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How can I reduce the health risks for children interacting with companion animals?

Interacting with companion animals can have many physical and mental health benefits for children and young people[1, 2]. However, there are also potential risks to consider, such as accidents, allergies, and disease.


To reduce the risk of accidents or incidents (e.g., bites, scratches), ensure that your companion animals are well socialised, handled gently, and interactions between children and animals are adequately supervised.

  • SocialisationSocialisation involves exposing an animal to a range of experiences to help them prepare for and cope with different situations, interactions, and environments.
  • Handling – Make sure your children understand that they must treat all animals kindly, and handle them gently. Even if an animal is very tolerant, constant poking and prodding may cause discomfort, stress, fear and anxiety.
  • Supervision – Ensure adequate supervision when children are interacting with companion animals. Continuously observe for stress signals (e.g., turning away, lip licking), and give your animal sufficient rest and space.


Growing up with companion animals has been associated with a lower incidence of allergies in later life[3]. However, if a child is allergic to allergens associated with companion animals (e.g., cat dander), medical advice should be sought before interactions occur.


Zoonotic diseases can be transmitted from animals to humans (e.g., toxoplasmosis, cat scratch disease, ringworm). Different infections are transmitted in different ways (e.g., via faecal contamination, in the shared environment, through open wounds, via direct contact).

These potential risks can be managed with steps including:

  • Preventative health care – Start by ensuring that your companion animals are physically and behaviourally healthy, and up to date with their worming and external parasite prevention.
  • Good hygiene – Regularly cleaning surfaces, toys and bedding, proper disposal of faecal material, and handwashing can reduce disease risks.
  • Wound care – Clean and disinfect wounds thoroughly and seek prompt medical advice if your child feels unwell or the wound becomes infected.

This information is general, and should be tailored to suit the individual animals and children, and specific circumstances.


[1] Chan MC-H, Schonert-Reichl KA, Binfet J-T (2022) Human–Animal Interactions and the Promotion of Social and Emotional Competencies: A Scoping Review. Anthrozoös 1–46

[2] Purewal R, Christley R, Kordas K, Joinson C, Meints K, Gee N, Westgarth C (2017) Companion animals and child/adolescent development: A systematic review of the evidence. International journal of environmental research and public health 14:234

[3] Matheson MC, Dharmage SC, Abramson MJ, Walters EH, Sunyer J, de Marco R, Leynaert B, Heinrich J, Jarvis D, Norbäck D (2011) Early-life risk factors and incidence of rhinitis: results from the European Community Respiratory Health Study—an international population-based cohort study. Journal of allergy and clinical immunology 128:816–823

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Updated on July 1, 2024
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