Caroline Golon is a busy mom of two young girls and two rascally Persian rescue cats living in Columbus, Ohio. She’s passionate about animal welfare and creating happy households with both kids and pets. She’s a regular contributor toVetstreet.comand other pet-centric sites. You can read more about Caroline’s adventures with kids and pets at her site,Crayons and Collars.
Pets that have never been around children have good reason to be wary. Kids can be loud, unpredictable and grabby. So, I was little apprehensive when we decided to add human children to our family. How would my two cats react?
After some research and a bit of instinct, we used a few simple methods to create good kid-cat relations:
Give Your Cats Plenty of Love. Pets may receive less attention when a new baby arrives on the scene. Making an effort to spend time with the cats, petting and playing with them, seemed to go a long way in keeping the cats happy. Treats didn’t hurt, either!
Also, consistently adoring your cats around your children is a great way to model how cats are beloved members of the family and treated with respect.
Teach “Gentle” at an Early Age. You can never start too early to teach your child what a “gentle” touch is and where they can and cannot touch your pets. Even when our girls were babies, we’d hold their hands and stroke the cats where they most liked it. As they grew, the girls learned how to touch the cats and the cats learned these little human creatures seemed to be okay.
Encourage Age-Appropriate Play Time. Once my daughters learned how to properly play with the cats, their relationship blossomed. When she was three, I gave my oldest daughter the cats’ favorite wand toy and showed her how to wiggle it through the house. The cats loved it! Of course, I supervised this activity. But I noticed after introducing fun to the mix, the cats sought out my daughters more.
Not long after they started playing together, the cats began sleeping in my older daughter’s room. Now, they cuddle close to both of my daughters on the couch and don’t seem too concerned when they’re in the middle of kid-led chaos.
Supervise! I still carefully watch what’s going on. Kids may not always recognize situations that cats might not like. While the cat may not be in danger per se, he may be in a situation that could create fear.
For example, my girls like to create “forts” out of boxes and blankets, and want to bring the cats in with them. I remind the girls that cats need to be able to leave the game when they want to. Sometimes when I’ve intervened on their behalf, the cats have gratefully scurried away, but more often they stay put, content to be where the action is.
Every cat and household dynamic is different, of course. But from my experience, the above tactics worked extremely well in creating a household of kid-cat harmony. What are your strategies? Please share in the comments.
Guest blog by ASPCA Volunteer Manager Julie Sonenberg, a mom of one daughter and two dogs in New York City.
Sharing is a tough concept for a toddler. Young children can be naturally selfish and might need to be taught about the importance of taking turns. It’s tough to understand that someone else can use a toy and that you’ll get it back at a later time, and that it’s not socially acceptable (or nice) to forcibly take someone else’s toy. Depending on the child, difficulty with this concept can result in crying, screaming, hitting, pushing or even biting.
Guarding valuable resources is a very natural behavior for dogs, which is why it is crucial for parents to foster good behavior from both kids and pets and to monitor all interactions between the two.
When our dog Dexter gets jealous of our other dog’s bone, it reminds me of my two-year-old daughter trying to grab the toy of a playmate—even if it’s a toy that was never hers to begin with. Both Dexter and my daughter, in their respective situations, feel as though they have a right to that toy and feel a sense of injustice that someone else is playing with it. Although our dogs are okay with adults taking their bone or being near them while they eat, we taught our daughter to leave the kitchen when they are eating and not to pet them when they are chewing on a bone. When she helps feed them, she puts down each of their bowls and walks out of the kitchen, saying to herself, “No be in the kitchen, doggies eating.”
It is extremely important for parents to realize that when a dog growls, shows his teeth or simply freezes, those are warning signs. Recognizing these signs of discomfort is crucial and immediate action should be taken to separate the dog and the child. All interactions should be monitored with particular caution and observation of the dog’s body language.
Guest post by Dana Wilkosz of KIWI magazine. The views expressed in this post are not necessarily those of the ASPCA.
I’ve been an allergy-sufferer for almost my entire life. Dogs, dust mites, grass—you name it, I’m probably allergic to it. (As my allergist put it to me at the tender age of five: “You probably shouldn’t have any animals in the house…But you can still hug the trees!” I was devastated.) So I can relate to parents who may be hesitant to introduce a pet to their young child—especially if they themselves have ever suffered from being around animals (itchy eyes, itchy nose, itchy throat—so much itching.)
However, you may want to think twice before deciding against four-legged companions completely. A recent study suggests that it is unlikely that being around a dog or a cat for most of the childhood years will increase a child’s chances of developing allergies, and early exposure could actually lower the risk.
Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit studied 565 18-year-olds who had been followed from birth. They found that teens who had cats during their first year of life had 50 percent less chance of developing pet allergies later, compared to babies born into cat-free homes. Boys who lived with a dog during the first year of life had about half the risk of developing allergies as compared to those without a dog in the house, though, oddly, this wasn’t true for girls—a fact that researchers were unable to explain.
In fact, being exposed to pets anytime after the first year of life seemed to have no effect on allergy risk at all, which, researchers feel indicates that a baby’s first year is a critical time when it comes to the possibility of a child developing pet allergies. The reason for this? Researchers believe it may lie in the “hygiene theory”—the idea that early exposure to certain environmental factors, like dust or animal dander, might trigger the immune system to develop a tolerance for common allergens, therefore reducing the likelihood of a child developing sensitivities.
Still, researchers are quick to point out that even though the study indicates that having pets early in life could help protect kids from allergies, this doesn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship—meaning you probably shouldn’t rush out to get a pet in the hopes that it’ll make your child immune to pet allergies. However, if you’re planning on getting a pet, it might be better to get one sooner rather than later.
Fortunately for me, my allergies have never been life threatening, and my mom agreed to keeping pets in the house so long as my symptoms didn’t get out of hand. To this day, I live quite happily with a cat of my own, and though I still take a pill everyday to help relieve some of that awful itching, I’m an animal lover and a pet owner, and I wouldn’t have grown up any other way.
What about you? Did you grow up with animals and allergies? Do you think exposing your child early in life to common allergens could prevent them from developing allergy symptoms later in life? Please share in the comments.
Guest blog by Alicia Meulensteen, a mom of two who works in Development at the ASPCA.
Just when you think you’re getting a handle on the whole baby thing, your little ones change the game as they become mobile.
A crawling, standing and cruising baby turns formerly harmless items into hazards. Children have an uncanny ability to find things you didn’t even know were on the floor—and shove them into their mouths. Pet toys, cat hair and other odds and ends became increasingly difficult to keep away from our little ones.
Then there was the litter box. I could tolerate my children eating a bit of sand at the playground, or sampling the odd fistful of cat hair (it builds immunity, right?), but the thought of baby’s hands anywhere near a litter box was too much. Our family lives in an apartment, so we don’t have the option of putting the box in the basement or elsewhere—we needed to be a bit more creative.
Our solution was probably best summed up as “out of sight, out of mind,” and it was quite effective. While renovating our apartment, we created a special space within a low cabinet for the litter box. Pointing away from the living room, you don’t know it’s there unless you see a cat entering or exiting. The box is located near our little “mud” area where we also keep shoes, coats and the stroller. We initially put up a baby gate to keep the whole area out of bounds to our toddler, and the cat quickly learned how to get around the gate when she needed access to the box. I’ve seen other variations of this in catalogs: litter boxes disguised as end tables, for example, that keep most of the box covered so access from most sides is limited. Some even have pet doors to cover the entrance.
As my son got older, we removed the gate but kept a watchful eye on him. We explained that the litter box is the cat’s potty to help him learn that it is definitely not a sandbox. So far, so good.
Do you share a small space with kids and pets? If so, how do you handle the challenge of keeping kids away from your pets’…personal items? Share your experiences in the comments.
Guest blog by Alicia Meulensteen, a mom of two who works in the Development department at the ASPCA.
Play dates: your little guy or girl, a friend…and your pet? Playtime for three is not always welcome by friend or feline. Here’s how I ensure everyone has a good time during play dates:
My son Sam is three-and-a-half and our cat, Polly, is approaching 14. Sam is getting to an age where he wants to have his friends over more often. So far, these children tend to fall into two camps when it comes to meeting our cat: They either can’t get enough of her or they are frightened of her— especially if they have never interacted with a cat before.
In both scenarios, I find an introduction with treats for the cat gets everyone comfortable. For an excited child, it slows them down and prevents them from approaching the cat with a loud voice or really animated movements, both of which make the cat—a somewhat cranky senior kitty—a little nervous. Placing a treat on the floor lets the more timid children approach the cat on their terms, but they do not actually have to pet her or get too close.
Sometimes I’ll provide the cat dancer toy so kids can play with her without using their hands. A short, supervised time with kitty is usually enough to satisfy everyone’s interest, and then child and kitty both move on to something else. If anyone gets too carried away with the cat, or I can see her cornered, she’s airlifted out of the situation to safety. The key for cats is to designate a safe place where they can get out of reach of inquisitive or persistent little hands.
I realize dogs are a little different. Some dogs may jump up and knock over a little one in the process; dog toys and kid toys are easily confused, too! My neighbors have three little kids and two dogs, and often they just move the dogs upstairs when friends are over to avoid the issue altogether. For helpful pet tips, check out our guide to teaching dogs to behave around children as well as our cat behavior section.
How do you keep your pets safe during play dates? Tell us in the comments!