Younger Children and Senior Pets

As a veterinarian I frequently hear that “my old dog or my old cat” doesn’t like the kids. A lot of the time these people are considering rehoming or euthanizing their long term family member because they are anxious about the things that happen at home. This blog is going to draw from my own experiences. As the mom of two very busy kids (6 year old boy and 3 year old girl) and a very full farm yard/house of pets that includes 3 border collies and 2 cats! Our oldest border collie is 16 ½ years old, she is the leader of our pack and was already a senior when our first human baby was welcomed into the house.

As pets age they tend to change in their behaviours as well there physical abilities, this is no different than people. So why is it that lots of people feel that old pets and young children don’t mix?
Many pets have less tolerance for rambunctious kids who run and scream around the house, some of this is related to the cat or dog not being able to move out of the way as fast because they may be painful or arthritic. Also we may see pets that are deaf or blind that can’t tell that the kids are barreling down the hall and thus can’t avoid a potentially painful situation. When a pet can’t avoid a painful or scary situation they will react as a pet of any age may by trying to protect themselves which in most situations comes in the form of a bite and or scratch. Just think about how you feel when you are scared or something hurts you, your natural reaction is to either run or fight! An animal this reaction is much more prominent in people because they don’t have the same cognitive reasoning ability that we do.

So what do we do about these situations? First let’s see what we can do for your pet! Can we make the arthritic dog or cat less painful so that they can move easier (thus allowing them to avoid a situation that they don’t like)
For example, a small child pulling a cat’s tail, a young cat may still lash out or it can very easily move away from the child, where as an older cat may not be able to get away and will like scratch or bite the child.
Whose fault is this the cat or the child? Yes this has happened in my house except that cat wasn’t that old. After a while he would get tired of my little boy (who was one at the time) chasing him and I think for months my little boy walked around with a bite mark on his forehead. I couldn’t hold it against the cat but I would get after my son and explain to him that he is scaring the poor thing. Another example is my oldest Border Collie who is now deaf and very slow moving and unable to get out of the kids way. The kids fighting and chasing each other around sometimes run into the dog and even perhaps fall on her. When this happens she may bite because she is only trying to protect herself not because she is mean or misbehaved… she just hurts.

My kids have been taught that they are to respect the pets and that if they are bothering the animals either intentionally or unintentionally that they are going to get in trouble. We have also made them well aware that our pets are part of the family and that it is our job to help look after them and keep them safe just like mommy and daddy do for them. They know that if the “Fly” our old dog is having trouble going up the stairs to get an adult to help here, same thing if she falls on the slippery hardwood floors in the house and can’t get up that they are to find someone to help her.

Kids and older pets can live well together, our family is an excellent example of that but it does require work and patience! We need to teach the kids to respect the space of a pet and to learn that they are part of the family and to be treated like any other member of our family would be.

Written by Morinville Veterinary Clinic