I imagine every parent who shares their home with a pet has experienced the horrible realisation that their child has been helping themselves to the cat or dogs food! We all know that pets are fed human food by us so it’s easy to see why a curious toddler would think that the pet’s food is up for grabs too! In fact, the stronger a connection your child has with their pets (and this is a good thing), the more likely it is that the urge to try pet food will be there.
So what can you do about it? If you encounter the problem, try not to react strongly when you first find your child with their mouth full and their hands in the pet food or water bowls. A sudden outcry or even laugh will more often that not increase the allure of the forbidden and will only encourage further experiences. Try to make light of the situation and divert your child’s attention until you can get the pet food away.
Rest assured, stopping children eating the cat’s food is a problem that’s fairly easy to solve by simply moving the dish to somewhere out of reach but that is still available to your cat.
Dog food is a different story since most dogs and puppies won’t be able to jump to the high spot to eat or drink. There are also some safety issues with dog food dishes and children as well. Dogs can be quite protective of their food bowl and even the most mild mannered of dog may have an issue with another ‘pack member’ investigating his bowl.
Many dog bite situations in the home are related to food possessiveness and can be easily prevented but careful management at feeding times. If moving the food dish is not an option, restrict the pet food eating by only feeding enough for one sitting at a time, keeping your child occupied until your pet is finished.
Consider putting a stair gate across the kitchen door to restrict the child access. If your kids are old enough to understand then you can explaining about the special food needs of pets and humans and why pets need pet food and people need people food. From a health point of view:
• Keep your cats and dogs wormed regularly as this will cut down on the risks of parasites such as worms. It is also best to keep your pet regularly de-flead as well as up to date with the annual vaccinations.
• Teach or remind your children about the importance of washing hands and monitor regularly to ensure they are keeping up a high standard.
• Wash your pet’s food and water bowl before each feed as you would do your own plates – pets like to eat and drink out of clean crockery too.
• Clean the floor area around the pets feed area on a daily basis.
• Pick up the dog poo from the garden once every day (or so) and if you can find where the cat is using as a toilet remove poos regularly. If your cat uses a litter tray then make sure this is emptied at least once a day.
• Try to feed your dog and cat dry food as this is less likely to attract flies and is actually better for the pet.
Finally, enjoy the interactions and antics of your kids and the pets.
Having access to pets is one of the most satisfying and rewarding childhood experiences we can give our children.
Pets teach children about empathy and respect for others feelings and needs and it is my experience that children who grow up with pets are more outgoing and balanced.