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Important Things You Should Consider Before Bringing Home a Pet for Your Children

Around holiday time or birthdays, a lot of well-meaning parents cave in to their children’s pleas for a pet. But sometimes, things don’t go smoothly, especially with younger children, and the pets are soon after returned to the seller or shelter, or given away. Or worse, the child or the pet wind up getting seriously hurt.

There are stories of kittens getting crushed by toddlers who accidentally sit on them. One mother posted a comment on a website recently, letting other parents know that her gentle, loving four-year-old daughter had just squeezed her hamster to death.

A child’s age is certainly an important consideration, before you decide whether or not to get your child a pet, and what type of pet is appropriate at their stage.

Just as a young child can accidentally or intentionally pose a danger to the pet, the pet can also be a danger to a  child.

A study on dog bites published in 2006 by Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, showed that babies in the study who were one year of age and younger were at higher risk for getting bitten by dogs — often family pets — after the infants inadvertently annoyed the dogs by doing such things as pulling on their tails or disturbing the animals when the animals were eating. Also, small dogs were more likely to attack small children than older children. The researchers theorized that small dogs are more apt to feel “superior” to little children, and may wish to establish their “place in the pack,” as dogs do in the wild.

In the United States, a little more than one dog bite serious enough to require medical attention is reported per  every 1,000 people. Studies show that children are more likely to get bitten by dogs than adults.

A child who is older than one year is certainly not out of danger. Nationally, the highest incidence of dog bites is among 5- to 9-year old boys. Children tend to underestimate the possible danger of interacting with dogs, and as such, they are more careless than adults. Little boys, who might be more fearless and more physically active than little girls, will take more chances with a dog or get within its vicinity more, and so they wind up getting hurt more. Direct physical contact is not always the reason for a bite. Some bites on boys have happened when the boys were cycling past a dog.

As a result of their findings, the researchers in the Pediatrics study recommended that parents postpone getting a dog until their children are of school age. Other experts recommend that parents wait until the children are 7 or 8.

Once the dog does arrive, parents should either get training for the dog, or actively educate their children about not roughing up the animal, and proceeding with some caution around the dog. Another thing to consider is the different temperaments that different breeds of dogs have. Some are better with children than others.

If you think you’re going to need your child to do most of the care for the animal, then you’ll want to wait until they’re older yet. Once your child is about 10, he or she will be mature enough to help care for the pet on a daily basis. However, you should still always check to see that the animals have enough food and water, and that their cage or litter box is kept clean.

If you already have a pet, and you bring home a new baby, be sure you introduce your infant to the pet, and supervise interactions closely, gradually increasing the length of time that the baby and the pet spend together. As the baby grows into a curious toddler, you will want to keep a vigilant eye, to insure that they don’t hurt the pet or are hurt by the pet.

By Lisa Pecos

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