Most children love most animals. That’s sometimes seen as being perfectly natural.
In fact, there is a debate about just how much of that is ‘natural’ and exactly how much is learned. That’s a different subject though!
Most experts agree children should be given a lot of exposure to the natural world. It’s probably good for the development of their immune systems and from the very youngest age, can teach them admiration and respect for the non-human life around them.
However, there are some health and safety issues to be taken into account.
It’s important to recognise that today, the general environmental advice is to leave wildlife alone. Looking is fine – catching and handling isn’t.
Younger children also can find it difficult to grasp why adults say one thing is fine to touch and another is dangerous. True, they’ll need to learn these things eventually but in the earlier years, just encourage them to look and marvel at wildlife but generally, to leave it be.
There’s typically a big difference here between farming and other families.
On farms, people know that even the most apparently docile livestock can be dangerous at times – often if unintentionally. For example, cows can be very clumsy and can easily crush to death a fully grown man without knowing it. Other apparently ‘cute’ animals can dish out painful bites – etc.
So, if you’re out in the countryside and aren’t familiar with farms, leave cattle, sheep, horses, goats and everything else alone – unless you and your children are under expert supervision.
Hygiene in the countryside
If you live on a farm or are visiting the petting zoo section of a visitor attraction, always:
- wash your children’s hands thoroughly before leaving;
- don’t allow your children to kiss the animals;
- don’t let animals lick or suck hands and especially faces/mouths;
- avoid allowing kids to handle animals if your youngsters have cuts, grazes, open wounds or broken skin on accessible flesh areas that might be licked;
- keep food secured away and don’t let your children eat before they have had their hands thoroughly washed;
- try to avoid kids putting their hands and fingers into their mouth or up their nose until they have had that pretty thorough washing;
- seek medical advice if there are any bites or significant scratches;
Humans have lived alongside domesticated animals for tens of thousands of years – possibly even longer. In the vast majority of cases these relationships are entirely harmless and in fact, are mutually beneficial.
Kids might love their pets but common-sense precautions still apply:
- be careful with new babies and younger toddlers where established dogs are already in place. Take expert advice on how to introduce the new baby into the family and watch out for adverse reactions from your dog;
- don’t leave toddlers and dogs alone – a child trying to grab the dog might be interpreted as a threat or challenge;
- make sure all your pets have up-to-date inoculations and anti-pest treatments;
- watch out for allergic reactions. Children who start sneezing, coughing, wheezing or who develop ‘weepy eyes’ when your pet is around, might be allergic to them:
- some people would argue that dangerous pets and children are fundamentally incompatible. If you do have the former, they should be kept in a locked room/environment that younger children cannot access. There may be legal constraints there too;
- avoid letting your pets eat off the same plate or surface you or your kids are eating from;
- all the hygiene steps mentioned above for livestock also apply to domesticated animals;
- litter trays should be emptied regularly and preferably set down somewhere younger children cannot access them;
- if your pets use your garden area for defecation, make sure their faeces are immediately cleared up and the patch disinfected with a Green-friendly material;
- all animal bites or scratches should be immediately washed and disinfected. If the wound is non-trivial, get some qualified first-aid advice relating to the prevention of infection;
- don’t allow younger children and animals to share beds.
Taking these steps should help keep your child and pets in healthy harmony!