tails, treats and tantrums: teaching your toddler about pets

Toddlers are naturally curious and are still finding out about the world around them. That means poking, pulling, pushing and tasting – fine when it comes to toys and food, not so much when it comes to pets.

Thankfully, with a little guidance and gentle steering, your child and pet will soon be the best of friends (or at least learn to tolerate each other).

space to themselves

As any parent who has tried to go to the loo in peace knows, toddlers don’t understand personal space. It’s important that your pet feels they can escape if they need to. Make sure your cat or dog is never left alone with your child and can leave the room whenever it's ready. Small animals, such as rabbits and guinea pigs, need you to keep a limit on the amount of time your child can play with them so they don't get overwhelmed.

right time, right place

Animals can get decidedly grumpy if they think someone is trying to take their food away. Keep your little one away from your pet while it’s eating. You’ll also want to teach your toddler not to pounce on your pet while it’s sleeping or try to take its toy away (easier said than done, we know.)

keeping healthy

If you don’t want your little one using your dog’s chew toy as a teething ring, keep your pet’s toys out of reach. The same goes for cat litter trays (intriguing-looking sand pits) and pet food. Lock any medicines, such as flea spray, safely out of reach and help your child to wash their hands thoroughly with a good antibacterial hand wash after stroking your pet.

unspoken communication

You’re probably a bit of an expert at deciphering your toddler’s cues by now and you know what it means when they start yawning and rubbing their eyes. Animals have their own ways of showing how they feel. Cats sometimes hiss or yowl when they're scared or angry, while dogs will growl or show their teeth.

Panting, whining or whimpering can mean a dog is frightened, hurt or stressed. Wagging can mean happiness, but it can also signal that your dog is feeling defensive if their tail's standing in a stiff, upright position.

The RSPCA has a useful guide to dog's body language you might want to look at. If your pet shows any signs of being unhappy, it’s best to separate it from your child. It might be the nicest-natured animal known to man, but every animal has its limits.

top tips

We know it seems like there’s a lot to remember, but it all boils down to a few top tips:

• never leave your child alone with a pet
• allow your pet some peace and quiet when they want it
• keep pet food, toys and litter trays out of your toddler’s reach
• watch out for any warning signs, such as growling or hissing

Keep this guidance in mind and your little one will soon learn how to care for their furry friends. The bond between animal and child can be incredibly close. With your help, they could build a beautiful friendship – and you, a happy, harmonious home.


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