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Pets - health and safety risks to babies and children

Pets can help your child's development. But they can be a risk to your child's safety. Read about health risks to babies and children and how to keep them safe.

There are many advantages for your child to have a pet around. Interacting with a pet can help your child's social and emotional development. But pets can pose risks to your child's health and safety.

No matter how well you feel you know your pet or how gentle they appear, they could be a risk to your child. Your child's health and safety should always be the priority. When you put steps in place to keep your child safe, it will help your child and your pet.

Pets and children are unpredictable. Always make sure an adult supervises your child around a pet. Do not leave your baby or child alone with a pet. Even if your child is sleeping, they should not be alone with a pet.

When your child is at the right age, teach them how to behave around the pet. But do not expect your child to always understand your advice. Young children do not understand danger.

Pets and risks to babies

Keep pets apart from babies unless you are close enough to quickly remove one of them. Always hold the baby or the pet.

If it's safe to do so, let them get to know each other slowly. An adult should always supervise. If the baby makes a loud noise or grabs at a pet, the animalmay become frightened and react.

Risks to your baby's breathing

Never allow pets into any room where a baby or child is sleeping.

Do not allow your pet to use any of your child's equipment or cot for play, relaxing on or sleeping.

Pets and health risks to your child

Pets can cause injuries or illness to children and adults, including:

  • bites and scratches
  • falls from being knocked over by the pet
  • choking on pet toys or food
  • allergies or asthma caused by animal fur, saliva, feathers or skin flakes (dandruff)
  • diseases and infections that can pass from animals to humans usually through poo, food, water or litter trays
  • difficulty in breathing and suffocation from a pet lying close to your child's face

Talk to your GP if you have any health or injury concerns.

Risks of bites and scratches from pets

Always talk to your GP if your child gets a bad bite or scratch from a pet that breaks the skin. These wounds can get infected easily.

If a child is bitten or scratched by a pet:

  • wash the wound immediately in warm running tap water
  • remove any debris like fur, feathers, teeth and dirt from the wound
  • dry the wound and cover it with a clean dressing or plaster.

If the bleeding is serious or heavy, control the bleeding first, then:

  • put a clean pad on the wound
  • apply pressure
  • get urgent medical help from your nearest hospital emergency department (ED)

Risks of infections and illnesses spread by pets

Pets can carry germs and infections that can cause illness to you and your child. Different animals carry different health risks. Some are more dangerous than others.

The most common illness your child might get from a pet is a stomach illness or food poisoning.

These are spread by germs or bugs such as:

  • salmonella
  • campylobacter
  • giardia
  • cryptosporidium

Salmonella

The most common bacteria is salmonella. Salmonella can be spread by touching infected pets or pet poo and then putting your hand in your mouth. You can also get it from eating food contaminated with the bacteria.

Symptoms of salmonella include:

  • diarrhoea
  • tummy pains
  • a temperature
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headache

If you or your child develops these symptoms, talk to your GP. Make sure to tell them that you are a pet owner.

Avoid the risk of infection

It's important that pet areas are kept clean and that children understand about staying clean themselves.

You can do this by:

  • washing your hands carefully after handling your pet, its litter tray, droppings, feed bowls, bedding, toys or cage - guide
  • and help children to do the same
  • cleaning up poo or litter trays regularly
  • keeping pet bedding clean
  • keeping your pet away from your baby or child's toys, nursery and any other child equipment
  • keeping your pet's food, feeding utensils, toys, any other pet equipment out of your baby or child's reach
  • keeping your pet's poo, urine and litter trays out of your baby or child's reach
  • removing uneaten food so it doesn't attract pests
  • not making or storing open pet food near human food

Risk of allergies and pets

Allergies to animals tend to be more common with household pets such as cats and dogs.

Often it is not their fur your child is reacting to, rather it is flakes of their poo, spit, skin or urine.

Sometimes children are fine with their own family pet, but get allergic reactions to other people’s pets.

If you are visiting a house where there is a pet:

  • make sure your child does not touch the pet
  • shower your child and change their clothes as soon as you get home

Sometimes children do become allergic to the family pet.

If this is the case:

  • keep the pet outside the house if possible
  • don’t let them sleep on your child’s bed
  • get your child to change their clothes and wash their hands after playing with the pet
  • wash your pets at least once per week and groom them regularly outside
  • think about using an air filter in the rooms where your child spends most of their time

Pets in cars

Dogs and cats must be securely restrained when travelling in a vehicle. Use a good quality harness, a crate or guard. There are many options available. The best one for you will depend on your pet’s size. Ask your vet for advice.

Related topics

Cats - teaching your child to be safe

Dogs - risks to your child's health

Fish and child safety

Reptiles and child safety

Page last reviewed: 28/06/2019
Next review due: 28/06/2022