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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 help your pet cope with this big
change in much the same way parents help children understand that a new
brother or sister will be joining the family. By following the tips below, you
can ease your pet’s stress, help her welcome your new baby, and ensure that
your pet stays where she belongs—with you and your growing family.
Can I Keep My Cat?
If you’re pregnant, you’ve probably heard of
toxoplasmosis because it can cause serious birth defects. However,
toxoplasmosis is a rare disease in the United States and one that can easily
be avoided. While the disease causing parasite can be found in the feces of
cats who ingest raw meat, birds, mice, or contaminated soil, toxoplasmosis is
more commonly found in uncooked or undercooked meat.
If you’re concerned about
possible exposure, ask your obstetrician to perform a simple blood test. If
the result shows you were exposed to toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, you may
be given medication, and your baby may be tested and treated soon after birth.
Keep in mind that the odds of contracting toxoplasmosis during pregnancy are
extremely low, and even lower for your baby. Being pregnant does not mean you
have to give up living with and caring for your beloved cat.
Toxoplasmosis is easily avoided by practicing good hygiene and responsible pet
care. Just follow these simple steps to reduce the risk:
Avoid handling or eating uncooked meat.
Keep your cat safely indoors and away from
Have someone else clean the litter box daily.
If you must clean the litter box, wear rubber
gloves and thoroughly wash your hands afterward.
Feed cats only commercially prepared cat food.
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 was your first “baby” and is used to being the
center of your attention. So it’s
understandable that she may experience something akin to sibling rivalry when
you introduce a new human baby into your household.
You can minimize this feeling by working with her
before you bring home your baby. For example, because your new baby will
demand a lot of your time and energy, gradually accustom your pet to spending
less time with you. Drastically decreasing attention and frequently scolding,
ignoring, or isolating your pet after the baby comes home will likely make
your pet feel stressed. If your pet is particularly attached to the
mother-to-be, another family member should develop a closer relationship with
the animal. That way, your pet can still feel loved and provided for while mom
is busy with the baby.
How Can I Prepare My Pet?
Below are several suggestions to make
introducing your pet and baby safer and smoother for all. Be sure to carry
out these changes months before the baby’s arrival to best prepare your pet.
Spay or neuter your pet. Not only do sterilized
pets typically have fewer health problems associated with their reproductive
systems, but they are also calmer and less likely to bite.
Consult with a veterinarian and pediatrician if
the thought of your newborn interacting with the family pet makes you
uncomfortable. By working with these experts before your baby is born, you
can resolve problems early and put your mind at ease.
Address any pet training and behavior problems.
If your pet exhibits fear and anxiety, now is the time to get help from an
animal behavior specialist. If your pet’s behavior includes gentle nibbling,
pouncing, or swatting at you and others, redirect that behavior to
Get your pet used to nail trims.
Train your pet to remain calmly on the floor
beside you until you invite him on your lap, which will soon cradle a
Consider enrolling in a training class with
your dog, and practice training techniques. Training allows you to safely
and humanely control your dog’s behavior and enhances the bond between you
and your pet.
Encourage friends with infants to visit your
home to accustom your pet to babies. Supervise all pet and infant
Accustom your pet to baby-related noises months
before the baby is expected. For example, play recordings of a baby crying,
turn on the mechanical infant swing, and use the rocking chair. Make these
positive experiences for your pet by offering a treat or playtime.
To discourage your pet from jumping on the
baby’s crib and changing table, apply double-sided carpet
tape to the furniture.
If the baby’s room will be off-limits to your
pet, install a sturdy barrier such as a removable gate (available at pet or
baby supply stores) or, for jumpers, even a screen door. Because these
barriers still allow your pet to see and hear what’s happening in the room,
he’ll feel less isolated from the family and more comfortable with the new
Use a baby doll to help your pet get used to
the real thing. Carry around a swaddled baby doll, take the doll in the
stroller when you walk your dog, and use the doll to get your pet used to
routine baby activities, such as bathing and diaper changing.
Talk to your pet about the baby, using the
baby’s name if you’ve selected one.
Sprinkle baby powder or baby oil on your skin
so your pet becomes familiar with the new smells.
Finally, plan ahead to make sure your pet gets
proper care while you’re at the birthing center.
What Do We Do after Our Baby Is Born?
Welcoming a new baby is exciting for your family.
Remember when you first brought home your dog or cat? But before you bring
your baby home from the hospital, have your partner or friend take home
something with the baby’s scent (such as a blanket) for your pet to
When you return from the hospital, your pet may
be eager to greet you and receive your attention. Have someone else take the
baby into another room while you give your pet a warm, but calm, welcome. Keep
some treats handy so you can distract your pet.
After the initial greeting, you can bring your
pet with you to sit next to the baby; reward your pet with treats for
appropriate behavior. Remember, you want your pet to view associating with the
baby as a positive experience. To prevent anxiety or injury, never force your
pet to get near the baby, and always supervise any interaction.
Life will no doubt be hectic caring for your new
baby, but try to maintain regular routines as much as possible to help your
pet adjust. And be sure to spend one-on-one quality time with your pet each
day—it may help relax you, too. With proper training, supervision, and
adjustments, you, your new baby, and your pet should be able to live together
safely and happily as one (now larger) family.
Adapted from material originally
developed by applied animal
behaviorists at the Dumb Friends League, Denver, Colorado.
©2000 Dumb Friends League and ©2003 The HSUS.
All rights reserved.