Kids Safety 101
A little girl with a puppy

How to Get Children and Pets to Play Nice

For many of us, pets are an integral part of our families. But when fur babies and children collide, things can get messy. And painful. Here’s our best advice for ensuring that kids and pets get along as best friends–and not bitterest enemies.

Introducing a New Child to an Existing Pet

If you have a cat or dog in the household, bringing home a new baby can be scary for everyone. Setting boundaries and learning commands before the baby comes home can make things easier.

Your pets won’t understand what’s happening–and they especially won’t understand why you’re paying more attention to that weird hairless crying thing instead of them. Make sure to support your pet through this process.

Adding a Pet to Your Family

If you decide to get a pet (or add another animal) to a household with children, it’s vital to go over some ground rules first. Continue to reinforce those rules on a regular basis. The goal is not at all to punish the kids or make them feel scared of the pet. You’ll probably have to remind kids–especially little ones–multiple times before some of these lessons stick.

  • Always pat gently and don’t pull on ears or tails
  • Don’t go near the animal when it is eating
  • Don’t startle the animal or wake it up suddenly
  • Small pets, such as hamsters or guinea pigs, need to be treated very delicately–never grab or squeeze these little creatures
  • Always wash your hands after touching reptiles like lizards and snakes

Kids need to learn how to read the body language of the pets in your home. Cats and dogs aren’t that hard to figure out–a dog with a wagging tail is happy, while a cat with a thrashing tail is mad. Rodents and reptiles are more difficult to read; it might be best to keep a healthy distance between little kids and these pets.

Meeting Other People’s Pets

It’s one thing to form a bond with your own pets. But what about the pets that belong to neighbors, friends and family, or even strangers? Many kids, when they see a dog, want to pet it no matter the circumstances. Make sure they know to ask before petting.

Approaching strange animals with caution is always smart. Teach your kids to ask permission and then hold out their hand to let the pet sniff first. The same rules apply whether they’re at home or elsewhere–be cautious, don’t make sudden movements or grabbing motions, and pay attention to the animal’s non-verbal signals.

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Erin Long