While pets and children often become the best of friends, miscommunication can result in bites and scratches. Remember that we speak a different language than our canine and feline companions, and what we may think is acceptable actually may be unpleasant behavior for pets. Learn how to keep your child safe around pets as our team at Driftwood Animal Hospital explains the truth behind common myths about interactions between kids and animals.

Myth: My dog loves my toddler because they give kisses all the time

Fact: Canine behavior is not always what it seems, especially when it comes to giving “kisses.” Although the sight of your dog lapping at your child’s face may seem adorable, it actually can be a picture of impending danger. Licking is often a sign of anxiety displacement in dogs and is a plea for the child to go away.

Another commonly misinterpreted canine behavior is a wagging tail. Many people believe a tail wag always indicates a happy, friendly dog, but the tail can say a lot of different things. For example, tail wags that can mean your dog is uncomfortable, hesitant, or warning off someone include:

  • A high, rapid tail wag paired with stiff body posture
  • A low, slow tail wag paired with a sunken or crouched body posture
  • A high, rapid, narrow tail wag paired with a forward-leaning body posture 

Learning how to correctly interpret your pet’s body language is key to preventing miscommunication mishaps that can result in a bite or scratch.

Myth: My child knows how to be gentle with animals, so I don’t have to watch them

Fact: While you may appreciate gentle, affectionate gestures from your child, your pet does not speak the same language when it comes to hugging, petting, and kissing. If your child approaches your pet head on and begins petting their face, this can trigger a bite because this action can be seen as threatening. Hugging—or being restrained against their will—and kissing a pet also can provoke fearful aggression, despite these being kind actions in the human world.

To keep your child safe when playing with pets, oversee every interaction between the two, regardless of how gentle your child is. Instruct your child on the safe ways to pet an animal, and teach them how to interpret their pet’s body language so they know when their furry pal is  done with being petted.

Myth: My child feeds our pets, so they have a positive association with children

Fact: A child feeding a pet certainly can form a positive association, but it also can cause stress and anxiety in the pet. Cats and dogs can be motivated by food, powerfully enough to overcome their fear of a child. As the pet moves to the food bowl or to take a treat, they may “come to their senses” after eating and act upon their fears when they find themselves close to the child with no tasty distraction.

Pets can be inclined to guard their resources and become food aggressive, so having your child feed your pet or hold treats in their hand can be a dangerous interaction. Instead, have your child toss your pet a treat and help fill the food bowl when your furry pal is out of the room.

Myth: Only certain breeds are known to bite

Fact: Any pet of any breed can bite. Despite their inclusion in our families, pets are animals and will react accordingly when they feel threatened, scared, or stressed. Certain breeds can be prone to anxiety and may be more nervous around children, but they may do well with your family. When bringing a pet into your home, do your research to determine what breed will best fit with your family structure and lifestyle, then practice safe interaction techniques to avoid bites and scratches.

Myth: If a pet is safe around adults, they are safe around children

Fact: Although you may be able to do anything to your pet, including unpleasant tasks like trimming their nails or brushing their teeth, they may not tolerate the same actions from children. Infants, toddlers, and young children move, sound, act, and look different than adults do, and they often interact in ways that can frighten pets. Sudden movement, loud bursts of noise, and excessive or rough handling can unsettle the calmest of pets, so understand that your normally laid-back cat may show their displeasure through hisses, scratches, or bites.

Pets can transmit various diseases and parasites to people, so protect your children—and your pet—by scheduling regular wellness care for your furry pal. Give our Driftwood Animal Hospital team a call to ensure your pet remains current on vaccinations and parasite prevention.