So your furry child is about to have a human child to contend with… how do you get your fuzzy companion to adapt and accept this attention-needy kid? How do you come to terms with the fact that try as you might, you really may not be able to play with your cat or walk your dog nearly as much?
Hopefully the tips below will give you something to help the transition and give you a few things to think about when considering human child/fur-child families:
- Research has shown that moms who have pets while pregnant and children exposed to pets from birth to age one have lower risk for certain allergies and asthma!
- Toxoplasma transmission from cats gets a lot of attention… but Toxoplasma is a very rare disease in indoor cats (especially if your house doesn’t have a rodent problem and you don’t feed your cat a raw-meat diet.) We’ve been asked by pregnant moms about Toxoplasma antibody testing of cats to help determine risk, unfortunately that doesn’t tell us a whole lot about the presence of Toxoplasma in the gut — and is truly a poor test in determining risk of transmission to humans. Likely, a better way is to do several fecal parasite screens during pregnancy to see if the cat is shedding the Toxoplasma cysts in their feces. Additionally, the cysts shed in the feces take 48 hours to become infective — if the litter box is cleaned daily there is almost no risk of transmission. Please note that a pregnant woman is much more likely to get Toxoplasma from undercooked meat and from gardening (secondary to feral or outdoor cats defecating in the garden) than from her indoor cat. Now, we still don’t recommend pregnant women clean out the litter box — but know the real risk of transmission from an indoor cat is very low.
- Start working with Fido on any behavior training as early as possible! Knowledge of basic commands will be very beneficial once the baby arrives (i.e. sit, stay, and even hand targeting). If you have an anxious or fearful pet, start working with a behaviorist to help address those problems well in advance of your baby’s arrival for a smoother introduction.
- If your pet currently eats in an area that will be accessible to the child once he/she starts moving around the house, it’s best to move the feeding station ahead of time to an area that will be off-limits to the baby.
- Cats can also be trained for the impending situation of a human child and creating an environment around the house where the cat can feel safe (i.e. perches, hideaways) will give the cat places to escape to. Move litter boxes out of the way — but not too out of the way — and out of reach of little baby hands!
- Understand that despite our best efforts to keep up those long walks, attention and bonding time we have with our pet that there probably will be less time for that (and that is okay!). Do the best you can and if possible, try to plan and practice for changes in your routine. If your pet is social, he or she may enjoy going to doggy daycare or having a puppy playdate a few times a week to get out some extra energy.
Baby’s Almost Here!
- Getting your pets used to some of the new smells can be helpful. Washing your hands every so often in baby soap, applying a small amount baby powder or baby oil to your skin will help them acclimate to some of the new smells in the house.
- Getting your pets used to new noises can also be helpful — play recordings of crying, cooing and giggling babies. Use the rocker, play with some of those noisy toys and turn that baby swing on every now and then. Use positive reinforcement for good, calm behavior during these activities.
Bringing the Baby Home – The Introduction
- If you have a hospital or out-of-home birth, and it’s possible to take a swaddle cloth home to have your pet sniff ahead of time, that is often advisable.
- If you have a home birth, the choice to keep your pet home with you during labor or have them boarded or stay with a friend/relative is a toss up. You know your pet’s personality best and often the strength and type of human-animal bond that exists between you and your pet is the biggest determinant.
- A lot of how kids and pets get along together is shaped by how you work with your child to interact with your pet. Start early with appropriate behavior and pet interaction and never leave your child alone or unattended with your pet.
- Introducing your pet to your baby should be done in a calm, relaxed manner; and positive reinforcement for good behavior goes a long way.
- Be sure to have a good understanding of dog and cat body language and make sure that you intervene (i.e. remove child) and do not encourage continued interaction when your pet is displaying overt signs of stress.
And for those of you pet owners who don’t have human children — please be sure to enjoy your night’s sleep for us… one of these days our own kids will grow up and sleep all night and maybe even past 6:30 a.m. (at least we hope so!)