Many expecting parents prepare for months in anticipation of a new baby. For pet parents, this preparation also often involves encouraging appropriate and positive behaviors in their animals during the time leading up to birth.
However, even with adequate preparations, there are still important precautions owners should consider after the arrival of their new addition to ensure the safety of both pets and child.
Dr. Lori Teller, an associate professor in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, advises new parents to approach the introduction of pets and babies with caution, even if they trust their pet to be gentle.
“The most important thing to remember is that a baby and a pet should NEVER be left alone together, even if you think your pet would never hurt anybody,” she said. “This cannot be overstated.”
The initial introduction can be eased by acclimating pets to the baby’s odor prior to bringing the newborn home.
“When the baby is born, have someone bring home some of the clothing or blankets used by the baby while in the hospital for the pets to smell before the baby is discharged,” Teller said.
When the baby is brought home, Teller recommends that new parents bring backup to make sure both the baby and pet are consistently monitored.
“Where possible, someone else should hold the baby while the parents pay attention to the pets,” she said “Encourage them to be calm while you greet them. Once everyone is calm, you can introduce your pets to the baby. If necessary, have your pets on a leash. One person can be seated while holding the baby and someone else can control the pets.”
If you have multiple pets, Teller recommends introducing them to the baby one at a time.
After the initial introduction, pet owners still need to be vigilant in monitoring animal interactions with their child. Teller says owners should also actively work to maintain a positive pet-baby relationship.
“It’s important to find a way to pay attention to your pet while your baby is awake and active. You want your pet to know that the baby is a part of the family and everyone can enjoy time together,” she said. “You can toss a few treats or verbally praise your pet for good behavior around an active baby. Unwittingly, by only paying attention to your pet when your baby is sleeping, you are teaching your pet that the baby is a negative in the pet’s life.”
Pet owners should keep in mind that changes to their home environment can pose a danger to their animals.
Some baby supplies, such as pacifiers, baby bottle nipples, and small toys, can all be swallowed by pets and may require surgery to remove. Many medications, such as diaper rash ointment, can be toxic to pets and should be kept in a secure location.
Teller also recommends that owners are careful to keep their pet away from dirty diapers.
“Pet supplies should also be kept away from a baby,” Teller said. “These include medications, such as heartworm and flea and tick preventives. Pet toys and chew bones are also not appropriate for a baby to put in his or her mouth. When bathing your pet with a medicated shampoo, make sure your pet is dry before interacting with the baby.”
Pets also may pose a hazard to a new baby because, by nature, it is sometimes difficult to predict the behaviors of animals. Even if a pet owner fully trusts their furry friend to be gentle, the unfamiliar presence of a baby could put the pet on edge.
“An owner needs to be concerned if the pet growls, hisses, or otherwise tries to interact with the baby in a negative manner,” she said. “Any kind of negative interaction should be stopped immediately. If your pet is acting aggressively, it should be isolated and you need to speak with your veterinarian.”
Ensuring the safety of a new baby is the top priority of any new parent, and proper precautions can help build a safe and positive relationship between the new baby and existing pets.
“There is tremendous sweetness and beauty in watching a child and a pet develop a mutually caring and loving relationship,” Teller said. “Make sure your pet is encouraged and rewarded for good behavior. As your baby grows, make sure they understand how to treat a pet kindly as well—no pulling on ears and tails or trying to take a pet’s food or toys. Reward your child’s good behavior as well.”
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.