Plus 10 tips from a Pediatrician about Responsible Pet Ownership
Take a look inside (or outside) a typical American home, and you’ll likely find some adorable pet who’s considered part of the family. For some, our four-legged, furry babies are our first “babies.” While you’re probably excited to watch your child’s bond with their pet grow, you’re also probably a little nervous about their first meeting.
Relax. With a lot of love – and a little bit of planning, patience and supervision – your pet’s connection with your baby will develop naturally and safely.
Family Pet: Meet Kid
Pet ownership comes with some pretty great health benefits for people of all ages, but it also can open the door to some significant health threats – especially for kids 5 and younger.
Harshita Reddy, MD, a pediatrician with Charlotte Pediatric Clinic–Blakeney, is a mom of two kids, one dog and three cats. We asked her to share some tips about how to introduce your family pet to a newborn, and how to help moms and dads teach their kids to be responsible pet owners.
While Dr. Reddy’s pets have been with her for years, her young kids – a 5 year-old and 18 month old – are relatively new to the mix. Here’s how she navigated her pets’ first introduction to her kids.
“We let all of the animals explore the nursery – and then vacuumed – before and after the baby came home from the hospital,” says. Dr. Reddy. “We let the pets smell the baby’s clothes after she had worn them. Eventually, we let them see and smell the baby under close supervision. Take your time, trust your intuition and err on the side of caution.”
The Upside of Pet Ownership
No matter the pet – horses, fish, birds, lizards, turtles, cats or dogs – pets can help lower blood pressure as well as reduce feelings of loneliness by giving some pet owners more chances to socialize and get outside.
“Your pets will be your little ones’ first best friends. They will learn social skills, play skills and eventually empathy from your four-legged family members,” says Dr. Reddy. “And, studies have shown that kids who are exposed to cats and dogs early on are less likely to develop certain types of allergies.”
Kids, Pets and Germs
Although the spread of diseases from animals to people is rare, pets sometimes carry germs that can make people sick.
“Obviously, bites are the most concerning injuries when it comes to dogs and cats, but scratches can be harmful, too, especially if they’re around or on the eyes, or if they become infected,” says Dr. Reddy. “Pets can be very territorial with their food, chew toys, or sometimes their crates and living spaces. Model appropriate behavior for your kids – they should see the grown-up using common sense and caution.”
Check out these pediatrician-recommended tips about responsible pet ownership.
The Dos and Don’ts of Kids and Pets
- Make sure your pets get regular checkups at the vet
- Get your family in the habit of washing their hands after contact with an animal, including your pet
- Teach kids to be gentle with pets
- Teach kids to step away calmly (and not run) when an animal is overenergetic
- Spend one-on-one time with your pet as much as possible
- Let your pet lick your little one’s face, hands or feet
- Play games that teach pets to play rough with kids, especially infants
- Leave newborns alone with pets
- Let kids bother animals while they are eating or playing with a chew toy
- Yell at your pets as they adjust to life with a new family member
You’ve learned a few tips to help you introduce your pooch (or kitty cat) to the latest members of the family – now learn how easy it is to find a pediatrician where you live.