Last week, Sarah Palin posted a picture of her son, Trig, using their family black Labrador as a stepping-stone while washing up in the kitchen sink. You can view the photos here. Ellen DeGeneres posted a similar picture with her daughter earlier; it doesn’t matter what your political stance is. Now, thanks to social media, this picture has gone viral. But is it appropriate to let your child do this to your four-legged family member?
As a veterinarian, I’m all for children growing up with dogs and cats. After all, there are health benefits from it. Studies have shown that infants who grow up in a pet-friendly household actually have less allergies1. Click here for other scientific reasons dogs are good for kids. Pet ownership also teaches children how to be responsible and how to interact appropriately with dogs and cats. It also teaches children how to approach strange dogs properly and safely.
So when pictures like this Palin post go viral on social media, how should we respond? Should we allow children to step on our pets?
No matter how “cute” it looks the answer must be No.
Protecting dogs and children
When in doubt, we always want to show – and teach – respect for animals. More importantly, we want to make sure we don’t cause any harm. When a dog is stepped on accidentally – whether it’s an acute or constant pressure – it puts excess weight and strain on the orthopedic and neurologic system. This can cause injury to the back muscles, nerves and the intervertebral discs between each vertebrae (e.g., back bone).
Another risk? While some well-tempered dogs may just quietly tolerate a child stepping on their back, some dogs may strike and lash out by biting at the source of pain – the child. Not only can this cause injury to the child, but it will get the dog in trouble with the family. Click here to read a perfect example of this behavior. To fill you in on a secret, it’s a veterinary professional’s/animal rescuer’s biggest pet peeve when dogs are surrendered to the animal shelter with the excuse of, “I don’t have time since having a kid” or “He bit my child.” While some bites are unprovoked, letting your child step on your dog only increases the risk of these unfortunate traumatic, provoked bites.
So, just because your dog doesn’t cry out in pain or move away when your child steps up, it doesn’t mean that it may not be hurting your pet. To be safe, avoid these situations at all cost, and teach your children to respect pets from an early age.
Having pets and children live together in harmony can be done, but both should be acclimated appropriately. Click here to learn about introducing dogs and babies. When in doubt, make sure to provide a childfree room for your dog or cat, so that your pet has the opportunity to escape to a quiet location if needed. Also, make sure to supervise your child and pet together to prevent them from accidentally hurting each other.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
1. Infants Exposed to Dogs Less Likely to Develop Allergic Diseases, Accessed, January 2015 at http://www.pediatrics.wisc.edu/featured-stories/allergies.html