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PETS I: THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

Before a family decides to get a pet for the children there are some issues to be considered: SAFETY (will having an animal in the house harm the children?), WORK (who will care for the pet–in many instances Mother is the one who ends up with all the pet chores), and EXPENSE.

Before you rush out to buy a dog or bring home that cute little kitten evaluate the safety, work, and expense factors.

SAFETY

Can pets transmit diseases? Yes, although most diseases are species-specific. We have our infectious agents and dogs have theirs.

But close contact with dogs and cats puts the owners at risk for skin conditions like ringworm and scabies. Fleas and ticks can jump off pets onto people and allergic pet owners can develop a rash or even asthma. The dog roundworm can cause a rash or can encyst in the body or eye if young children eat dirt contaminated with roundworm eggs. Although rabies has been almost completely eliminated by vaccination, wild animals like skunks and bats carry rabies so that if you get a dog it must be immunized.

Cats spread toxoplasmosis which can affect the fetus so pregnant women must minimize contact with cats and avoid cleaning cat boxes. You should cover children’s sandboxes so cats and other animals do not mistake them for toilets. Cats can also spread cat scratch fever, caused by an organism cats carry in their saliva.

Fortunately these diseases are rare and can usually be avoided by using common sense. Both dogs and cats should sleep in their own beds, not your child’s bed. Keep your pets healthy. Be sure they get all their shots and are periodically examined by a veterinarian. Keep your pets free of ticks and fleas but keep all of the stuff used to kill ticks and fleas locked up away from the children. If you or your child come down with a rash that’s puzzling the doctor don’t forget to mention that the dog is scratching.

Don’t let dog or cat fecal material accumulate in or near the house. If your child is in the dirt-eating stage, use a play pen or play area for the child that the dog does not have access to. The eggs of the roundworm can live in soil for many years so don’t let your child eat dirt.

Don’t bring home exotic pets. Monkeys and ferrets bite; turtles carry salmonella, a bacteria that can cause diarrhea; and venomous creatures and children are a bad combination.

What about injuries from pets? Dogs bite over a million people each year; over two-thirds of these bites are taken out of children. The majority of bites are perpetrated by a “friendly” dog like the family pet or a neighbor’s dog.

Dog bites are largely preventable injuries. Small children and dogs should be supervised or kept apart. My favorite veterinarian says that ideally a family postpones acquiring a dog or cat until the youngest child is four or five because young children often handle a pet roughly or provoke the pet in some way.

Teach your child to respect ALL dogs. Do not permit your child to startle, mistreat, or tease any dog–ever. Children should be taught to never approach a strange dog.

WORK

Will the house be dirtier or messier if you get a dog or cat? Sure, there will be snout prints on the patio door and paw prints on the floor after when your dog is mature enough to avoid staining your carpet. Cats are pretty clean but the cat box has to be emptied.

A pet definitely means more work for Mother–or somebody. Someone has to buy the food, feed the pet, clean up any messes, train the dog, see that the dog gets exercise, take the creature to the vet, and arrange for a “sitter” when the family takes a vacation. Ideally the whole family shares in this work and responsibility. Parents can and should use the pet to help teach their children about responsibility for a living creature–an important lesson to learn before you have your own children!

EXPENSE

Another consideration is money. The pet will definitely add items to the expense side of your budget: food, toys, collars, licenses, pet door or cat box, veterinarian bills, neutering, boarding when you go on vacation.

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