Since the pandemic started, many things have changed. One thing has been the increased adoption/fostering of pets. Overall, this is a good thing as there’s much evidence that caring for pets is healthy. It’s important, however, that children know how to behave around animals.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently released its dog bite prevention tips. Each year, more than 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs and about 800,000 receive medical attention. About one-half of those receiving medical attention are children. Most dog bites occur with familiar animals in everyday activities, so prevention starts at home.

Preventing dog bites:

• Never leave a small child and a dog alone together, no matter if it’s the family dog, a dog that’s known to you or a dog that you’ve been assured is well behaved. Any dog can bite.

• Teach children they should never tease a dog, even the most laid-back and friendly animal. No wrestling or tug-of–war.

• Let a dog sniff you or your child before petting and stay away from the dog’s face and tail.

• Teach children to be gentle and calm around dogs, especially with dogs they don’t know. Tell children not to run, jump or scream around an unfamiliar dog, since they don’t know what actions may cause fear or aggression in the animal.

• Tell children not to stare into a dog’s eyes as they may take that as a threat or challenge and become aggressive.

• Children shouldn’t wake up a sleeping dog or bother a dog while she’s eating or taking care of puppies.

• Tell children not to climb on any dog.

• Children should know that they shouldn’t pet unfamiliar dogs without asking permission.

Treatment for dog bites:

• Request proof of rabies vaccination from the dog owner. Get the owner’s name and that of the dog’s veterinarian.

• Immediately wash out the wound with soap and water

• Call your pediatrician because the bite could require antibiotics, a tetanus shot and/or rabies shots.

• If your child is bit severely, call 911.

Owners should socialize their pets to children but should watch all play carefully and stop the play if it becomes too rough. Owners should teach their pets to allow touching on all body parts. Play with the family dog and young children should be supervised, and young children should not be left alone with pets.

If a dog’s behavior suddenly changes, he may be in pain and need medical attention. If a dog is not OK around children, it is the owner’s responsibility to keep the animal out of a situation where he might bite a child.

A dog is man’s best friend and like any good friend should be treated with respect and not roughly or like a toy. Children and pets should be taught to respect each other and to use good manners.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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