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Viral Images Show Dog Used as Stepping Stone: Is it Safe?

Posted January 05, 2015 in A Vet's Life

dog laying down with caution sign

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.

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Justine has more than 18 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist as well as the CEO and founder of Vetgirl. She is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.

Opinions expressed are those of the writer:

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the beliefs, policies or positions of all veterinarians, Pet Health Network, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates and partner companies.