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!