As a veterinarian and mother of small children, I am a strong advocate for families including pets! I do, however, have serious concerns about the numerous recent news stories in which infants and children have been severely injured or killed by family dogs.
Sometimes bites happen unexpectedly. Many other incidents occur after repeated warning signs have been ignored, often because they simple are not recognized. These bites may be prevented with education and careful monitoring of both pets and children. Specific safety measures include:
- Never allow dogs and young children to interact without direct adult supervision. While this may sound overly cautious, it is the best way to ensure that a life-changing bite incident does not occur. Additionally, pets should always have open access to a safe retreat such as a crate or separate room.
- Learn the warning signs that a dog is uncomfortable. Many well-intentioned adults unknowingly place their children in dangerous situations every day, simply because they don’t realize that their pets are agitated. I have seen countless “cute” pictures and videos posted on social media featuring children interacting with clearly distraught dogs. Signs of distress such as looking away, licking, yawning, ear position and body posture are often ignored. These are all ways dogs communicate that they are not enjoying the forced interaction and should never be ignored. Not all dogs growl before they bite! Pets should always have an available exit path and never be made to interact with children, especially for a photo opportunity.
- Teach children not to disturb pets while they are eating/sleeping, not to pet animals without express permission from adults, not to put their faces near a pet’s face, not to climb on pets, and not to pull on tails, feet, ears and fur. Everyone has limits. Even the most tolerant family pet can snap in their own defense when they are surprised, feel threatened or are unintentionally injured. While adults are usually bitten on their hands, children are more often bitten on their faces. Beyond the risks of death or disfigurement, even a minor bite to the face will traumatize a child and may have lifelong emotional consequences.
Even if your family does not have pets, your children and grandchildren will encounter animals at some point, either out in public or in the homes of their friends. Knowing how to interact gently and appropriately with animals benefits everyone! - Written by: Dr. Elizabeth Chosa