Pets can be an amazing addition to the family, teaching kids responsibility and bringing a warm, fuzzy friend to the house. However, teaching kids how to behave and interact with pets is extremely important. It creates a strong relationship of trust between kids and animals, preventing attacks and bites to people.

General rules for pet safety

Even people who don’t have pets in their home need to teach kids how to be safe around dogs and cats because animals are everywhere.

Behaviours from children that have the potential to provoking harm or injury from a dog include: 

  • Rough play or handling.
  • Running or chasing a dog.
  • Hugging, kissing or crawling on a dog.
  • Reaching to pet an unfamiliar or neighbourhood dog.
  • Teasing.
  • Taunting.
  • Yelling.
  • Screaming.
  • Squealing or barking at a dog.
  • Physically hurting or yelling at a dog.

Restraining or hugging cats cause them to become afraid and frustrated. It’s best for adults and children to avoid hugging their pets and instead interact with gentle pets and strokes for dogs along their shoulders avoiding the top of the head. For cats, it’s best to interact with chin or face rubs, strokes or scratches.

Teach kids to observe how their pets and other animals behave and what those behaviours mean. Point out the way a dog is sitting, how they’re wagging their tail or how a cat’s body is positioned and what their tail is doing.

Growling is a big thing to watch out for. A growl is a warning, and it means a dog is uncomfortable, unhappy or in pain and it should never be corrected. Instead, correct your child’s behaviour not the growl. Take it as a warning and intervene swiftly, then teach your child what was happening.

Teach your kids boundaries for responsible pet interactions – don’t touch an animal who is drinking, eating or chewing a toy – and create a sense of responsibility in your kids to be kind to animals. 

Teaching consent and watching animal behaviour 

Look for your animal’s body language when interacting with them and see if they give consent for the interaction. It’s best to let animals come to you and initiate an interaction but you should still watch out for their behaviour and if they want to be pet.

Once you initiate the interaction, watch their behaviour and also pause and see what they do. If they’re asking for more attention (behaviours like leaning into you, pushing their nose into you or pawing you), this is a sign they want more, they’re giving consent!

If your animal is leaning away, looking away (showing the whites of their eyes, called ‘whale eye’) or if they move away when you pause that means they’re letting you know they’d prefer you don’t continue the interaction.

It’s also important to teach your kids about approaching and interacting with an animal who’s not a part of your family. You should always ask for their guardian’s permission and never pet an animal without their permission.

Dog bite prevention

Always supervise children when they’re interacting with dogs – education around interacting with a dog is very important.

Never poke fingers through a gate or a fence to pet a dog, even if it’s a dog you know.

Kids should know not to approach a dog who’s eating, drinking, sleeping, barking, growling, or playing with a toy.

If a dog is trying to find a quiet place to go or looks like they’re trying to escape your child, they need to know not to pursue, follow or chase!

Playing safely with pets - dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs

  • Never bother a pet when its eating or pull its food or water away.
  • Don’t tease a dog or cat or pull its tail/ears.
  • Never bother a pet when it’s sleeping.
  • Don’t take a toy/bone away or hold it out of reach from a cat or dog.
  • Never try to get near a pet with its babies (cats with kittens or dogs with puppies, animal mothers can be protective).
  • Never hold or pick up a rabbit by its ears.
  • An adult should always be around when children are handling smaller pets to ensure their safety.

How to lift up and hold a guinea pig

Once your guinea pig is calm and relaxed, place a hand under their chest (just behind the front feet) and with your other hand supporting their hindquarters, gently lift the guinea pig up to your chest or cradle them in your arms.

If you’re moving around while holding them, hold them close to your body with two hands.

How to lift up and hold a rabbit

Move slowly and talk quietly around rabbits so as not to startle them. Hold rabbits gently but firmly – ensure one hand always supports their back and hindquarters. Help them feel secure and safe by holding all four feet against your body.

You can download and print our pet safety infographic here!