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Make every day a play day for your pets

If you’re getting involved in this year’s National Play Day, which promotes the importance of play for everyone, don’t forget to include the furry, four-legged members of your family!

Playday is celebrated each year across the UK on the first Wednesday in August. First established in the 1980s by playworkers to support school-based play centres and adventure playgrounds in London, it’s grown to become a national event. Playday promotes play as essential for children and young people’s physical and mental health, to help them make friends, develop relationships and feel connected to their communities.

Not only is play important for young humans, it’s also essential for young animals too. As well as being lots of fun, play is how they learn and explore the world around them.

If you have pets and small children, it can be a wonderful experience watching them play and grow together. Indeed, young children often make a beeline for any animals in your household and growing up with a pet can enable children to develop kindness, understanding and respect for living things.


Dogs and children can be best friends, with a canine chum quickly becoming a much-loved member of the family. However, it’s vital that parents teach children how to stay safe around dogs – to protect both child and dog >>


However, whether your family pet is a dog, cat, rabbits, guinea pigs or other small furries, it’s important that everyone knows the rules of the game.

Dr Rosemary Elliot, who combines her background in psychology and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, advises: “Children must always be directly supervised around pets and kept safely separated when this is not possible. Introductions work best with children sitting calmly and quietly, allowing the pet to approach them at their own pace. Show them how to stroke the animal gently on the shoulder, avoiding the head, tail, belly, legs and feet. Offering your pet treats during these interactions will teach them to associate the presence of children with something good.”

Family rules to keep both pets and small people safe and happy

Dr Elliot also recommends setting up some ‘family rules’ which will help children to understand that they must not do things that may frighten or harm their pets, and to avoid an animal potentially responding in fear by biting or scratching. Examples she suggests include:

  • Allow pets their space and never force interactions with them
  • Respect their boundaries and never approach pets who are eating, sleeping, or who are unwell, injured or tired
  • Remain calm around pets and end interactions if either the children or pets are becoming overly excited
  • Handle pets gently and teach children to avoid hugging dogs or cats, who may become fearful and reactive
  • Play safely with pets, with no rough play or chasing
  • Treat pets with kindness, with no teasing or reprimanding
  • Create a peaceful home for pets, with no yelling, screaming or other noisy behaviour around them
  • Teach empathy by never allowing children to do anything to pets they are not allowed to do to other children. This includes no climbing on pets or pulling of ears or tails
  • Provide pets with somewhere to retreat to when they need their space. Cats must have a safe place with at least one room they can go where children cannot enter
  • Respect cats and dogs who are not comfortable being picked up
  • Never approach unknown dogs
  • Teach your children how to approach your dog by allowing the dog to smell the back of the child’s hand and then teaching the child to stroke the dog gently on the shoulder, avoiding the head, tail area, belly, legs and feet

As well as being lots of fun, play teaches young cats about the world around them. As cats get older, play is a great way to keep fit, lean and healthy, as well as keeping their brain alert and active >>


Do your children know how to care for their pets?

The RSPCA has a range of useful teaching resources will help children to understand pets as living animals with needs and feelings. They'll learn about the five welfare needs of animals kept as pets, how different pets have specific needs and what our responsibilities are to our pets. Why not find out if this is something being taught in your child’s school?


Watching your pet’s body language and learning to understand it is also important. Dr Elliot says: “Children (and many adults) are not good at reading the body language of pets. You can help them by sharing resources with pictures; for example, pictures of dogs who look happy or relaxed, compared to pictures of dogs who appear stressed, frightened, fearful or aggressive and, therefore, should not be approached. There are similar resources for understanding cats to help identify when they are feeling happy, worried, unhappy or angry. Giving children some responsibilities, such as filling food and water bowls or joining you on walks or in games, is a great way to foster positive relationships with pets.”


Playing games with your rabbit is a great way to prevent boredom, encourage exercise and get to understand rabbit behaviour a whole lot better >>


Top tips for making friends with small pets

  • When your small pets pluck up the courage to come forward in their enclosure, don’t try to catch them, just offer a treat so they don’t associate you with being caught.
  • Am I in danger? Small pets think anything approaching is a potential predator – even you. Don’t loom over them (as a predator in the wild might) but crouch down to meet them at their level.
  • What’s happening? Keep your approach slow and steady – small pets can be easily startled and will simply run for cover. Speak to them in a soft, happy voice as you gradually get closer.
  • That looks like it could be tasty! Offer a tasty treat so they learn to associate your approach with something good happening. If your pets won’t come close enough to take food from your hand, lightly toss the food to them whenever they come in your direction. Wait until they come a little closer each time before offering food again, while continuing to talk to them in a soothing voice.
  • I think I’ll risk it... If your pet does take the food, sit beside them and continue chatting to them. Then, offer them another treat. If your pet looks comfortable and doesn’t back off, you could try giving them a gentle stroke. Do this every day and your pet will begin to approach you, creating some magical animal moments.
  • On my own terms Timid small pets may take a while to gain confidence, but every pet is an individual and it’s essential that they choose to interact with you on their own terms – and it’s that which makes it so rewarding. When your small pet decides that he or she trusts you enough to want to engage in some hand-feeding time with you it’s a great result!

  • Got a question about caring for your pets or about the best way of feeding them? Ask our vet >>

  • Looking for helpful advice for your pets? We’ve lots of great tips to help you give your animals the best life on our pet care pages >>

  • Want to stay up to date with the latest news, trends and pet care advice? Head over to our Pet Talk blog >>

Is your dog a Burgess dog? Your cat a Burgess cat? Your small pets Burgess small pets? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.


By choosing Burgess and Burgess Excel pet foods, you know you can feed your pets with complete confidence And, by signing up to Subscribe & Save, it’s easier than ever to give them the top quality, tasty, nutritious food they deserve, every single mealtime. Simply:

  1. Choose your pet’s favourite Burgess Sensitive dog food, Burgess Excel tasty feeding hay or selected Burgess Excel rabbit and guinea pig nuggets and click on the Subscribe & Save 10% option
  2. Decide how often you’d like your food delivered
  3. Head to the checkout and complete as normal – then sit back and relax, knowing that your order will be delivered straight to your door!

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