There are many advantages to having pets in the family and we do not discourage pet ownership. However, to keep children safe it is important to know about some of the possible risks linked with pet ownership and then take steps to reduce these risks.
What are the possible risks from pets to child safety and health?
Bites (which can be serious) and scratches
Allergies or asthma triggered by animal fur, saliva, feathers and skin flakes (dandruff)
Zoonotic diseases - diseases that humans can get from animals. Although pets can carry germs, it is important to know that you are usually more likely to get some of these germs from infected food or water than from your pet. The risk of zoonotic diseases is higher for -
- Young children and elderly people
- People with a compromised immune system - if any member of your family is immuno-compromised, get advice from your health care provider if you have a pet or if you are thinking of getting a pet
- Pregnant women – the unborn baby’s immune system is not fully developed
Fall injuries – from being knocked over by a pet or from tripping over a pet, its toys, bowl, litter box
Choking injuries – children swallowing the pet’s food or toys
Reduce these risks by:
Careful selection of a pet which is suitable and safe for your family circumstances: Ask for advice from appropriate professionals
Supervision and separation
Pets and young children should be slowly introduced to each other.
All contact between young children and pets should be directly supervised. This means that an adult:
- is in close range of the child and pet (preferably holding the child or restraining the pet) and
- can immediately intervene if necessary.
When this cannot happen, the pet must be physically separated from young children – for instance put the pet in its cage, fenced area, outside or in separate part of house.
Pets should not be allowed into a child’s bedroom whilst the child is sleeping.
Pets must be securely restrained when travelling in a vehicle where a child is a passenger.
Children also need to be able play and to explore outdoors without any risk from the household pet. So any animals outside need to be physically separated from children - for example by use of a pet run/cage, making sure the pet has toys to keep it amused.
All food and water bowls, litter trays and toys must also be physically separated from children.
If this is not possible, fence off an area in which the child can play.
Watch your child at all times, as children do not understand danger.
Maintaining your pet's health and wellbeing
- All animals, birds and reptiles kept in the home or garden must be in a clean and healthy condition.
- A constant supply of fresh drinking water should be supplied and a nutritionally balanced diet provided – consult your vet for advice.
- As there is a range of diseases that animals and pets can pass onto humans, get your vet’s advice about your specific pet, for example:
- How do I care for my pet – grooming, claw trimming, housing, feeding, illnesses?
- What vaccines does it need?
- Does it need worming, flea and/or tick control and, if so, how often?
- If your pet shows any signs of sickness, skin disease or behavioural problems, get advice from your vet immediately and follow his/her instructions carefully.
- Keep sick animals away from children and be extra careful with cleaning and hand washing.
- Wash your hands carefully after handling your pet, its litter tray, droppings, feed bowls, bedding, toys or cage.
- Show your child how to do the same.
- Animal droppings (faeces/poo) need to be regularly cleared up and bedding should be changed often.
- Do not store or prepare your pet’s food near human food.
- Keep pet food bowls away from children. You do not want them eating the pet’s food - it may be a choking hazard and it is definitely not hygienic!
- Remove uneaten pet food promptly so that it does not attract pests.
- Keep pet water bowls away from children – again you do not want your child drinking the pet’s water and remember young children can drown in a very small amount of water.
- If a child is bitten or scratched, wash the wound immediately and use disinfectant cream/solution. Always contact your GP if you are worried about a wound or if a wound is not healing properly.
Remember, while pet ownership gives a sense of responsibility to children, only adults can be truly responsible for pets.
Back to Child safety and health around pets main page
Adapted from - Child Safety [Animal and Pet Safety]. Inter Country Adoption Service, Melbourne
Most unintentional injuries (often called accidents) can be prevented:
Remember the key message where child safety is concerned -
Watch your child at all times, as children do not understand danger