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Keeping Your Toddler Safe Around Pets

dog on leash


Animals can be wonderful friends, and your toddler can learn valuable social and emotional skills by playing with, and helping to take care of them.

However, it's important to ensure your toddler is safe around pets. Here’s how:

  • Keep dry pet food out of your toddler’s reach. It’s a choking hazard.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands and your toddler’s hands after handling pets.
  • Never leave your toddler alone with an animal, even if it’s a trusted pet.
  • Teach your toddler to recognize the signs of aggression in a pet.
  • Model gentle caring for a pet. Remember, your toddler learns by example.
  • Explain in simple terms how to act with animals: 
    • “The dog likes to be patted gently.” 
    • “The kitty’s meowing or growling is her way of telling you to stop.”
    • “That’s the puppy’s special toy and he wants to chew on it now.”
    •  “The puppy doesn’t want to be bothered while he is eating.” 
  • If you're thinking about getting a pet, wait until your child is five or six. At an older age, your child will better understand how to be gentle with an animal.
  • Keep your pet healthy by taking it to the vet regularly and keeping its immunizations current.
  • Do not keep wild animals as pets.

Did You Know?

Reptiles are not recommended as pets. Turtles, in particular, can transmit salmonella bacteria which could make your toddler very sick. Turtles should not be kept as pets.

Always keep your toddler away from animals that he or she doesn’t know. Teach your toddler not to go near an animal unless there is an adult present and the owner gives permission.

  • Don’t be shy about asking someone to put a dog on a leash. A toddler’s safety takes priority over a dog’s right to roam freely. Many parks have rules that dogs must be on a leash or well controlled.
  • Always stay with your toddler around animals, even ones you trust.
  • Keep your toddler away from a new mother cat or dog - they may feel threatened and bite or claw.
  • If people bring their dog to visit, ask them to put it on a leash for a while. This gives your toddler a chance to warm up to it, and the dog can get comfortable with everyone. It also allows you to determine whether it is safe for the dog to be off leash.

Bites and Scratches

Certain diseases can spread from pets to people through biting, scratching, or direct contact. Cat bites are usually thin and deep, and may not look very serious. However, cat bites are often more serious than dog bites.

Prevent the spread of disease by training your dog or cat not to bite or scratch. Keep your pet’s nails or claws trimmed short. If your toddler does get a bite or a scratch, thoroughly clean the area with soap and water. If the area isn’t healing normally, ask your doctor about the possibility of an infection.

If your toddler is bitten by an animal that is not yours, call your doctor, local public health office, or HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 if:

  • There was no obvious reason for the animal to bite.
  • The animal is not acting normally.
  • The animal seems sick.
  • The wound looks serious.


If you suspect that your child has had contact with a bat, even if there is no sign of a bite, call your doctor, local public health office, or HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 as soon as possible.

Resources & Links:
Child Safety: Pets
Controlling Pet Allergens
Animal and Human Bites

Last Updated: April 10, 2013