Introducing cats and dogs to children
Cats and dogs make great pets for children. They can easily become inseparable companions and develop a lifelong friendship.
Plus owning a pet has plenty of benefits for children:
- It can teach children about taking responsibility
- Pets can help children learn empathy and emotional intelligence
- Pets encourage us all to keep active
- Having a pet can lower stress and anxiety levels
However, safety is important when bringing a pet into a household with children. Cats and dogs are animals and they can scratch, bite and hurt children, especially if a child is rough with them. Read our guide on how to introduce a dog or cat to a child to help ensure that the relationship gets off to a good start.
Always supervise children with pets
The most important thing to do when introducing children and pets is to always supervise interactions between them. The majority of incidents with biting, scratching or aggression occur when children and pets aren’t supervised. Don’t leave the pet alone with children, especially with babies and toddlers.
Bringing a new pet home
The first day a new pet comes home with you can be a stressful experience for them. It’s a complete change of environment and surroundings, which can leave them feeling nervous and threatened.
For the best start, keep children out of the way until the pet is settled. Follow all the normal steps to welcome a cat or dog into your home. This includes finding them a separate space away from everyone else – ideally a room of their own.
Give your new pet plenty of quiet time for the first few days to avoid them feeling stressed and responding with aggression.
Introducing children and pets
When the new pet seems settled and calm, it’s time to introduce them to the kids. Some people prefer to do this outside, especially when introducing dogs and children. Take the dog on a walk and bring the children along, so the dog doesn’t feel trapped.
If you’d rather introduce them at home, choose a large room and a set a relaxed atmosphere. Children are prone to making abrupt movements and are often noisy and high pitched, which can intimidate cats and dogs. Keep the child calm and seated as you bring the pet into the room.
For safety, you may want to keep dogs on a leash and give cats a safe escape perch that’s high up – the top of a cupboard or shelf is ideal.
If your pet seems curious about this new person, you can encourage the children and pets to interact. However, if your pet the pet seems hesitant or nervous, engage the child in another activity instead. Once the pet has adjusted to their presence, ask the child to sit calmly while you bring the pet over, rather than having children approach the pet.
Teaching children how to stroke pets
It’s important to teach kids how to properly pet and stroke cats and dogs. Young children can sometimes regard pets as stuffed toys and can be rough with them because they don’t know when they are hurting them. Very young children often try to squeeze or poke pets, and can tug on their fur or tails, which can result in pets trying to nip them.
First set some ground rules about contact with pets:
- Pets are not toys
- Always be gentle when touching the pet
- Avoid sensitive areas on their bodies
- Stroke the fur the right way
- Never pull on fur
- Don’t touch whiskers or tails
- Don’t touch pets when they are eating or sleeping
How to stroke a dog
To pet a dog, the child should start with a closed fist. Have the child slowly reach out and let the dog sniff their hand. Once the dog seems happy with that, encourage the child to stroke the dog. Start under the chin or on the neck, rather on the top of the head, and avoid sensitive areas like the tail, legs and belly.
How to stroke a cat
Get the cat and children comfortable together, and then ask the child to reach out slowly and gently stroke the cat on the head or back. Avoid sensitive areas like tail, feet and belly.
For more tips, read our guide on how to show your pet you love them.
Introducing children and pets should go smoothly, but it helps to know a few warning signs to watch out for. Look out for any growling from dogs – that’s how they communicate that they are uncomfortable and you should intervene if the dog starts to growl. Cats can also start to hiss if threatened.
Also look for your pet adopting a stiff posture, freezing, hunching up or backing away from the child, which is common body language when they feel threatened. Read more about cat body language and dog body language.
Stop the interaction if either the child or the pet seems uncomfortable and try again later. Keep reminding children about properly interacting with the pet and playing quietly with them.
If your dog seems to become aggressive towards children, seek professional advice as soon as you can.
Older children and pets
Older kids can build a great relationship with cats and dogs. Try involving them in caring for the pet with small tasks like replenishing food and water or helping with grooming.
Older children can also play with pets using toys. However, remind them to avoid rough play and don’t allow children to tease or chase the pet.
With careful supervision and solid ground rules, pets and children can develop a great relationship that lasts a lifetime.