Updated 04 July 2013

Toddlers and pets

Toddlers can hurt pets badly. And pets can hurt toddlers badly. It is up to the parents to control this potentially destructive situation.


Toddlers can hurt pets badly. And pets can hurt toddlers badly. It is up to the parents to control this potentially destructive situation.

Toddlers have to be trained and monitored in order for them to be socialised to people and to pets. Toddlers don’t always recognise that pets are creatures that can be hurt, so they will easily squeeze or pull or hurt them in some other way, as they do with their soft toys. One only has to think of how a three-year-old treats a new brother or sister to know that things could turn nasty with Fido or Fluffy.

Some pets can be very aggressive when ill-treated, and they will do anything in their power to protect themselves, using whatever methods they have at their disposal – these can include claws and teeth.

Many pets will instinctively understand that a toddler is out of bounds, but don’t bargain on it. If you have a dog with strong hunting instincts, it could spell trouble. If you normally carry a baby in your arms and it suddenly starts moving around by itself after a few months, a pet will not always make the connection that this is not a new creature in the household, but the same baby.

The following tips have been given by contributors to the Cybervet forum:

Tips from the forum

  • Never leave pets alone with toddlers. They could easily hurt each other.
  • If your baby is crawling, parents should be around and should hold the dog in a sit/stay position. Use soothing language to calm the dog down. If the dog remains silent and quiet, give it a reward. This will positively reinforce the good behaviour of the dog.
  • Children think pets are toys, and therefore treat them like they would treat their dolls or teddy bears. But the pet is different – it can feel pain, and it moves around, making it an attractive target for being chased, jumped on, screamed at and being pinched, or even bitten. It is unreasonable to expect any pet to tolerate this.
  • Parents should start training their toddlers to respect the pets from an early age. Children are inquisitive, and will want to do a close inspection of your cat or dog. Children can easily become aggressive or abusive at this stage. And it’s not only the pet itself that will elicit interest – its toys, food bowl, water bowl, litter tray and basket could become the object of intense scrutiny.
  • Parents should always be there for immediate supervision, not only by telling the child not to do this and that, but as well as showing them which parts of the pet can and cannot be touched.
  • Children should be taught not to disturb the pet while it is eating or playing with toys. Children should also not insist on running after the pet when it is trying to avoid them. Teach them to let the pet go when it is trying to break-free from them. This will avoid the pet harming them.
  • Parents should also try to make their toddlers understand that dogs they don’t know could be dangerous. Even if your dog tolerates a certain amount of maltreatment, other dogs won’t. Some dogs can look cute and sweet, but you never know how it is going to react when a stranger touches it.
  • Cats should have their nails trimmed regularly, because they can hurt a child badly.
  • Remember that every pet has limits to its tolerance, even the kindest ones.


(Health24, updated February 2010)


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