We all know how pets can enhance our lives and bring more love and joy into any home. However, even the most docile dog or cat can bring tears to a small child’s eyes if the interaction is not supervised and managed correctly. It’s crucial that children learn how to properly approach a new puppy, kitten or older dog or cat.
So before you bring a new pet into your home, it’s important to prepare your kids, your home and yourself to make sure your household remains happy and stress-free.
Here is some advice:
1. Supervise interaction between pets and children
It’s not wise to leave babies or small children alone with a new pet. Kittens and even older cats can play rough. Scratching and biting during play is how they interacted with their kitten siblings, and they will tend to do the same with a young child who extends their hand unknowingly.
Puppies need time to grow, develop and learn good behavior through positive training techniques. Children need to be instructed on how to properly approach a dog, read its body language, and pet the dog appropriately.
As a general guideline, most young children under 5 years old should not be left alone with a new pet. Older children need to prove they know how to be gentle and follow the petting and play rules before left alone with the pet.
2. The pet needs time to adjust too
Introducing a pet to its new surroundings and allowing it to feel secure and comfortable may take a little time. The excitement the children display over the new pet might cause the animal stress.
Kittens and older cats might hide in a closet or under the bed at first. This is normal for that pet, so don’t be alarmed. Let the pet adjust, and ask the children to cooperate by leaving it alone until it comes around on its own.
Puppies are different. They require lots of stimulation and new sights and sounds to mature properly. Be sure to supervise all interactions with a new puppy so neither the dog or child gets hurt. Older dogs may need additional training, so take it slow with the children until you understand the character of the dog and how it reacts to people, young and old.
3. Let the kids pitch in to help
If the child is old enough, it’s not a bad idea to assign some pet care activities such as replenishing the water bowl or changing the pet’s bedding. Help your child become part of the experience and learn responsibility in properly caring for the pet.
Leave the litter box cleaning and poop scooping to adults, however. Animal feces sometimes have intestinal parasites like roundworms, hookworms and whipworms. It’s important to wash hands thoroughly, and young children may be more careless.
4. Both pets and kids need rules to live by
Before you bring your new pet home, have a clear idea of where the animal is permitted to eat, sleep and play. Cats love to jump on counters and climb curtains. Puppies will want to explore all areas of the home and find lots of household or clothing items to chew. It’s important to supervise young pets and learn their behavior patterns and compensate with toys, scratching posts and proper sleeping areas if you don’t want your favorite couch or shoes ruined.
Children need to be taught when to approach a pet and when to leave it alone. A sleeping canine is best left sleeping rather than aroused suddenly by an excited child who might actually frighten the pet and cause it to react aggressively. Teach children to ask permission to interact with the pet, and assist them with them play activities.
5. Pets are life-long commitments
Many pets land right back in shelters where they came from because the new family was not able to integrate the pet into their lifestyle. Do your research beforehand. Let your veterinarian or shelter personnel help you determine the best breed and age of animal to introduce into your home.
If you do experience issues, consult your veterinarian and explain the problems. So often minor adjustments can be made in the home regarding the animal that solve the issue without ever giving the animal back to the shelter or another home. A pet’s first wellness visit will even determine if there is any underlying medical issue that needs addressed that can cause behavioral issues.
Spend some time helping your children learn about the pet. Offer them books and other reading material that you can read together and discuss.
Many local 4-H groups exist that parents and children can take part in to help them learn more about pet care and even demonstrate their ability at local fairs and activity centers.
Let the new pet become a true member of your family that you will enjoy sharing experiences with for years to come.
Dr. Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital