Tips to maintain a safe environment for children in home with pets

Pets are a great addition to the family. However, having an animal in the house can lead to injuries and even hospitalizations. Parents especially need to be wary of children's interactions with pets. Thousands of children go to emergency departments (EDs) each year for dog bites and pet-related injuries.

"Last year, 94 children were sent to the Pediatrics ED - most of them were 1-year-olds," said Anne Brayer, M.D., pediatrician of Emergency Medicine at University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and co-director of Injury Free Coalition for Kids, based out of Golisano Children's Hospital at URMC.

Nearly two-thirds of children bitten under the age of 4 are injured in the head or neck region, usually because their face is at the level of the dog's mouth. "Dog bites tend to be as much crush as cut, which can make it hard to prevent scarring," said Brayer. She also detailed that on rare occasions, the bite involves the trachea in the neck or goes through the skull, which can lead to serious infection.

Slightly older children are also at risk for dog bites. Children ages 5-9 are more likely to get bitten by dogs than any other age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Brayer surmised that these children tend to be more boisterous around dogs and are not watched as carefully as younger children. The Pediatrics ED at URMC sees fewer of these lacerations because they are usually less serious and can be repaired elsewhere. However, these injuries are also largely preventable and can be avoided with adult supervision and child preparedness, reminded Brayer.

Even seemingly harmless pets can cause injuries. A recent finding from the also CDC stated that 86,629 Americans go to EDs each year for tripping over pets and pets' toys. Children aged 0-14 were one of the two most likely age groups to be injured.

To maintain a safe environment for children in home with pets, Brayer recommends the following:

  • Keep pet paraphernalia in a designated area away from where people walk and put them back when they are no longer being used.
  • When greeting an unfamiliar dog, advise a child to let the dog sniff her before trying to pet the dog, remain calm and avoid eye contact.
  • When visiting a home with a pet that a child is not familiar with, monitor interactions between the dog and child closely.
  • Do not allow babies to crawl around when a dog is in the vicinity unless there is a fenced off or gated area separating them.
  • Children should not run around a household with a dog unless the space has been cleared and a pet is well-trained or restrained.

Children should be familiar with these basic safety tips about pets, even if they do not have pets of their own. More likely than not, children will encounter pets when visiting relatives or when outside, so reviewing safety tips regularly is an important way to prevent injuries.

The Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Rochester is a child injury prevention program centered at the Golisano Children's Hospital. The Monroe County Office of Traffic Safety and Strong Regional Trauma Center work in collaboration with IFCK to reduce the incidence and severity of childhood injury in the greater Rochester metropolitan area. For more information, go to and click on the Rochester location.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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