Toddlers and pets: are they compatible?
To be honest, when I was a little child it was known among our neighbors that I was mean to animals.
Although I don’t remember it, I was told I tried to shove dirt clods down cat’s throats (how I managed without scratches is yet a mystery), put a kitten in a garbage can, hid the neighbor’s cat in my top dresser drawer among my underwear so I could swing it around by the tail before bed, and even put our dog Spot in the dryer. That one I do remember, barely, and the only emotion I recall was one of genuine curiosity.
All of this, and I cringe as I write it, is a good example of what can and most often does happen when young children are left unsupervised with pets. Fortunately I was never hurt, but the reality is, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately half of all children 12 and under will be bitten by a dog each year. This is generally due to unintentional provoking and most often with the family dog. Dog bite injuries are the second most frequent cause of visits to the emergency room for children, according the the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission. Cat injuries, which are very infectious, are common to the face, scalp and hands as well.
My nearly 2 year old grandson, Pax, loves to play with Eva, my golden labrador. She is a gentle soul and very maternal, but Pax is bursting with curiosity and I’ve found him poking her eyes, pulling her tail and stepping on her face while she was sleeping. He doesn’t yet understand the connection between action and consequences. What he does need right now is supervision to make sure no one gets hurt.
Here is my list of 5 important things to consider before bringing a pet home to a toddler.
- Little kids and pets will need to be monitored at all times. Never leave them along together.
- Toddlers are not yet able to be responsible for a pet. The reality is, you will have to take on this new commitment.
- Toddlers are naturally curious and don’t quite grasp the idea that they can hurt the pet. You will need to teach them how to touch and handle it. No teasing, pulling ears and tails, no bothering them when they are eating or sleeping.
- A dog needs daily exercise. You will need to make sure to walk it or exercise it.
- Toddlers are not yet strong enough or wise enough to protect themselves. Never let the pet sleep with them.
Lisa Edwards states in her book, Please Don’t Bite the Baby (and Please Don’t Chase the Dogs): Keeping Our Kids and Our Dogs Safe and Happy Together “It’s hard to tell parents that their baby is tormenting their dog, and it is even harder to help people realize that they and their child have contributed to their dog’s dangerous behavior.”
There are many more things to consider. Who will feed the pet, change the litter box, clean up after them, and so on. A pet in the family can provide years of fun, comfort and wonderful camaraderie. Be sure you are informed on everything that bringing a pet home entails before you make the decision.
Pets can be a wonderful addition to the family and a comforting friend to a child for years to come. Before you bring a pet home, be sure to acknowledge the importance of supervision at all times with young children. When an adult is supervising, the pet is less likely to show any aggression toward your child. But also, this is an opportunity to instruct them how to treat the pet with gentle kindness. It is so vital to do a reality check and consider if you are willing to care for the pet as it will fall with you for the most part. As the child gets older, they can learn to do some, or most, of the care-taking.