How to keep your child safe around pets and animals

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Children are ingrained to love animals. They are the main characters of bedtime stories, movies and cartoons. They are drawn to their soft fur or their playfulness. With this interest comes the need to teach your child how to approach animals and how to be respectful of the animal in order to keep the child and the animal safe. Many babies are born into homes that already have pets, so by starting young, you will be able to start good habits at home. Here are a few tips to get started on pet & child safety in your home.

Approaching an animal

A child should always approach an animal quietly and with a calm demeanor so they do not startle the animal. For example, have your child gently approach your dog. Allow the dog to sniff her hands and let the animal welcome her attention. The child should never reach for the dog's face or muzzle, but softly pet the animal's back. Never let a child approach a strange animal without the owner's permission; this includes reaching through a fence or cage to pet a restrained animal. Children should keep their faces and hands away from the animal's face. Remind children not to yell, scream, or shout at animals. Try to help them understand how they would be upset if someone just ran up to them shouting and trying to touch them. Correct your child if she tries to pull the animal's limbs, tail, or ears.

Let your child help with pet care

Many animals become aggressive when food is put out, so make sure your pet's feeding space is clear of crawling babies or roaming children. Once your child is old enough to help out and while under adult supervision, let her fill food or water dishes. Teaching your child to care for her pet will create a bonding experience for them both. If you have a dog, take your dog and child on walks together. As she gets older, teach her how to properly hold the leash. Let your child tag along on trips to the veterinarian; help her understand that your pet has to go to the doctor for check ups just like her.

Make sure your pets are up to date on their shots, as well as heart worm, flea and tick prevention medication. Avoid using flea collars and sprays because they can irritate sensitive noses and lungs of your pet and your child.

Take your pet and child to a pet-friendly store to pick out treats and toys. Making them feel included will help your child love and appreciate her pet. Show her that with love and respect, we allow animals to be extensions of our families. They deserve to be just as comfortable and protected as the other members of the family.

Show safe play methods

Children should not taunt or tease any animal; this includes while playing with their own pet and the pet's toys. Playing fetch means you or the child throws the toy and the pet retrieves it. You repeat this until the animal is no longer interested. This doesn't mean take the toy and hide it, or take the toy and put it out of the animal's reach. You don't want your pet to jump, nip, growl, or bite at your child, so don't give them a reason to.

Gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, and other small creatures can enjoy toys in their cages or enjoy being held and running up the child's hands. Make sure your child knows how to pick them up gently and not to squeeze them.

Specialty pets like snakes, lizards, turtles, and birds require more supervision, and children should be taught how to care and respect these creatures just like you would with a dog or cat.

Use common sense

You are the adult, and you must be the example for your children. Teach them good habits around your pets, and back up your guidance with action. You know the temperament of your pet and can guide your child on how to interact with the animal.

If you find that you have an extremely aggressive pet that just does not get along with your kids, you will need to seek professional help for training and socialization.

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