Pets and Toddlers

Jan 11, 2021   Tracey Aston   Pet Safety

Toddlers are inquisitive, energetic and ready to take on the world! They are learning, growing and exploring their way to childhood and while these traits are developmentally where a toddler needs to be, it often feels like parents need an extra pair of eyes and hands! This is especially true when a toddler is learning how to interact with a family pet.

As with all children, NEVER leave a toddler alone with a pet. Many consider pets to be family and trust them as such but no dog is exempt from biting and there is never zero chance a cat will scratch.  In fact, most dog bites in the US are with family pets and children. Toddlers should be actively supervised while interacting with any family pet.  Bites can happen in a second and passive supervision, only being in the same room as the toddler and pet, won't leave a parent enough time to intervene if a pet should react.

First and foremost, toddlers should be taught how to respect the family pet.  This means never let a toddler smack, kick, or punch a pet, pull a pet's ears, tail or paws, don't allow them to pick up a pet, stand on a pet or attempt to ride on their backs. Doing so is not only dangerous for the toddler should the dog react, it can injure the pet as well. Often, toddlers simply don't know their own growing strength and will pet too hard. Show a toddler the appropriate amount of pressure by taking their hand and gently stroking your pet and telling the toddler ‘easy' and stroking the pet from shoulders to tail. 

Nothing rivals a good toddler energy burst, but jumping, screaming and running around a pet can cause a pet react in a stressful way. Especially if the pet is nervous or thinks the unsteady toddler may fall on them or if a dog is prey driven and tries to chase. Even if the pet doesn't react negatively, an excited large down can easily knock down and trample a small child without even trying to harm them.  Toddlers should always be taught to calmly approach a family pet, without screaming, shrieking or bouncing in excitement and gently stroke a pet's head. Teach a toddler to never sneak up on a dog, as a frightened dog is more likely to react. Never allow a toddler to approach a sleeping dog or a senior with hearing issues from the side.

Pets and toddlers share space but they shouldn't share toys. Toddlers still like to put things in their mouths and should be taught not to play with the pet's toys. There are many reasons for this - the most important is the health risks of putting an unsanitary toy in their mouths. Second, many pet toys are choking hazards for toddlers and could cause a life threatening situation for the toddler. Lastly, some pets could be possessive of their toys and see the toddler as trying to take something that is theirs.  Both toddlers and pet should have a toy box or special area for their toys to be kept separate.

The world is a playground for toddlers but that playground shouldn't include the area where a pet eats and drinks. Never allow a toddler to play in the pet's water bowl or food dish at any time. If the pet is eating or drinking, actively keep a toddler away from the pet's eating area and this is an extremely high risk situation for a bite to occur.

Even in the best of situations, toddlers and pets will need to spent time apart. Make sure both the toddler and the pet have a secure, safe space of their own to decompress. Don't allow a toddler to enter a dog's crate or poke a dog through the crate or shake a cat tree with a sleeping kitty. If a toddler is playing with their toys in their room or a nursery, a baby gate can be put up to keep a curious pet from entering.

Toddlers and pets can grow to be best friends and share many great experiences together, and often a pet will be a child's first best friend. If a few important steps are followed, the safety of both toddler and pet can be greatly increased and the foundation will be laid for a wonderful friendship! 

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