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Do Pets Pose a Health Risk to Your Toddler?

by Tania Cowling | May 18th, 2015 | Infants/Toddlers

child with pets (400x400)I didn’t have a pet when I was growing up and I always felt a void since I love animals. So, in my home we have always had a dog and cat. Affection from the family pet can make a child feel terrific. Do they threaten your child’s health? Most vets say no! But there have been a few cases. Read on to find out how.

I feel if you keep your dog or cat clean and make sure it has veterinary checkups and vaccines, your pet is protected and so is the family. Pet owners should also bathe and check for fleas and ticks – good grooming is a must. Ticks usually bite animals, but a tick can jump onto a child. Although most dog ticks do not carry Lyme disease, always address a tick bite with your pediatrician.

One of the issues I had with my toddlers was constantly kissing the dog and the dog licking my child’s face. So I spoke with my veterinarian about this. Remember that dogs lick almost everything in sight – including other dogs and whatever else smells interesting. Okay, yes there are germs. So, theoretically they can transmit live organisms by licking mouth to mouth, but my vet says the odds of something bad happening are slim. He says the chance of my pet having an infectious disease is small and the human immune system can usually protect a person from catching it. Humans don’t share many diseases with dogs and cats, which is probably the reason that these animals are such popular companions.

The poor family pet has also been blamed for giving toddlers pinworms and head lice. This is not true as these ailments are passed from child to child. When children do catch a disease from a pet it typically involves a bite or other puncture wound, or (not to be gross) the accidental ingestion of animal feces. Even touching feces and having dirty hands is a major problem with young children as little kids mouth everything. Make sure your toddler stays away from litter boxes and keep your yard free of doggie poo, since this is your child’s playground.

Another issue that has been in the news is when babies and toddlers get into the pet food and eat it. There have been incidents where children got ill from handling or even ingesting dry pet food that was contaminated with salmonella bacteria.

The bottom line of my article is to practice good hygiene – washing hands and face often after playing with your pet. And, I would say to discourage licking the face from pet to child. This is not always possible, but best to keep to a minimum. Just remember that the emotional benefits of having a loving pet far outweigh any possible health risk.

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