Kids and pets are natural together, until signals get crossed and accidents occur. Keep both your furry and non-furry family members safe from harm by interpreting warning signs and avoiding dangerous situations.

Keep an eye out for warning signals

Pets routinely beg for help when put in uncomfortable situations, but we often don’t pick up on their cues. Take a Facebook newsfeed, for example. Scroll through, and you will see numerous pictures or videos of the supposedly perfect kid-friendly pet who would never harm a child. However, look closer, and you may see a dog with a furrowed brow, tight lips, wide eyes, and a tense body posture being jumped on or having her cheeks, ears, or tail pulled by a child. Such videos are cringe-worthy when you see that the animal is stressed and may be close to snapping. Learn to interpret your pet’s body language that signals she feels stressed or nervous to avoid negative interactions between children and pets.

Read your pet’s body language

Learning a new language can be challenging, and learning one without words is even trickier. Do both your children and your pets a favor and study animal body language, which includes the following signals when a dog is stressed:

  • Yawning
  • Lip licking
  • Body freezing
  • Furrowed brow
  • Tense mouth
  • Drooling
  • Whale eye, where a dog turns away her head, but still looks at the threat, showing the whites of her eyes

Cats have a tense body posture when nervous, but can also display these signs of stress:

  • Twitching ears
  • Flicking tail
  • Partially flattened ears
  • Wide-open eyes with dilated pupils

Separate pets and kids when unsupervised

We cannot stress the importance of close supervision when kids and pets are together. An accident can happen in an instant, so you must keep watch during their interactions, or remove either the child or the pet to prevent any mishaps. Unfortunately, accidents can still occur even when you are close, such as a toddler stumbling over a sleeping, elderly, arthritic dog who may react to the pain by biting the child, especially if she was startled awake. Still, vigilance will prevent most mishaps.

Brush up on pet obedience

Kids are notorious for being messy and dropping food morsels and small toys that can tempt a pet. Make sure your dog has a firm grasp on “leave it” and “drop it” cues to prevent dietary indiscretion. Pets may be tempted to snack on candy, chocolate, tiny toy pieces, or other items left lying around, which can lead to toxicity, pancreatitis, gastritis, or foreign body surgery.

Teach proper pet handling

Teach your child proper pet manners, including the appropriate way to pet an animal and how to treat all animals with respect. Show children the safe areas to pet a cat or dog, how to approach the pet, and when to leave her alone. Set a good example by demonstrating proper pet-handling techniques, and always explain why an animal needs to be treated and handled in that manner.

Create safe spaces for your pet

Allow your pet to relax in a safe, comfortable area where she won’t be bothered. Small children don’t always understand the value of personal space, so create a pet-only area for your furry companions that your children respect. Provide cat trees and towers for your cat, since felines feel safe and secure in vertical spaces. Use a gate to close off a cozy area for your dog that is strictly hers. She will appreciate a safe, quiet area she can retreat to if the kids become too rambunctious or noisy. Baby gates are useful for keeping your pet in, as well as keeping children out.

Understand no pet is “bomb-proof”

Everyone has the best cat or dog, and no one is wrong. But, any animal can react negatively when pushed. Pain and fear are powerful motivators that may push your pet to lash out if she feels threatened or is hurt. Pets generally forgive some poking and prodding from small children, but no one knows the pet’s limit, and any pet can nip or bite if she feels the need to defend herself.

Are you having trouble getting your household to coexist peacefully? Schedule a consult at our hospital to see how we can help your family members get along.