With the holiday season upon us, many a child’s wish list includes a cat or a dog. Animals can be so good for children. They can help teach responsibility, patience and caring. However, it is very important to chose your pet wisely, educate your children about animal safety, and involve them in the training process.
Do your research before choosing a new pet. For dogs, look into what breeds tend to be good with children, whether the breed is high energy or more laid back, what diseases are common with the breed, how trainable are they likely to be, and what size they will likely be as adults. If you are looking for a purebred dog, find a reputable breeder. Rescuing a shelter puppy can be the most rewarding option, however, be prepared for surprises. It’s difficult to predict how a mixed breed puppy will turn out, especially if neither parent’s breed is known.
Choosing a feline companion tends to be a lot less complicated. The best we can do with many kittens is determine whether they will be longhaired or shorthaired, and that may be all you need to know.
Teaching your children about animal safety is vital. In the U.S., more than two million children are bitten by dogs every year, but the majority of dog bites are preventable. Basic dog safety tips that all children should know include:
- Don’t scream and run away from a dog.
- If a dog knocks you over, curl up into a tight ball and stay put until help arrives or the dog loses interest.
- Don’t pet a dog without an owner’s permission and then only after you have allowed the dog to sniff your hand.
- Don’t look a dog directly in the eyes.
- Leave a dog alone that is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.
Teaching children about cat safety is also important. A cat’s bite can pose a serious health risk, and they can also do a lot of damage with their claws. Remember that cats are natural hunters. If you have an indoor only cat, play with your cat and provide “hunting” opportunities using cat toys or even a balled up piece of paper. Always provide a safe haven in your home for your cat that is off limits to children. Also, teach children how to handle a cat without hurting it.
In addition to the tips listed above, you should never leave infants or young children alone with a dog or cat. For everyone’s health and safety, always keep both cat’s and dog’s rabies vaccines up to date and make sure they are regularly checked and treated for intestinal parasites.
Finally, properly training your dog can make the difference between your dog being a beloved family member and having to find a new home for him. Puppies can be enrolled in a good Puppy Class as young as 10 weeks of age. For older puppies and dogs, a good trainer is definitely a worthwhile investment. Remember to keep the kids involved in each step of the training process.
Adding a pet to the family is a big decision that shouldn’t be entered into lightly, but there is nothing quite like a child’s delight at receiving a new puppy or kitten! With proper planning and commitment, a new pet can make for the happiest of holidays.
Originally published December 2014 in the Lake Norman Citizen