactions between children and animals can be heart-warming and joyful. However, some interactions between children and animals can turn into a dangerous situation, for both parties involved.

Children are at higher risk of scratches, bites, and other physical injury for many reasons. In the eyes of an animal, children do a variety of things that can be startling or perceived as threatening. They can be unpredictable, loud, rough with their handling, awkward in their movements, stare directly into an animal’s eyes, and may encroach upon a dog or cat who is trying to protect a valuable resource (food, toys, bones, safe space, and even other people). On top of this, children have a harder time reading animal body language. They do not see the smaller queues of stress and fear until it escalates to a more aggressive gesture, sure as a scratch or a bite.

Our pets can also receive injury from the people around them, children in particular. Children may be too rough with them, trip over them, step on them, slap at them, poke at them, feed them something potentially toxic, provide them access to escape the home or property, or even place them in unsafe areas.

So with all of this in mind, the goal would be to prevent negative interactions between children and animals. Become more trained in animal body language so if even a child cannot detect a threatened animal, you can detect it and intervene. Here is a website that provides some great posters to illustrate pet body language and see below for another great visual regarding this topic. If you know an animal well, and already know that they are stressed or fearful around children, keeping them physically separated is the best choice. If you don’t know an animal well, once again your best course of action when children are involved, is to keep them away. One cannot expect babies and toddlers to know how to appropriately approach and interact with animals. Direct supervision needs to be done at all times. But even starting at a young age, you can serve as a good role model with your own animal interactions and continually talk with kids about animal body language and a non-threatening approach.


Contributed by:

Dr. Jen Seidl

Grand Avenue Veterinary Center