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Pet Safety

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Parents need to consider children's safety when purchasing a new pet or maintaining a veteran pet. When selecting pets for homes with school-aged children, dogs and cats seem to be the best pets as playmates and pals. Fish and small rodents such as hamsters are a popular choices as well, but these pets do not allow for mutually affectionate child-pet interaction, and younger children should not handle them. Newer research has found that rodents can carry a virus called lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), which can cause flu-like symptoms and lead to meningitis and other serious neurological disorders. Exotic animals are never a good match for a family with kids. Reptiles are an especially poor choice for homes with children because these animals have an exceptionally high risk of spreading Salmonella bacteria to children, which can cause significant illness and possibly death.

dog and catWhen selecting a cat or dog, parents should talk to breeders, or pet store or shelter employees to learn which breed will best fit the family's situation. Some breeds are genetically predisposed to be calmer and more patient with kids than are other breeds. As well, just like humans, each individual pet has its own personality.

Families should consider obtaining their new pet through a rescue organization or local animal shelter. Doing so saves the life of the adopted animal which may otherwise be euthanized for lack of a home. It is a particularly good idea to work with a responsible breeder or rescue organization as these groups will generally work with families before a sale or adoption to evaluate the compatibility of a given animal for a given family, and after a sale or adoption to help insure that any pet-related adjustment or safety problems get addressed. Newly adopted pets may be disoriented and frightened at first and require some time to adjust to their new circumstances. Even so, new pet owners should carefully evaluate their pets for any aggressive tendencies, which, if identified should be taken seriously and evaluated by a qualified animal behaviorist before an actual bite situation occurs. Aggressive animals should not be permitted to remain in a household with young children.

Some cat owners believe it convenient to de-claw their animals so as to prevent cat scratches, but this practice is today generally regarded as cruel. Concerned caregivers who are cat owners should consult their vet for alternative options for reducing the potential for scratches.