Safe Interactions Between Pets, Animals, and Young Children

Animals always need to be supervised when they are in a room with children, and they should never be left alone.

Using Proper Hygiene Practices Around Animals

Animals can carry bacteria, parasites and viruses that can be spread to humans causing illnesses in humans. Children younger than five are more likely to get sick from germs animals carry because they often touch contaminated surfaces and put their hands in their mouths. Their immune systems also are developing. 

Children should not kiss, snuggle, or hold animals close to their faces, and they should not let animals lick their faces. 

The CDC also recommends that children younger than five years old avoid contact with the following animals due to harmful bacteria that they might carry:

  • Reptiles (lizards, snakes, and turtles)
  • Amphibians (frogs, toads, newts, and salamanders)
  • Backyard poultry, including baby chicks or ducklings
  • Rodents (rats, mice, hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs)

Hand washing is essential to stopping the spreading of germs. To ensure appropriate handwashing techniques after playing with pets or visiting fairs, pet stores, farms, petting zoos, and exhibits, parents and teachers should supervise children. 

Always wash your hands and your child’s hands after:

  • Touching or playing with pets
  • Feeding or handling pet food
  • Handling pet habitats or equipment (cages, tanks, toys, food and water dishes, etc.)
  • Cleaning up after pets
  • Leaving areas where animals live (coops, barns, stalls, etc.), even if you did not touch an animal

Safe Interactions Between Pets, Babies, and Young Children

No matter how trustworthy you think your pet is, animals are unpredictable. 

If you have pets, it might be a hard transition for them when a new baby comes home. Your pet’s schedule is likely to change, and they’ll be getting different amounts of attention from you.

To make the transition as smooth as possible, it’s important to take the time to prepare your dog or cat for the arrival of a baby.  Taking the following steps can help minimize anxiety or unwanted behaviors from your pet that could harm your baby:

  • Work on obedience skills with your pet. If you have a dog, consider enrolling in a training class.
  • Introduce your pet to new experiences – such as sights and sounds- that they will encounter when a baby is home. Baby gates, lotions, and strollers on walks can help your pet get used to changes in the environment.
  • Anticipate any schedule changes that will happen with a new baby and start implementing them a few months before the baby arrives. 

Animals always need to be supervised when they are in a room with children, and they should never be left alone. 

Because of risk of suffocation, pets should never be allowed to sleep with an infant. Close the nursery door and use a baby monitor to prevent a dog or cat from sneaking into the room.

When a baby is old enough to crawl or walk, teach them to stay away from a pet’s toys, food bowls, and litter boxes. Safety gates can keep babies out of a cat’s litter box while offering cats access.  

Young babies often grab anything their hands can reach, including a pet’s fur, ears, and tails. You can teach a toddler how to gently handle a pet and practice with them so the child and pet get used to interacting with each other.  Always supervise interactions so that you can guide your child and play an active role in the development of a relationship between your child and your pet. 

Teach your children how to approach or interact with animals, and set rules like:

  • Always ask for permission before approaching or petting an animal; don’t approach an unfamiliar animal
  • Don’t tease the animal or pull on its leash, collar, ears, or tail
  • Don’t touch an animal’s food or toys, as some are territorial
  • Don’t chase the animal
  • Let the animal leave if it wants to leave
  • Wash your hands after touching an animal 
  • Use quiet voices
  • Keep faces away from the animal

Never force an interaction between a child and a pet. If either seems uncomfortable or nervous, give them time to get comfortable and let them approach each other on their own terms. This minimizes the risk of injury for both the child and the pet.

What to Do When a Pet Bites a Child

Animal bites can be prevented, yet more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the U.S. Children are the most common victims of dog bites, and at least half of the 800,000 people who receive medical care for dog bites each year are children, according to the CDC.

To reduce the number of injuries from dog bites — and bites from other pets in general — adults and children should be educated about bite prevention.

Dogs and cats, specifically, bite or scratch for a variety of reasons – they feel threatened, scared, territorial, or they do so during play.  

If you encounter an aggressive pet:

  • Stand still and avoid looking into its eyes
  • If it attacks, hold something in between you and the pet
  • If you fall, curl into a ball with your hands over your ears and don’t move

If your child is bitten and/or scratched:

  • Clean the wound with soap and water immediately 
  • Consult with your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible. Some wounds might need stitches or other treatments such as antibiotics, tetanus vaccine, or rabies vaccine might be necessary. 
  • If your child doesn’t need medical attention, apply antibiotic ointment and watch for any signs of infection


Series Navigation

The Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series highlights several early childhood topics to support parents and caregivers who are caring for young children. Use the list below to navigate through each series topic:

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Picture: A young baby looks up at the camera.
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