Looking after children and pets is a lot of hard work. But not an impossible task. Dr Chan Mun Ling shares her personal experiences, benefits of having pets, managing allergies and the life lessons children learn when we keep our promises, even when the going gets tough.
Because pets are family. And families stay together.
Keeping a pet is big decision that impacts the entire family. It is a commitment to care for and love your pets for the rest of their lives. The most common pets that kids grow up with are dogs, cats, rabbits and rodents.
GROWING UP WITH A PET HAS NUMEROUS BENEFITS
- By including your children in the daily care of your pet like feeding, walking and bathing, they learn responsibility, empathy and compassion.
- The emotional bonding helps to increase a child’s confidence and improve social skills with people.
- Having outings to exercise a dog improves our fitness and builds a stronger family bond.
- Going to the vet together as a family can be an educational and meaningful experience.
- It is always sad to see a family grieve over the loss of a beloved pet but it does teach children about mortality and to accept loss in life.
SOME STUDIES SHOW THAT KIDS GROWING UP WITH PETS HAVE A LOWER INCIDENCE OF ALLERGIES
There are allergy-triggering proteins called allergens in an animal’s fur, dander (skin flakes) and saliva. Signs of allergies include itchy watery eyes, rashes, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, or wheezing. Even if your children are not sensitive to allergens, good personal and environmental hygiene must be maintained at all times.
- Groom and shower your pets regularly. Dogs and cats can be bathed once a week to reduce airborne allergens.
- Keep your dog’s and cat’s fur coat short to reduce dander and allergens in the environment.
- Vacuum and mop the floor frequently.
- Invest in a good air purifier with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
- Wash pet beds, rugs, pillows, blankets frequently, preferably in hot water.
- If your children are sensitive to pet allergens, keep pets off furniture and out of bedrooms. If your dog/cat already has a favourite spot on the couch, cover that area with a cloth which you can wash easily.
- Remove soft toys, carpets and excess furniture which trap dust and dander. Declutter!
- Make sure your children wash their hands with soap and water after playing with their pets.
- Some clients who are allergic to their cat have opt to surgically remove the cat’s anal glands as this reduces the allergens markedly. Allergic reaction to that particular cat usually reduces dramatically although this differs from person to person.
ALWAYS SUPERVISE YOUR CHILDREN WHEN THEY ARE AROUND ANIMALS
Some kids might be overly rough or clumsy around animals. It is unfair to expect our pets to endure poking, pulling or screaming from children. Even the most good-natured pet can react by biting or scratching in self-defence if they are handled poorly.
- Always supervise your children closely when they are around animals. Never leave them alone.
- Some animals do not like to be picked up, hugged or kissed. Others may not mind at all. Know your pets well so you can teach your children to interact gently and appropriately with them.
- Rabbits and rodents are physically delicate and sensitive creatures. Handle them for short periods of time.
- Make sure your pets have somewhere quiet to retreat to when they want to be left alone.
With thanks to contributors for valuable information and photos:
Dr Chan Mun Ling, Mount Pleasant Animal Medical Centre (Bedok), Dr Ng Yi Lin, Mount Pleasant Animal Clinic (East), Mabel Cheah, Mount Pleasant Central Vet Clinic (Whitley), House Rabbit Society Singapore, Stephanie Monckton, Mami Naka.