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Your Pet and Your New Baby

Your Pet and Your New Baby

By Mark Hale DVM

Bolivar, MO


            Congratulations—you're expecting a baby! If your family already includes a pet, you'll need to help that first "baby" adjust to the new one you'll soon bring home. You can do this in much the same way that parents help children understand that a new brother or sister will be joining the family.

            How will my pet react?

            No matter how much you plan ahead, the addition of a new family member may be difficult for your pet. Remember, your dog or cat is used to being the center of your attention. So it's understandable she may experience something akin to sibling rivalry when you introduce a new baby into your household. Drastically decreasing attention and frequently scolding, ignoring, or isolating your pet after the baby comes home will likely make your pet stressed. If your pet is particularly attached to the mother-to-be, another family member should develop a closer relationship with the pet. That way, the pet can still feel loved and cared for while mom is busy with the baby. When you bring your baby home, try to have your pet in a calm state of mind. An excited, energetic pet that has not gotten its usual walk or attention lately is more likely to jump up on, or scratch, your newborn. Ask a friend or relative to take your dog for a long walk before you come home. Reward your pet for appropriate behavior. After all, you want your pet to view associating with the baby as a positive experience. Never force your pet to get near the baby, and always supervise any interaction.

            How can I prepare my pet?

            Following are some suggestions to prepare your pet ahead of time. Be sure to start these months before the baby's arrival.

            -Take your pet to your veterinarian for a routine health exam and necessary vaccinations. Fecal analysis to check for intestinal parasites should be done. Some parasites can be zoonotic (transmitted from animals to humans).

            -Get your pet used to nail trims. Keeping nails short and dull will help prevent scratches.

            -Train your pet to stay calmly on the floor beside you until you invite him on your lap, which will soon have a newborn in it.

            -Consider enrolling in a training class with your dog, or practice training techniques. Training allows you to safely and humanely control your dog's behavior and enhances the bond between you and your pet.

            -Spay or neuter your pet. Not only do sterilized pets typically have fewer health problems, they also tend to be calmer and less likely to bite.

            -Accustom your pet to baby related noises and smells. For example, use baby powder, turn on mechanical baby swings or other noisy items, or use the new rocking chair.

            One of the most common topics to come up concerning pregnancy and pets is a cats' litterbox cleaning. The reason for this concern is that cats can shed Toxoplasmosis cysts. If these are ingested accidentally by pregnant women the fetus can be affected. Cats only get Toxoplasmosis from uncooked infected meat. Cats only shed these cysts for about 2 weeks after acquiring the infection. Therefore, do not feed your cat uncooked (or undercooked) meat, and wash your hands after cleaning the litterbox. The feces must be over 24 hours old to be contagious also, so daily cleaning is recommended. The most common way for people to be exposed to Toxoplasmosis is to consume undercooked contaminated meat, not from their cat. However, if you have concerns about the litter, just have your spouse or a friend clean it, or wear gloves if you must clean it.

            Pets and children can be a wonderful combination. There is a reason everyone "ohhs and ahhs" when they see a picture of a child with a pet. Just be sure to prepare your pet and use common sense in building a relationship that can be really special.