A boy and his dog make a glorious pair:
No better friendship is found anywhere, For they talk and they walk and they run and they play, And they have their deep secrets for many a day; And that boy has a comrade who thinks and who feels, Who walks down the road with a dog at his heels.

–“A Boy and His Dog” by Edgar Guest

Since having my son, Clark, I often think about his safety not only around my pets but everyone’s pets. I am very grateful to have a wonderful, loving, and caring dog, Daisy, and a cat, Fluff, who keeps her distance when she wants to be left alone. Despite my concerns for Clark’s safety, I know the importance and value of having pets in his life. I can remember always growing up with multiple pets and all the wonderful lessons and love they gave me that I have continued to cherish throughout my life. For these reasons and many others, we will always have a furry companion for Clark.

It is important for children to grow up in a household with pets for many reasons such as constant companionship, health benefits, lessons in responsibility, and others. A pet provides a constant companion that will always listen and provide unending love. In today’s world, children are faced with a lot of tough situations that require them to grow up way too quickly. When life gets tough, it is important for a child to have “someone to turn to” who will just listen and not judge them, but love them unconditionally and give them happiness. A pet will fill that child’s need.

Not only will having a pet help a child’s health emotionally, a pet will also keep a child active. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Today, about one in five school-aged children have obesity.” All pets need to be played with, whether that is running around with them in the yard or going for walks or throwing toys around in the house. This not only helps the pet stay active and within a good weight range, it also helps the child stay active and within a good weight range while having a lot of fun. Science has also shown that babies, who grow up with a pet, will have fewer allergies to pet dander and will get sick less often.

Having a pet can be some of the first lessons in responsibility for a child. Pets need to be fed and have fresh, clean water. A cat also needs to have a clean litter box (save this task for older children). Pets need to be taken for walks or have playtime. They need to be brushed or given baths. They also need “cuddle time” with their owners. All of these tasks children can help with, which teaches the child responsibility, and helps the child feel pride in what they have accomplished.

Pets can decrease stress and anxiety in a child’s life. They teach a child empathy, which will help prevent the child from becoming a bully to other children. Pets also help with children’s verbal and social skills. Having a pet will teach confidence and unconditional love and kindness. All of these skills are important for the development of a child and will remain with that child for life.

As a parent, there are many things to think and worry about when it comes to your children. Here are some concerns and tips to keep your children safe while still being able to enjoy their furry companions:

Zoonotic Diseases-are diseases or illnesses that can be passed from an animal to a human or vice versa.

How to prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases:

  1. ALWAYS pick up your pet’s waste with disposable gloves before your children go out to play in the yard.

  2. ALWAYS wash your hands after handling any animal’s waste or after playing/gardening in soil or a sandbox. DO NOT allow children to put dirt in their mouths.

  3. ALWAYS keep sandboxes covered to prevent animals from contaminating these areas.

  4. ALWAYS keep litter boxes out of the hands of small children.

  5. If you are pregnant, have someone else clean the litter box.

  6. If you are scratched or bitten, wash the affected area with soap and water, and call a healthcare professional if you are concerned about the wound.

  7. ALWAYS check your animals and family for ticks even if family members have not been outside. Your pets can bring ticks inside. If you find a tick, remove it immediately.

  8. ALWAYS try to bring a fresh stool sample to your pet’s yearly wellness appointments to check for intestinal parasites.

  9. ALWAYS keep your pets on effective, year round parasite prevention.

Here are some concerns and tips for helping children understand how to approach animals and animal behavior:

  1. In the first 6 months of a pet’s life, try to socialize them to children of all ages, especially young children. Before getting a new pet, do some research into the pet’s family history (if known) or the pet’s personal history with children. Try to “meet the pet” with your family before adopting to make sure the pet is a “good fit” for your family.

  2. Remember and teach children that a “wagging tail” of a dog does not always mean that the dog is friendly and approachable.

  3. Teach children animal behaviors to be aware of, such as fear behaviors, like flattening the ears or tucking the tail; avoidance behaviors, like backing away from or leaving the area; resource guarding behaviors, like growling, snapping, stiffening or hovering.

  4. Keep children away from pets while the pets are eating or around a toy that the pet values or guards. On the flip side, also try to keep the pet confined while the children are eating so the pet doesn’t learn to lick or snap at the food the children drop.

  5. Make sure to provide pets with a “safe spot” where they can get away from a child. This will help with any situations that make the pet feel anxiety or fear. Be sure to teach the child that when the pet is in the “safe spot”, it is to be left alone.

  6. Teach children to handle pets with gentleness and kindness. Use a soft voice and move slowly around a pet. Do not stare or stand over a pet when approaching. Staring can be viewed as a threatening behavior by the animal. Do not approach or hug or kiss an unfamiliar pet. Crouch down and let the pet approach you. Try not to make eye contact with an unfamiliar pet. Let the pet sniff and show interest in interacting before trying to interact with it. If the pet moves away, do not chase after it. Teach children to ask the pet’s owner first before attempting to interact with the animal.

  7. NEVER force interactions between animals and children. Remember that some pets will take more time to get used to children and others will never be able to safely interact with children.

  8. Use treats or praise with the pets while they remain comfortable with the children to reinforce positive behavior and association.

  9. NEVER allow children to “roughhouse” with pets.

  10. NEVER leave a child unsupervised with a pet, even if the pet is trustworthy.

  11. If you need help or have questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

Pets are amazing companions that all children need to have in their lives. Remembering safety tips will help make those interactions positive and memorable for life.

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