Pets and children usually go hand-in-hand. The benefits of a non-judgemental pal for a child is immeasurable, and the attention and exercise that pets get by spending time with ‘short-legged’ people is great for their wellbeing too. However, there are a few factors which need special consideration when pets get older as well as when children are particularly young.
Factors to consider regarding Young Children:
- Children’s movements, especially when learning to crawl or walk, are unpredictable and sometimes jerky. This can be confusing for a dog that has always spent time around adult humans only: “Why is she moving like that?” The learning-to-crawl-and-walk-phase can also lead to a child wobbling over onto a pet and unintentionally causing injury or giving it a fright.
- Teaching children to approach pets in a non-threatening way. Children are curious and their first approach is to look at something square on and close up. Whilst completely normal and natural for a child, to a pet on the receiving end, the behaviour is threatening and intimidating. Teaching a child to call out to their pet, slowly approach from the side and hold their hand out (palm down) allows the pet some warning and an opportunity to interact or move away. Always teach children to keep their heads and faces away from pets’ faces.
- Children are fantastically curious about pets and will often want to explore looking at their eyes, teeth, ears, feet etcetera. Some pets are used to general handling and tolerate being checked over very well. However, some pets are more anxious about this kind of attention, and if you know that yours is nervous about having its feet checked or ears touched, you need to ensure your children are aware of this and avoid touching those areas.
- Children like being involved in feeding and caring for pets. This is a wonderful way to encourage children to care for other creatures, learn empathy and responsibility. However, as a parent, you need to ensure that your pet has fresh food and water daily – this cannot be the sole responsibility of a young child.
- Do not allow children to interfere with your pet’s food or bowl at meal times – imagine sitting down to your beautiful roast dinner and having several small hands scrummaging around in your food; probably not what you would imagine as an ideal way to start your meal. It’s not reasonable to expect a dog to have higher tolerances for our kids’ behaviour than we would expect from ourselves. So, feed your pet in an area where he or she can eat peacefully and quietly without having to worry about interference.
- The noise that children make can sometimes be overwhelming to pets. They may run to a child’s side to investigate when there has been a shriek, or they may run in the opposite direction and hide. Depending on your pet, it may be more or less able to cope with baby cries, loud playing, noisy toys etc. Expecting all pets to be happy with and tolerate all sounds is unreasonable, and sometimes they need to have a quiet spot away from the action.
- Very young children are learning to navigate their world and are not always aware of what may be comfortable or uncomfortable for others. Teaching them gentle handling is very important in avoiding injuries as sharp pokes in an eye, pulling tails or ears etc will be painful for pets. Expecting pets to tolerate rough-handling is unfair and unreasonable, but teaching children gentle skills encourages respect and empathy – good techniques for everyone to master.
- Small children and dogs share a lot of the same space – they will often spend time on the floor, spend time running around outdoors and like being in close proximity to parents in the household. This may mean that small children and big dogs are often at the same head height. This automatically makes small children and large dogs more likely to have a close encounter just because of their physical proportions. Make sure that children and pets are able to interact safely, always under parental supervision and within a positive frame work. If you can’t be there to supervise, make sure they are separated.
Factors to consider regarding Ageing Pets:
- Pets needs change as they get older. Some may develop medical conditions that require ongoing medications. Ensure children are not able to access these medications for their safety as well as the pet’s.
- Hearing and vision may begin to deteriorate in older pets. If a pet is not aware of someone approaching, they may get a terrible fright if they suddenly realise someone is right nearby. One incident like this is usually not too detrimental, but imagine it happening over and over again. A pet may become quite anxious because it’s auditory and visual detection systems are no longer working and may lead to a sense of “I really have no idea of what’s going on around me”.
- Painful conditions like arthritis may cause pets to be less playful, more uncomfortable and more anxious about injuring themselves. This may mean that they appear more ‘grumpy’ or snappy if touched over a sore area.
- Cognitive decline occurs in older pets much in the same way as older people. This may involve changes in their behaviour which include elements of confusion, disorientation, loss of training, becoming less sociable, altered sleep patterns, changes in activity and sometimes an increase in anxiety. This definitely impacts on how a pet will interact with children in a home and there are a variety of ways in which we can help.
What can be done to Aid an Ageing Pet within a Family with Young Children?
- Have a soft, comfortable bed that’s easy for your pet to access within the family’s usual social area of the home where it can be comfortable and safe whilst still being part of the family. Teach children that that is the pet’s bed and it is only for the pet to sleep and relax in, no one else, and that they should not disturb the pet whilst it is in there.
- Teach children to call to a pet first. If it was sleeping, wait for it to wake-up before approaching or touching it. This avoids the ‘waking up with a fright’ scenario that may lead to unintentional bites.
- Always supervise children and pet’s interactions. If you can’t be in the room with them, take the pet or the child out.
- Provide pets with quiet, safe areas away from children, that they can access when necessary.
- Ensure pets are fed in a quiet area where they are not going to be disturbed.
- Use kiddie-gates or play pens to separate small children from pets, so that children can have undisturbed floor play and older pets can have undisturbed rest.
- Avoid allowing pets access to children whilst children are eating. A dropped biscuit that is then retrieved can lead to bites.
- Avoid allowing pets on furniture in areas where children are – pets on furniture are at small child head height.
- Teach children gentle handling methods and non-confrontational approaches.
- If your pet has a medical condition or is showing changes in behaviour, get them checked out. Making an older pet more comfortable ensures he or she has a better quality of life and is a happier member of the family.
If you have any questions or concerns about your specific situation, please call 0481 527 678 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be happy to discuss and come up with a plan for your pet and your family.