When hosting or attending parties and gatherings that include pets, be observant and proactive. Remember that parties can become very stressful for resident and visiting pets, especially when active, curious, pet-loving children are present. Take on the responsibility of watching over pets and children and be prepared to intervene when you see pets under stress, to help prevent bites or scratches.

Help prevent injuries at parties: offer to be the “children and pet protector”

Our collective memories cherish the beloved, iconic dog who played happily with children all day long. But our busy world is very different today. Family dogs are now more likely to be undersocialized to children and pets outside of the home. Why? It’s far less commen for children to play outside in groups all summer long accompanied by several neighborhood dogs while being casually supervised by neighborhood mothers. During parties, dogs and cats might react to the unfamiliar adults, children, and visiting animals by nipping or biting. Excitable, energetic puppies and kittens with their sharp little teeth and claws are especially worrisome.

Every sizable party that includes children needs at least one pet-savvy children and pet protector. Remember, most bites and scratches happen between people (of all ages) and pets that know each other at least a little bit, according to the Center for Disease Control. When you get to the party and see wandering dogs and/or cats among a crowd that includes children and teens, approach the party organizer and casually question “can I help keep an eye on the pets and the kids” unless of course you are very sure it isn’t necessary. Busy hosts and hostesses might be delighted with your offer, and if not, you will at least get a better understanding of the situation during the reply.

Watch for signs of stress in cats to possibly prevent bites and scratches to children. The most obvious sign is body language: the cat will scamper out of reach. If captured, the cat will wriggle and twist in an effort to get free of a child’s body clasp. Quickly pluck the struggling kitty from the child and set it down in an open area; likely it will run and hide. If the cat stays, use this as a teachable moment. Teach the child to “be gentle” and guide little hands to softly, slowly stroke the cat’s back. Be sure to exclaim “Ouch!!!” on the cat’s behalf if a child roughly handles the cat; explain “that hurts!” because “cats can get owees just like kids.”

Dog stress and the associated body language can be less easy to spot; much has been written on the topic. Dogs evading capture or avoiding contact with children and/or vocalizing (barking, growling) are obviously stressed and should be moved to a quiet room far from the party. Some dogs however will appear to enjoy playing with children but might eventually become over-stimulated or over-tired and suddenly could nip without warning.

Everyone has heard “My dog has never…” or “My dog would never…” along with “Your kid should not have…” offered as the defense for a bite. Yet the bite could have been avoided, if an observer had watched for signs of stress in the dog or for inappropriate behavior by the child. In the end, the dog or cat’s owner is responsible for their pet’s behavior AND for protecting their pet from too-young or poorly-trained children and adults.

Young children should be taught these “never-never” pet rules:

  • Never hug or hold tight onto a stranger pet; you can frighten the pet or hurt it.
  • Never shout at or strike out a pet; you can frighten the pet or hurt it.
  • Never throw objects at a pet or hit a pet with sticks; you can hurt the pet.
  • Never go near a stranger pet who is eating or sleeping or resting; it might bite.
  • Never take away toys or treats away from a stranger pet; it might bite.
  • Never give food to a stranger pet with your hand; it might bite your fingers.
  • Never approach a pet that is growling, hissing, or barking; it is angry or frightened and might bite or scratch.
  • Never run from a dog that is chasing and nipping at children; stop playing and get help from an adult.
  • Never stay alone in a room or a yard with a stranger pet unless the owner is present.

Have a safe and happy holiday with your two-legged and four-legged family members.