There are plenty of things to consider when bringing home a new baby, and safety is at the top of that list. Having pets at home poses some risks to your new baby, but with planning and preparation, bringing home a new baby can be a smooth transition for everyone, including your furry family members.
Start preparing your pet for a new baby as soon as you begin planning for pregnancy or find out you are expecting.
Pets that are exposed to new and changing situations are less likely to react negatively to a new baby. Expose your pet early on to noise and new people of all ages.
Let your pet smell an article of clothing or blanket that your baby wore in the hospital before you bring the baby home.
Prevent bites by supervising all interactions between your baby and pet. Use barriers to separate pets from children when you are not able to supervise them.
Pet allergies are usually manageable, and children may outgrow a pet allergy.
Pets bring joy, fun, and companionship to our homes, but they also come with responsibilities. They rely on humans for all their necessities in life. They also depend on us to teach them and protect them from situations that could be harmful to the animal and to others.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most dog bites that happen to children involve the family pet and not some rabid, stray dog that barges through the fence. Bites happen all of the time and one in five people bitten require medical treatment.
Introducing your pet to a baby:
When it is time to bring a new baby home to a house with pets, it is best to have already been preparing long before the baby arrives.
Prepare your pet
It’s always a good idea to acclimate any pet to different situations, sounds, and types of people. A pet that has already been repeatedly exposed to people of all ages, loud sounds, and new smells will likely be less anxious when met with change.
Whether you have dogs, cats, or some other type of pet, preparing them for a new baby will be similar and can include the following:
- Obedience training. As soon as you begin planning to start a family or when you learn you are pregnant, consider training your dog or putting them in a training program. Dogs that learn to be obedient will listen better and are more easily controllable. Cats are harder to control as they tend to not listen and are less worried about pleasing their humans.
- Sounds. Expose your pets to the sound of a baby crying. If you don’t happen to have a baby available to assist you with this, turn to the internet to access recordings and videos of babies crying. A crying baby is very loud and can be scary for pets who have never experienced that sound.
- Smells. Allow your pet to investigate the baby’s room and belongings. It’s best to stay with them to ensure they do not mark their territory or decide to destroy any of the new “toys” they have discovered.
Prepare your home
As you are preparing your pet for all things, baby, take a look at your home environment to make certain there are safe boundaries for both the baby and your pet. Animals like to have their own safe space to claim when they need it. These safe places, like their beds or food and water bowl, should be off limits to the new baby.
- Barriers. Whether you call it a doggy gate or baby gate, they serve the same purpose: to keep the baby and pet confined to safe spaces. One day your baby will be crawling and getting into everything, and going into a dog’s bed while it is sleeping or grabbing at food while it is eating can lead to bites.
- Safe sleep. New babies should not be sleeping with pets or with anyone else, for that matter. They should be in their own bed with measures in place to help reduce suffocation. Pets should not have access to the baby’s bed.
- Cleanliness. Cleaning up after pets is part of the responsibility of pet ownership. Make sure that urine and feces are cleaned immediately. Pregnant women should avoid cat feces to reduce the risk of exposure to the parasitic infection, toxoplasmosis.
Make the introduction
The day will come when you get to bring your new baby home, but before you do so, take one of their worn outfits, hats, or a blanket that was wrapped around the baby and introduce the smell to your pet. When you walk in the door with your baby, your pet will already have been exposed to the scent, and it will be less surprising to them.
The very first moment a pet meets the new baby, it will want to get close and do a lot of sniffing. Remain calm and relaxed during this time, as dogs can sense when humans become anxious. They may need to be on a leash at first to ensure they do not jump on the baby. Cats will also want to get in there and sniff and may step on the baby, accidentally causing scratches.
Stay with your baby as much as possible in the presence of pets, and ensure those boundaries are present to keep both the baby and the pet safe.
Pet bites – ways to protect your baby:
Bites can happen in the blink of an eye, and they can cause a lot of damage, even death, in serious animal attacks. Prevention is key, and the following are tips to prevent bites:
- Ask first. Teach your child to always touch animals slowly and gently, and to always ask first if it’s okay to touch an unfamiliar animal.
- Remove the child. If an animal appears scared or agitated, remove the child from the area and leave the pet alone.
- Sniff first. Let an animal sniff your hand and your child’s hand before attempting to pet it.
- Leave pet alone. Teach your child never to disrupt an animal while it’s eating or sleeping.
- Appropriate play. Avoid roughhousing with pets as a way of playing with them. It teaches them to be rough with others.
What if my baby is allergic to our pet?
Allergies to animals occur when the body’s immune system reacts to your pet’s dander (flecks of skin that the animal sheds), saliva, feces, and urine. Pet allergies symptoms may include the following:
- Watering eyes
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Coughing or wheezing
- Skin irritation or hives
If you believe your new baby develops a pet allergy, there are some things to try before considering getting rid of your pet, which should be the last resort. Babies that are exposed to pet dander may actually be less likely to develop pet allergies. Some children that do have pet allergies might outgrow them. To help reduce pet allergies in your baby, consider the following:
- Minimize contact. Avoid allowing your baby to touch or be near the animal. If possible, try to remove the animal from the areas that your baby frequents the most.
- Pet hair. Vacuum or sweep up pet hair as frequently as possible. Consider getting a hard-surfaced floor instead of carpet, where pet hair gets stuck.
- Urine/feces. Remove and clean any accidents as soon as possible.
- Grooming. Brush and bathe your animal frequently to help remove dander (preferably done outside).
Pets are wonderful additions to families. They help to reduce anxiety and stress, provide companionship, and have been shown to help reduce blood pressure. Having a pet can help teach your child responsibilities by allowing them to help walk, feed, or groom your pet.
Planning ahead and preparing your animal for the presence of your new baby will help to prevent any unwanted negative behavior from your pet. Help your animal by being a responsible pet owner. Do not put them in situations that may cause them to get scared, anxious, or aggressive. Keep your baby separated from pets and supervise any interactions between them.