700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Pets and Children: Keeping Kids Safe When Animals Are in the Home

Aug 24, 2018
Pets and Children

Dogs, cats, and other pets can be wonderful additions to the family. They can be fuzzy friends that provide love and companionship for many years. Unfortunately, even the most loving of pets can bite.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are over 4 million animal bites every year! Around 85 percent to 90 percent of animal bites are from dogs, 5 percent to 10 percent are from cats, and the rest are from other animals. Most dog bites - around 70 percent - are from a dog that the victim knows. Sadly, children represent a large percentage of these animal bite victims. In 2017 alone, Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Emergency Departments and Urgent Cares treated more than 600 children with dog bites.

Children are at increased risk for dog bites for a number of different reasons. Children may not be able to interpret the body language of an animal, which may be a warning sign before a bite occurs. A dog that is fearful or anxious may crouch low to the ground, put its tail between their legs or flatten its ears back. An aggressive dog may puff out fur to try to appear bigger or may growl or show teeth in a warning display.  

Children sometimes frighten animals just by doing normal kid things! Loud or rough play may be scary for dogs. Curious kids may try to play with a dog’s food, or explore an area a dog considers to be her territory, such as her bed. These types of behaviors, while normal for children, may be anxiety-provoking for an animal.

Kids love to play with animals, but children don’t necessarily play with animals in ways that animals like.  For example, young children often try to hug dogs or touch their faces. As a result of this face-to-face interaction, and because of their small size, younger children are likely to suffer dog bites to the face, head, and neck. Older children and teens are more likely to experience dog bites to their hands, arms and legs.

But having a home that is safe for both pets and kids is possible! The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) provide the following tips to help prevent animal bites:

  • Choose your pet carefully. Make sure the animal you choose is a good fit for your household. Pets should come from a reputable breeder or adopted from a shelter where its behavior has been observed or evaluated.
  • Socialize your pet. Dogs that feel more comfortable around people and other animals are less likely to become frightened by these interactions, and subsequently less likely to bite.
  • Train your dog. Obedience training helps to build a confident, trusting relationship between you and your pet.
  • Keep your pet healthy.Animals that are sick or in pain are more likely to bite. Additionally, unhealthy animals are more likely to spread disease to their human families.
  • Stranger danger! Teach children not to approach or pet strange animals. Petting a dog through a fence or a car window may seem harmless to you, but the dog may interpret this as an invasion of his territory. Also, children should not interact with stray animals or wildlife, such as raccoons or bats.
  • Be alert. Pay attention to the behavioral signals your dog is sending, such as barking, growling, crouching or showing teeth. Teach children to recognize these behaviors as well.
  • Do not disturb. Teach children not to bother a dog while it’s eating or to startle him during sleep, and to handle animals gently and give them space.
  • ALWAYS supervise children around animals! Never leave a baby or child alone with a dog. Even a beloved family pet can bite under the wrong circumstances.

If your child is bitten or injured by any animal, seek medical attention immediately. While some injuries need only a good cleaning and a bandage, some animal bites can be severe. Animal bites are at greater risk for becoming infected than other types of injuries, so it’s important to take any medications as instructed by your health care provider.

Kids will be kids, and dogs will be dogs. Let’s try to keep them all safe and healthy! Sign up for the Health e-Hints Newsletter to receive the latest tips for keeping your child well.

Featured Expert

Courtney Porter, RN, MS
Primary Care Pediatrics

Courtney Porter is a registered nurse who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in nursing, both from The Ohio State University. She has had the pleasure of working in the Emergency Department, Pediatric Surgery Clinic, and Off-Site Urgent Care network in her 10 years at Nationwide Children’s.

All Topics

Browse by Author

About this Blog

Pediatric News You Can Use From America’s Largest Pediatric Hospital and Research Center

700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.