Keeping the peace between Toddlers and Pets.

Regular readers of this blog and clients of Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre will know that my wife and I have recently welcomed our baby boy into the world. We had done a bit of advance planning so that the furry members of the Underhill family weren’t going to be unnecessarily bewildered or stressed when baby came home, and so far, so good! If you haven’t done so already, have a read of ‘Bringing Baby Home’; there are some really good tips for parents-to-be and grandparents-to-be, if they have pets too.

Laying down some simple ground rules can provide the solid foundation for a life-long friendship between your child and pets and, as with a baby, a little bit of preparation can yield big rewards. Ultimately, I think it comes down to respect: treat your fur-babies as you would treat another person – we do think of them as family members, after all!

As soon as baby starts to move around, whether rolling, bum-shuffling or crawling, is the time to embed roots for good behaviour. Encourage gentleness by always stroking your kitty or pooch in a calm, slow manner yourself and talk in quiet tones when possible. People don’t realise just how many behavioural cues our children pick up from us before they can verbally communicate themselves, but they are like little sponges and will copy our actions.

Animals behave, and communicate, in different ways to us humans……..

we do have a tendency to ‘humanize’ our pets, and this can often lead us to forget their inherent animal instincts. As humans, we show our love and affection by hugging, kissing and looking into eyes directly; this is great for our human relationships, but is too forthright for our pets – especially dogs.

Fido won’t appreciate being hugged tight, kissed on his face or hands coming from above to pat his head, but there are many ways your toddler can spread the love to their canine sibling. Gentle side strokes, back rubs and tummy tickles (only if tummy is offered confidently though, not in submission) are all things that your hound will love to have done to them by the bucket-load! From a hygiene perspective, it’s a good idea to discourage kisses too, regardless of which side initiates them.

Cats are flightier, more independent creatures than dogs and will show their displeasure quicker,

generally speaking, than their doggie counterparts. Despite their epic climbing and jumping abilities, puss prefers to keep their four paws on Terra Firma, but for some unknown reason, children seem to want to carry Kitty around (hugging them tightly in the process!) and your moggy really won’t like this. Instead of letting your child risk getting scratched or bitten, gently explain that kitty doesn’t enjoy being up in the air. To prevent it being all negative, tell your child what puss does like: side rubs and back rubs are always appreciated, and this way your little human can still show their love to their furry sidekick. You can also encourage quiet behaviour from your tot, saying that if they listen carefully they might hear kitty purring when they stroke him/her. Tell them too, that when Miss or Mr Moggy is swishing their tail fast from side-to-side that they are asking to be left alone and are starting to get cross and fed-up.

This little man is destined to wreak havoc with the pets in the Underhill Household!

Calm, slow and steady should be the watch words when it comes to interactions between furry and non-furry members of your family – regardless of age. Animals aren’t huge fans of toddler behaviour: shrieking, yelling, running around, throwing things, sudden movements and tantrums are totally alien, mind-blowing behaviours to them (and no doubt will be to first-time parents like myself!).

Neither dogs nor cats will appreciate rough play either. Pulling or grabbing of ears, tails or paws will result (more than likely) in your wee one getting scratched or nipped (at best), and possibly lead to a more serious bite and injury. Not worth the risk, I’m sure you’ll agree? Cats are more likely to hiss defensively and then run off and hide than Fido; for this reason it’s a good idea to give pets a place of ’safety’ (train them to go there when they need to) and to teach toddlers that they don’t follow or disturb furries when they’re in there.

Other potential flash-points of conflict are toys and food:

both your non-furry and furry kids can get territorial over these things. Again it comes down to respect for each other and training on both sides. There will be times when both parties want to play and there’s no denying the fun and pleasure to be had, but please be extra vigilant at times like these and observe your pets’ body language very closely.

Hopefully, with all the hard work and preparation paying off, you’ve now got a harmonious household that’s worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize! Enjoy that moment of satisfaction folks, because this is where I burst the bubble and have to be a bit of a kibosh Karl I’m afraid and bring you back to the real world. Just because your furries are kiddo friendly, doesn’t mean that all of them are. When you’re out and about, whether out walking or visiting friends or family, please teach your mini-me not to approach animals that aren’t ‘theirs’. It’s good practice (and encourages good manners) to instil in your tot that they must always ask the furries’ owner if their pet would like a fuss before they approach the animal. Looking at it from the other side of the equation, if an animal isn’t used to tiny humans, a positive, respectful encounter can give them some confidence for the future.

Finally, and I know I mentioned it before, don’t leave your beloved bundle of joy alone and unattended with any animal – for however brief a period of time. If you have any queries at all regarding this topic, then please get in touch with us here at SLVC. The welfare and happiness of our furry clients and their humans is why we’re here, and we’ll happily advise on this matter.

Until next time; stay safe, stay well, and be happy 🙂