Kids and pets should go together like peanut butter and jelly, but a successful relationship does not always magically develop. Kids can be boisterous and rough, and some pets may be afraid of their over-eager attempts to play. But, with your help, a beautiful friendship can bloom. Our Driftwood Animal Hospital team loves to see an unbreakable bond between a child and their pet. Here, we share insights that can help you guide their relationship through each childhood stage, from infancy to school age.
Babies and pets
If you are about to welcome a little one to your family, preparing your pet is a critical part of the process. They will need to get used to the idea of sharing your love and affection with a human sibling, particularly if they are currently your only “baby.” Before bringing your baby home, use these tips to help acclimate your pet:
- Allow your pet in the nursery — Invite your pet to join in the fun while you put together the baby’s crib, fill the dresser with tiny clothes, and arrange baby toys. Making the nursery a no-pet zone will make your pet feel unwelcome and isolated from this new adventure.
- Expose your pet to baby gear — Acclimating your pet to new smells and sounds will help ease them into the transition. You can wear baby lotion, play baby sounds recordings, and allow your pet to sniff the basket of (clean) diapers, so their senses are not overwhelmed when the baby arrives. After the baby is born, give your pet a used baby blanket so they can learn the baby’s scent before their new sibling comes home.
- Change the rules ahead of time — If your pet’s rules suddenly change the day the baby comes home, they will naturally assume the new tiny human is responsible. Instead, decide if any rules will change—will your pet still be allowed on the couch and your bed?—and make changes gradually.
- Teach your dog helpful commands — Teaching your dog basic commands, such as “Drop it,” can be a life-saver if your pooch grabs the baby’s favorite toy and heads outside. At times the baby will take priority over your pet’s requests for attention, so teaching “Sit” and “Stay” may also be helpful.
Toddlers and pets
Helping your toddler and pet forge an unbreakable bond relies on your child respecting your pet’s boundaries. Your pet won’t appreciate being climbed on or having their ears or tail pulled, and may scratch or bite in defense. Unfortunately, the pet is often blamed in situations where the child has not been taught how to properly interact. Follow these tips to help your toddler and pet become best friends:
- Supervise all interactions — Never leave your toddler and pet unattended, no matter how well they get along. A mischievous child may decide to test the waters, and your normally well-behaved pet may react in defense, and scratch or bite.
- Teach your toddler how to handle your pet — Teach kids to gently pet a dog’s shoulder or back instead of their head, and warn them never to come at a pet’s face. Likewise, explain they must not climb on their dog, or pull their ears and tails.
- Safeguard your pet’s resources — The same way your toddler’s toys are off-limits to your pet, kids should be taught to respect a pet’s food bowl, bed, blankets, and toys. Not all pets like to share, and may become possessive of their favorite resources.
- Provide your pet a quiet retreat — Small children yelling, jumping, and darting around can sometimes be too much for your pet, who may need a quiet place to relax. Cats will enjoy a tall cat tree where they can nap or survey the activity out of little hands’ reach, and dogs will appreciate a quiet, gated-off room, or their crate.
Older kids and pets
School-age children are old enough to understand how to have fun with your pet, and to recognize when your pet needs their space. Having your older children help with your pet’s daily routine is a great way to teach responsibility. Your kindergartener can easily learn to measure out your pet’s food, which will also teach your pet that your child is partly responsible for their wellbeing. Older children can scoop the litter box, clean up the yard, or walk your small dog.
The lessons your child learns at home can help them prevent a bite by successfully interacting with other pets, as well as their own. Teach your children they must never approach a strange dog or stare directly into a dog’s eyes, which can be interpreted as challenges. Also, teach your kids to read canine and feline body language so they recognize when a pet does not want to be bothered.
No matter your child’s age, with a little guidance, they can successfully foster a life-long relationship with your pet. Our Driftwood Animal Hospital team is always here to help—contact us if you need help bridging the gap between your four- and two-legged children.