Pets and Your New Baby

Preparing Your Pets for the New Baby During Pregnancy

New parents frequently have questions about how to help the family pet adjust to the new baby. In many homes, a pet has received much attention and has been treated as “the first baby." Here are some hints that may help get your pet ready for the new baby:

  • Take your pet in for a health check-up. Have your pet up-to-date on vaccinations and checked for parasites.
  • If your pet has behavior issues, enroll in an obedience class or consult an animal behavior specialist. Some animals may never be able to be in the house with small children. You may need to find a new home for some pets.
  • Accustom your pet to baby related noises and smells in the months before the baby arrives. Play recordings of crying babies. Turn on the mechanical swing and use the rocking chair. Apply baby products to your own skin and let the pet sniff them.
  • Your baby’s room should be off limits to your pet. Install a sturdy barrier, such as a removable gate, or a screen door for jumping pets. Because these barriers still allow the pet to see and hear what’s happening in the room, your pet will feel less isolated from the family and more comfortable with new baby noises. The barrier can provide additional protection for your infant. 
  • Lizards, turtles, snakes and other reptiles may carry salmonella infection that could seriously harm your baby. These types of pets should not be in the home until children are at least five years old.  

What about my Cats?

Pregnant women should avoid changing the cat litter box during pregnancy to avoid getting Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasite that can be found in the stool/feces of cats that eat raw meat, birds and mice. It can also be found in contaminated soil and it is often found in uncooked or undercooked meat. It poses little risk to the mother, but the infection can be passed on to your unborn baby. It can cause severe illness or even death, in the baby. Toxoplasmosis is a rare disease in the United States. However, it is important to take steps to reduce the risk.

Steps include:

  • Have someone else clean the litter box during the entire pregnancy. If you must clean the litter box, wear rubber gloves and thoroughly wash your hands afterward.
  • Avoid handling or eating uncooked meat.
  • Keep your cat indoors and away from wildlife.
  • Feed cats only commercially prepared cat food.
  • Keep a cover over your children’s sand box to prevent cats from using it as a litter box.

Being pregnant does not mean you have to give up living with and caring for your cat. But by taking some simple steps toxoplasmosis can be easily avoided.

What about my Reptile Pets?

Lizards, turtles, snakes and other reptiles may carry salmonella infection that could seriously harm your baby. You must remove these pets before the baby is born.  

Introducing Your Pet to Your New Baby

Pets often play an important role in your family’s life. They provide love and affection as well as close companionship. The addition of a new baby can sometimes upset the pets in the household. There are some simple things you can do to help your pets adjust to the new family member.

  • Before you bring your baby home, wrap the baby in a blanket for several hours. Have your partner or have a friend take the blanket home for your pet to smell and investigate the new scent. 
  • When you come home from the hospital, have another person hold the baby while you greet your pet. Give your pet lots of attention because chances are he has really missed you.
  •  A dog may need to be kept on a leash for control until he calms down. Introduce the baby only when the pet is calm and quiet. Keep your pet well controlled whenever he is near the baby.
  • Never dangle the baby in front of your pet. 
  • Gently introduce him to the baby. Talk softly and allow the pet to smell and explore the baby very cautiously. Never force the pet to get near the baby.
  • Never leave a pet unattended in the same room with the baby.
  • Some pets become nervous when a baby cries. Be alert for unexpected aggressiveness from your pet. 
  • Some pets will show regressive behaviors with the addition of the new baby (house soiling, not using a litter box). Do not overreact to your pet’s mistakes because this may cause them to repeat the behavior with increased frequency. 
  • A pet should never be allowed to sleep in the crib or in the same room as the baby. Young babies cannot push a pet of any size off of them and this could lead to accidental suffocation. 
  • Spend a set amount of time (5-10 minutes) every day with your pet. Use the time to groom or play with the pet. It decreases your pet’s anxiety and jealousy. 
  • Involve your pet with the baby’s routine and yours, just as you would another child. Talk to both of them because they enjoy the sound of your voice.
  • Always wash your hands after playing with or handling your pet. If your baby touches your pet, wash his hands immediately afterwards. 
  • Your pet’s food and water bowls, and litter boxes should be kept away from your child at all times.
  • Do not allow your pets to get in or on baby equipment. Tin foil and/or crumpled-up newspaper in the empty crib can help keep cats out of the crib. They will not like the sound or the feel if they happen to jump into the crib. 
  • Prepare for the time you are in the hospital. Make sure care is lined up for your pets while you are spending time with your new family at the hospital.