Up with Pets Can Be Special for Children
But Parents Need To Do Research, Take Precautions
The Animal Center of Zachary
friends are part of the family portrait. As loyal companions and
play partners, pets and children can share special bonds. But parents
must do the proper homework and groundwork to ensure a healthy relationship
between their children and pets.
For instance, how do you introduce your dog to a new baby in the
house? When your baby becomes mobile, what special precautions should
you take to ensure your child's and dog's safety? How do you teach
your young children to be responsible pet caregivers? How can you
protect your family against common parasites that can be transmitted
from animals to humans?
These and other important questions are answered in a new comprehensive
Web site: GrowingUpWithPets.com.
The Web site is a valuable resource to parents on how to nurture
healthy, happy relationships between children and dogs. It provides
advice from leading pediatricians and veterinarians on everything
from choosing the proper canine breed for children to helping children
cope with the death of a pet.
"Pets have always been very special to children and are important
for childhood development, but parents need to play an active role
in ensuring a healthy environment and proper interaction between
children and pets," says Dr. Eugenia Marcus, MD, FAAP, a private
practice physician and specialist in pediatric health care at Newton-Wellesley
Hospital in Newton, Mass. "There are facts to consider and
steps to be taken before either the baby arrives or the family decides
to purchase a dog."
Parents Who Currently Own a Pet
For instance, Dr. Marcus says expectant parents who already have
a dog in the house need to prepare their pet for the baby's arrival
long before the infant arrives home.
can sense change in mom's body and alterations that are being made
to the home, such as preparing the nursery and having extra guests
in the home. Pets are adaptable, but they have to be weaned. You
can't have a relationship with your pet and then say "the relationship
has changed, too bad for you." Dogs can get jealous and show
it through destructive behavior. Especially devoted pets can actually
develop physiological problems from lack of love. There
are several things you can do, however, to prepare your pet and
ensure a happy homecoming with your new baby:
If a dog sleeps in the same bed with you, you must decide if this
will change when the infant comes home and prepare the dog by encouraging
it to sleep on the floor a few months before baby's arrival.
" Take your pet to your veterinarian for a routine health exam
" Consider spaying or neutering your pet. Sterilized pets typically
have fewer health problems and are calmer and less likely to bite.
" Train your pet to remain calm on the floor beside you until
you invite him onto your lap, which will soon cradle a newborn.
GrowingUpWithPets.com has much more advice on this topic. The most
critical thing to remember is if your pet has a history of guarding
its food, hunting for small prey, escaping to roam free, resistance
to obedience training or undisciplined or wild behavior toward people,
proceed with extreme caution in planning to introduce him to the
Parents with toddlers know how greatly things change when a child
becomes mobile. Suddenly, what was once harmless can pose a real
danger to your child's safety. Most problems that arise between
a dog and a child develop when the child reaches the crawling and
walking stages. When the child starts to toddle, even the friendliest
of family pets might feel threatened. What was previously a little
being that mom and dad carried around is now living and moving in
the dog's floor-level realm.
and young children who are learning to walk and talk can learn a
lot from very closely supervised interaction with the family pet.
Try to involve your children in very simple dog care and training
Have your child help you feed the dog - children that have mastered
some language skills can learn to give the dog the "sit"
command before you put the bowl down. Small children can be taught
to scoop food into the dog's food dish.
" Let your child help brush the dog as you hold the collar
and feed him a few treats.
" If the dog is small enough, teach your child how to properly
pick him up.
Teaching your toddler to respect animals, and your pets in particular,
is a valuable lesson that will serve him across many aspects of
life. To toddlers, treating a pet with respect is as simple as the
Golden Rule, but there are many ways to approach this:
" Read books about animals to your toddler to help him understand
that pets have feelings too.
" While your child is watching, rub your dog behind the ears,
talking in a low soothing voice to your pet.
" Communicate off-limits behavior. Teach toddlers that tail-
or ear-pulling and poking eyes is not acceptable behavior and that
a gentle touch is needed for petting.
" Choose key words to communicate gentle behavior like "Easy,"
"Gentle," or "Nice." Practice using the words
with a toddler while demonstrating gentle behavior on a stuffed
to Select the Right Breed for Your Family
As a parent, you want your child to be safe around your dog. You
want to know which breeds are good with children and which aren't.
The truth is, all dogs have the potential to bite, and a dog's breed
is only one of many factors that affect temperament and behavior.
The best dogs for kids are those which receive proper socialization,
exercise and attention; are given adequate food, water, shelter
and veterinary care; and are sterilized and safely confined.
said, many breeds do exhibit characteristics that make them better
at being a safe, kid-friendly family dog. GrowingUpWithPets.com
provides a good overview on the pros and cons of various breeds,
as well as advice on assessing a dog's temperament, deciding whether
to adopt a shelter pet, and training tips.
can be Transmitted to Humans
There are five key parasites that pose a threat to your dog's health:
fleas, heartworms, roundworms, hookworms (A. caninum) and whipworms.
What people commonly refer to as "worms" are really internal
parasites that live in the heart or intestinal tract of the host
internal parasites can be life-threatening to your dog, and most
people don't realize that some of these parasites can be transferred
from pets to humans, which is known as zoonosis. Children are especially
susceptible to zoonotic infection because they are always grabbing,
touching and sticking their hands in their mouths without regard
to whether they are clean.
also don't realize just how prevalent internal parasites are. A
national survey of veterinarians showed that more than one out of
three dogs (36 percent) was infected by one or more of the three
most common gastrointestinal nematodes - whipworms, roundworms and
hookworms. Heartworms are also a serious year-round threat. More
than 27 million dogs in the United States are not on a heartworm
preventive, and approximately 244,000 test positive for heartworm
of internal parasites is preferred over treatment because it reduces
the risk of zoonosis, is less expensive and more convenient, and
is obviously much better for the dog.
are several simple ways to protect your pet from internal parasites:
" Use a pooper scooper. As feces breaks down, eggs form and
seep into the soil.
" Feed your pets cooked or prepared food - never raw meat -
and provide fresh water daily.
" Have your pet's stool sample examined by your veterinarian
every 6-12 months.
Ask your veterinarian to place your pets on preventive flea and
internal parasite medication as soon as possible after birth or
According to Link Welborn, DVM, of the Animal & Bird Hospital
in Tampa, many people don't realize that they need to protect their
pets from internal parasites year round. He says a significant portion
of the U.S. experiences heartworm transmission through mosquitoes
during most of the year, and pets can be exposed to roundworms and
hookworms (A. caninum) throughout the year.
a preventive internal medication is even more important in households
with infants and small children," according to Welborn. "Internal
parasites can be transmitted to infants and children from something
as simple as rubbing their hands on the pet's fur."
certainly should not be scared about having pets around their children
- they should welcome the opportunity," Dr. Marcus says. "They
just need to know the facts."
Lynn Buzhardt is a veterinarian and co-owner of The Animal Center,
Inc., in Zachary, La. Buzhardt has been a practicing veterinarian
for 25 years. As an advocate of the human-companion animal bond,
she has been recognized by the human medical community for her seminars
that focus on integrating infants into pet-owning households. She
is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the
Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association and is a board member of
the American Heartworm Society.