The Right Precautions Can Keep Kids Safe Around Pets

We love our pets and treat them like members of the family. More than half of American households have at least one pet. Owning a pet is shown to improve health. But, it’s also important to know how to keep children healthy around pets. 

Even when pets seem healthy, they can carry diseases that spread to humans. These diseases are called zoonotic diseases. Children, especially infants and those younger than 5, are more likely to get sick from zoonotic diseases. A human can get a disease from an animal in many ways. Some ways include touch, handling pet waste, a bite from an infected animal, contact with a contaminated pet habitat, eating food contaminated by an infected animal, or drinking water contaminated by an infected animal. 

The Department of Health in Polk County would like to provide some tips to keep your child safe around your pet. 

Always Wash Hands

The most important tip for keeping your child healthy around your pet is handwashing. Wash yours and your child’s hands with soap and water after being around pets, their waste, their food, and their supplies. An infant’s immune system is still developing, so it’s especially important that hands are washed and clean before breastfeeding or handling formula. 

Young children might not remember to wash their hands, so it’s vital that an adult makes sure that they do. Teach your child to wash their hands after being where animals live, even if they didn’t touch anything. 

Keep Your Pet Healthy

Keeping your pet healthy keeps your child healthy. Regular care from a veterinarian can catch parasites affecting your pet’s health, and vets can provide preventive care such as flea and tick prevention. If your pet is sick, they should be kept away from your child and seen by a veterinarian. Being up to date on your pet’s vaccines is essential so that they stay free of diseases and so that they don’t pass diseases to your child. 

Pets typically contract rabies through contact with wild animals. However, if your pet is not vaccinated for rabies and they’re bit by a rabid wild animal, the risk of you and your child getting rabies increases. Vaccinating your pets will prevent them from getting rabies and it reduces yours and your child’s risk for rabies. A veterinarian can help you decide what vaccines are suitable for your pet. 

Keep It Clean

Part of pet hygiene is keeping your pet and its home clean. Regularly clean and disinfect the pet’s habitat and its supplies. When you clean and disinfect a pet’s items, do not do it where food is prepared or eaten. Disinfect the area where you cleaned the pet and its items. Wear gloves and wash hands when handling pet waste. Keep young children away from an area with pet waste. Groom pets regularly and clip their nails to reduce the risk of scratching.

Play It Safe

Children love to play with pets. But young children might touch their noses and their mouths after petting an animal. They might let a dog kiss them or lick their mouths. An infected pet licking a child’s mouth can lead to the child getting sick. So it’s important that an adult supervises children when they’re around any animal, even a pet. 

Teach your child not to roughhouse with pets to avoid them getting bitten or scratched. If your child is bitten or scratched, teach them to tell an adult immediately. 

Pets are not the only animals around. Protect your pet and your child from rabies by keeping them away from wild animals. 

Teach your child well so they can enjoy pets for years to come.

by Dr. JOY JACKSON, MD, Director of DOH-Polk

About the Author: Dr. Joy Jackson, an internal medicine physician, serves the community as director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County (DOH-Polk).  For more information about DOH-Polk, visit  Follow DOH-Polk on Twitter at

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