Tips for Introducing Kids to Pets
Before you adopt a new pet, it’s important to take measures to prepare your children, your home and yourself for the arrival of a new pet, to help make the transition of your newest family member as stress free as possible.
TALK TO OTHERS WHO SHARE THEIR HOME WITH A CAT/DOG
If you are thinking about adopting a cat or dog, talk with other families who have the same type of pet and learn about their adoption experience and what daily duties caring for the pet entail. It’s important to do your homework and planning prior to introducing a new pet to your home.
Also, be sure to consider the age and temperament of your children prior to pet adoption.If your children are very young and active, introducing a tiny kitten may not be the best idea (for the safety of the kitten). An adult cat who does well with children can be a good option, for example.
As you explain the responsibilities and commitment of a pet to your children, point out some small ways your kids can be part of the process of introducing a new pet to his/her new home (under your supervision, of course).
Take your children to visit a similar pet (i.e. adult cat) in the home of another family. Teach your children during these visits, how to nicely pet the animal, how to properly interact, how to behave (calm demeanor, gentle), etc. These visits will also be a great time for you to properly assess if your children are at an age where introducing a new pet is a viable option.
Your newly adopted pet will be furry and adorable, but he/she is also a living, breathing life that needs to be HANDLED WITH CARE. The pet is not a toy and it’s important to explain this to children. Set the ground rules ahead of time. Establish a set of rules for your child(ren) and for the new pet. Rules for the new pet include (for example): the cat will be indoors only. The cat’s food and water will be kept in the kitchen and full at all times. The cats litter box will be kept in the basement and will be scooped once a day, etc. Rules for children include (for example): It is never okay to tug or pull on the pet’s tail, whiskers or any part of their body. Wrestling with the pet is never okay, etc.
If you assign tasks to the child(ren) to help with your new pet’s care (i.e. keeping the water bowl clean and full at all times), never leave the task solely up to the child. Any pet related responsibilities should ALWAYS be supervised by a parent/guardian as a child can easily forget to fill up the food or water bowl, leaving the pet without. In addition, it is important to teach children not to place their hands around the pets face/touch the pet while the pet is eating. When it comes to litter box cleaning, this should always be performed by an adult only, and it is important to always wash your hands after scooping/cleaning the litter box.
Once you’ve successfully completed the above steps and you are sure that you and your family are ready to adopt a new pet into your home, it is recommended that you adopt your new pet from a 501c3 rescue organization that utilizes foster homes. Why? Because rescue organizations that work with volunteer foster homes get to know the pets prior to adopting them into forever homes. This is a huge benefit not only to the pet, but also to you, the adopter. Foster parents know if the pet does well with children (including very young children), other pets, etc. They can share any quirks they have noticed and help you choose the best pet for your home/family. Finding a good match— both for the pet and for you– is crucial, as you are making a commitment for duration of your new pets natural life-span, which could easily be 14+ years.
Your home is a brand new environment for your newly adopted pet. Give them time and space to transition; this is crucial. Before you bring your new pet home, create a safe haven for the pet (i.e. a bedroom) where they can stay for the first few weeks as they warm up to your home and to your family. Creating a safe haven goes a long way when introducing a new pet.
It is totally normal for your new kitten/cat to hide for the first week (or few weeks). It is also totally normal for your new cat/kitten and your resident cat/kitten to hiss, growl, swat, etc. toward each other. This behavior is to be expected when introducing a new cat to your home. Knowing this information up front is incredibly helpful when bringing home a new pet.
Take the first few weeks to introduce your new pet to your children — and your other pets — at a snail’s pace. Let your new pet and your kids spend short periods of time together initially to help them adjust well to one another.
NOTE: It is highly recommended that households with children under age 6 do not adopt young puppies or kittens for the safety of everyone. Adult pets who have been in foster homes and do well around very young children are a better fit for adoption into your home at this age.
For additional tips on introducing children to dogs/puppies, click here.
Do not leave children unattended with the pet, especially not during the first several months. Pets just need time to grow, develop and learn (through training and gentle interaction) how to play nice. And they’re not the only ones: As mentioned earlier, human kids need plenty of ground rules and reminders to be gentle when handling kittens, as well.
As a rule, most young children under 6 years old should never be alone with a new kitten/puppy or pet, and older kids need to first establish a track record and prove they know how to be gentle. Until then, it’s important to always make sure there is an adult around when pets and children interact. With time and your guidance, your children and their new pet will develop a special bond.
KEEP YOUR COMMITMENT
Will you keep your adopted pet with you…
When you move?
If you’re pregnant?
If you divorce?
If you or another member of your household develop allergies? (click here to read about how you can live with pets, when you have allergies)
If you get an additional pet?
If you lose your job (i.e. suffer a financial setback)?
Did you know…all Ohio pounds currently remain kill facilities, especially for cats/kittens. Local Animal Control killed upwards of 80% of all healthy, adoptable felines who entered their doors in 2013 alone. Nationwide, nearly 3 million cats and dogs are killed in American animal shelters annually. Both cats and dogs (puppies and kittens) are at risk. In fact, shelter euthanasia is the number one cause of death in cats- more than any disease or illness. By keeping cats and dogs from ever entering the shelter, we can change the numbers. By spaying/neutering our pets and working to TNR (spay/neuter, release) feral cats, we can make an enormous impact on our community. If you are experiencing a difficulty with your pet, relinquishing your pet to the shelter is never the answer. Animal shelters/pounds often prove to be incredibly stressful environments for pets. In addition, pets often suffer extreme depression, anxiety and lethargy when left behind by their guardians. Whether you are frustrated from your pet chewing, nibbling, spraying, etc.- whatever the issue may be, there is a solution that can be found where you can live happily together.
When you adopt a pet, you are agreeing to properly care for your pet for the duration of their natural life span. This can be 14+ years. Are you committed? Make sure you are, before you adopt. Your pet is depending on you and trusting you to provide a safe, loving environment. Keeping your commitment and providing a safe, loving environment for your pet will also teach your child(ren) the importance of commitment and of love.