Babyproofing Grandma’s pets

As regular readers of this blog know, I have a 20-month-old granddaughter. What I haven’t mentioned is that I also have a 55-lb, 10-year-old Sheltie dog and a big old cat (he’s at least 15 pounds of cat meat and fur, and since he’s a rescue his age is indeterminate).

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Our Kitty Bear can easily hypnotize you with those eyes of his

My granddaughter is at an age where she’s all over the house and into everything (a subject I discussed in this post on babyproofing grandma’s house). I try to make my home safe for her to play in. Do I need to be concerned about my pets, too? Do pets need to be babyproofed?

 

Yes, and yes.

Now, as far as the cat goes, we’re pretty lucky. Unlike some felines, our big guy tolerates children pretty well. He’s greedy for affection and purrs whenever someone comes near. He even allows our toddler to use him as a model to name body parts. “Eyes” she says, pointing at his gold-green orbs. Our cat just blinks. She can practically sit on him and he won’t react. When he’s had enough of her he slips under the bed beyond her reach.

But the dog is a different matter. He’s a senior in dog years, and he’s always been a bit neurotic. He’s also deeply obsessed with squirrels. He spends the greater part of his waking moments barking at them, watching them cavort in our backyard and chasing them whenever he gets a chance. Sometimes I think he sees our granddaughter, especially when she’s running erratically around the house, as a big, hairless and tail-less squirrel.

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Our Toby  searching for squirrels in the snow

Toby snaps when he’s irritated – he’s snapped at me and my husband. That makes him a decided hazard to our granddaughter. But even the best-tempered dog in the world can injure a child.

 

Last week, I had a conversation with another grandmother in a parking lot while I was lifting my granddaughter out of a shopping cart and buckling her into her car seat. I noticed the woman’s Golden Retriever waiting calmly in her car behind her as we talked.

This other grandma told me about her friend, whose family dog bit her grandkid. The child bothered the dog while the animal was eating, and it reacted instinctively. She told me that now she takes extra precautions with her Golden around her own grandkids, even though her gentle dog looks like he wouldn’t harm a flea.

Dog bites are serious. Most dogs’ mouths are face-level with a small child’s. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that over 4.5 million people in the US are bitten by dogs each year and that approximately half of the 800,000 who see a doctor for their injuries are children. That’s 400,000 kids a year who are on record as being bitten by a dog. And there are probably a lot more bite injuries that aren’t reported.

The AAP provides some great tips on how to prevent dog bites and also explains what to do if your child is bitten.

The top prevention tip? Never leave a dog and a small child alone together.

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about a beloved family Labrador or Grandma’s prized Pekingese. Any dog can bite, especially if it’s cornered, surprised or guarding its food bowl – all situations a child can easily stumble into.

My husband and I are paranoid on this subject, having witnessed a dog biting a child many years before we had grandchildren. So at our house, we avoid any risks by putting Toby in a separate room behind a baby gate when our granddaughter comes to visit. He doesn’t like it, but he gets treats and attention, especially after she leaves.

And our kitty? I monitor his interactions with our granddaughter as well. I never leave the two of them alone together. After all, he has sharp claws, and an almost-two-year-old could try the patience of a saint.

Perhaps a bird or a fish would be a safer pet to have around grandkids, but then, there are potential problems there, too. When our son was little he managed to find the knob on the back of the aquarium that controlled the heater, and before I knew what he was up to he’d poached a whole tankful of fish.

Sometimes our pets need to be protected from kids as much as kids need to be protected from them!

What steps do you take to childproof your pets for your kids or grandkids?