Did you know that Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world? It’s estimated that almost two thirds of Australian households have a pet today, with dogs the most common choice.
There are many benefits of having children and pets together; they can teach children about caring for another living being and create a trusted, nurturing bond… so much so that it’s not uncommon for children to share their secrets and bedtime stories with their pets!
However, children 0-4 years of age are the highest risk age group for serious dog attack injuries requiring hospital treatment. The large majority of these injuries happen in the child’s own home or at a friend or family member’s house, which means children are commonly injured by their own dog or a dog they know.
The good news is that there are some simple things you can do to help ensure that interactions between your pet and children are fun and safe.
Fur babies are often integrated into our lives long before the arrival of children, so bringing a new baby into the home signifies a big change for our pets.
Animals are creatures of habit, so integrating a change of behaviour and routine as soon as you know a baby is on the way will help give them time to adjust and ensure a smooth transition.
Some practical ways you can prepare your pet for the change in their daily lives include:
There will also be a range of changes to make to your home environment – or your pet’s home if they currently rule the house! – to help ensure your pet and baby have safe spaces to sleep, eat and play. Some things to consider include:
Bringing your new baby home and introducing them to your beloved pets is an exciting time, and the first six months can make a world of difference to their relationship.
Some ways to help make sure their first meeting is successful and safe include:
As your child grows and becomes mobile, it brings about a whole new world for your pet. This once static being can now follow them around and will look to play and interact with them more, including at times when they may want to be left alone.
This stage also brings about a whole new world for you – while in the past you would have been most concerned with ensuring your pet couldn’t reach your baby, you now also need to make sure your toddler’s access to your pet and their belongings is restricted too.
The best way to help ensure that ongoing interactions between your child and pets are safe is to follow the supervise or separate rule – if you can’t be there to actively watch, it’s safest to separate them.
No matter how much they love each other, all kids and pets will need a break from each other at some stage during the day – to help separate them, it’s a good idea to set up a pet free zone where your child can play safely, and a child free zone where you pet can play and relax.
There are some high-risk times when pets and children should always be separated, including when your dog or child is sleeping or eating, and when your dog is playing with toys, unwell, injured on their bed or in their kennel.
As your children get older, it’s important to teach them about boundaries and how to safely interact with pets – the best way to start is by modelling safe behaviours in the way you interact with your pet.
We’ve discussed those of us who already had fur babies before their human baby’s arrival, but what if you’re considering bringing a pet into your family?
From dogs, to cats, fish, chickens and even alpacas, there are a wide range of options. It’s important to plan carefully to find the pet that best suits not only your family, but also your lifestyle and your living arrangements.
If you’ve decided a dog is the right fit for you, check out the RSPCA’s handy Puppy Guide which has been created to help you make the right decisions for you and your potential new best friend.
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.