Ask the Expert: About helping kids and pets stay safe together

Q: How can I keep my child safe around pets and avoid injuries?

A: It is important to teach your child how to get along with animals, particularly the family pet. “Children between the ages of 5 and 9 are most at risk for being bitten,” says Anthony DeRoss, MD, Medical Director of the Level I Pediatric Trauma Center at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “However, children younger than age 5 can more easily contract illnesses from animals.”

To keep your child safe, Dr. DeRoss suggests practicing – and teaching – these tips:

  • Ensure that your baby or child is never left alone with a pet.
  • Always supervise any direct contact between young children and animals.
  • Avoid reaching through a fence to pet an animal.
  • To prevent illness, always wash hands after touching a pet – especially before your baby puts a hand to his or her mouth.
  • If your child is bitten or scratched by any animal, wash the wound with soap and water and immediately call your pediatrician for further advice.

Q: I am expecting a new baby. Is there anything I can do to prepare my pet for the new family addition?

A: Your dog or cat may be used to being the center of attention. But, just like an older child, your first “baby” may react negatively to your new baby. Dr. DeRoss says, “It is best to start preparing your pet several months before the baby’s birth.” He recommends taking these steps to make the change easier:

  • Enroll in a dog training class so you are better able to control your dog.
  • Have your pet neutered or spayed. Animals that have these procedures tend to be calmer and are not as likely to bite.
  • Prep your pet for baby-related noises. Turn on toys or mechanical swings so your pet becomes accustomed to these sounds. Playing a recording of a baby crying can help, too.
  • Invite friends with infants or young children to your home. Under proper supervision, your pet can become more comfortable around children.

“Talk with your veterinarian or an animal behavior specialist if you have concerns about your pet’s behavior,” says Dr. DeRoss. “These experts can help you resolve any problems before the baby arrives.”

Anthony DeRoss

Anthony Deross, MD
Medical Director,
Level I Pediatric Trauma Center
UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Assistant Professor,
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

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