Pets For Children: Safety, Considerations, And Pros And Cons

Children and pets, considerations on having both, safety issues, pros, and cons of an older pet versus a puppy or kitten.

Scenario One

Your loyal dog, we will call him Jed, has been with you since you moved out of your parents home. Jed was your first roommate. He shared your ice cream before you even met your current husband or wife. Soon though, baby number one was on the way. Throughout the pregnancy, Jed continued to be his ever loving self, loyal, quiet, well behaved. Then your Aunt Selma came to visit, and the first words out of her mouth were, "You're not keeping that dog in the house after the baby is born, are you?" You have not even thought about it. He is, after all, a member of the family, more so than even Aunt Selma is!

Decisions, Decisions

Before this decision is made, there is one main rule that must be followed. No matter how much you trust a pet, no matter how loyal, friendly, well behaved"¦Never! I will repeat, Never, leave a pet with a child unattended. No matter how long you have owned your pet, it is still an animal, and you can never be sure how an animal will react around kids. This applies to infants, toddlers, and even older youngsters. Until a child is old enough to be trusted with other responsibilities, a pet should not be a test to the fact. Even a totally trusting dog or cat, through his own instinct to be curious, may upon approaching an infant, be tugged at or poked unintentionally, and scratch, nip or even bite, without really meaning to. Once a child is hurt, it is too late to reflect on what should have been done beforehand to prevent such a tragedy. Another way to look at it is to think of your pet as a two-year-old child. You would never dream of leaving a two-year-old alone with an infant, would you? Surely not!

This does not mean that you must throw Jed out to the wild, either. Follow the main rule; give space to your pet, literally. If he does not have a corner or blanket that is specifically his, arrange it so he does. As your baby grows, make sure that your pet's space is respected. Also give him as much attention as you always have, maybe a bit extra even. Dogs and cats are a lot like kids, and can and do become jealous. Try not to give them anything to be jealous of. As your child grows, allow supervised interaction and over time, your pet will accept this new member into "˜his' family.

Scenario Two

Your baby is now a toddler. You always dreamed of having a family and this picture never seemed complete without at least one dog and cat in the background, someone for your child to play with, to throw a ball to, to cuddle up with. While this can be a reality, all the same precautions I already listed need to be considered, plus several others. Are you bringing a puppy or kitten or an older animal into the family? Each has it's own distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Kittens and Puppies

Animals by nature are playful when young. They will jump, scratch, bite, chew, pee, and all the other fun things baby animals do. Bark all night, whine, cry if bored. Not to mention that their bones and muscles are still developing and they are awkward when running and jumping. What does all this have to do with your child? A toddler that may enjoy holding and petting a soft puppy, will also drop, pull, tug at, and step on same puppy. Your child should be old enough to understand that this is a living creature, with feelings and emotions. Toddler's toys can be a hazard to a kitten or puppy. I have seen a puppy swallow completely a building block. A tiny kitten can appear to be of no harm to a child, but when hugged a bit too hard, will react with claws and teeth bared. With cats, you will also have a litter box to contend with. Toddlers will put everything in their mouths, and I mean everything.

Older Animals

Unless you know the animal's history, you have no way of knowing what may spark aggression in an animal. Many pets end up in shelters because they nipped innocently at someone, or the owner just became bored with his or her new pet. Many pets end up in a shelter after being abused. Through no fault of the animal, they may now react to different things, like noise or fast movement, with aggression or being startled to a point that would be unsafe to a child. No matter how negative this all sounds it all needs to be considered before adopting one of these animals. What if you know the animal, say elderly Aunt Selma is moving to a nursing home, and can not bring her beloved cat? This cat has never been aggressive, but has it ever been dragged by it's tail by a three year old trying to make it play tea party? Try to think ahead and consider both the child and animal's side before bringing the two together.

Can I Safely Have a Pet and a Child?

Yes, as long as you are willing and able to protect each from the other. This means adequate space for both, time for both, and a willingness to work at it. Having a pet is not something to take lightly. Having a child is even more of a consideration. Having both really does take a lot of work, and if you are not willing to put time and effort forth, then do not do it! If you decide that yes, you do want both, then take your time in choosing a pet, or if one is already in residence, then take your time in introducing them, and do not expect them to love each other, just because you love both of them!

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