Pet owners who are expecting a child might experience feelings of anxiety about how pets may react to their much-anticipated bundle of joy. Concerns might include spread of disease, safety issues, jealousy, reduced quality time with pets, and the possibility of re-homing them. However, with advanced planning, many of these concerns can be alleviated. Preparation — months in advance — is the key to a successful adjustment for this life-changing experience that affects all family members.
Cat-owning pregnant women must take precautions to prevent contracting toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by a parasite found in cat feces that can lead to miscarriage or birth defects. Cats can be infected by eating birds or mice outside or raw meat fed by their owners. To prevent exposure to the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals recommends taking the following precautions:
• Keep cats indoors
• Have other family members routinely clean out the litter box or have the pregnant owner wear rubber gloves followed by thorough handwashing after twice daily litterbox cleanups
• Because outdoor cats sometimes use gardens as a litterbox, pregnant gardeners should always wear gloves
• Gloves should be worn when handling raw meat, washing raw fruits and vegetables, and when cleaning food preparation surfaces
• Do not feed cats raw or undercooked meat.
Certified dog trainer Pat Miller recommends that dog owners pursue obedience and manners training to prevent mishaps due to lack of control. Miller's book, "The Power of Positive Dog Training," devotes a chapter to helping owners prepare their dogs for the arrival of babies and provides sensible strategies to ease a dog's adjustment to the new family member. Puppies present major challenges for owners also raising human babies because they require time, attention and patience for socialization, housebreaking and manners training.
Cats might have difficulty adjusting to the presence of the new "creature" living in their environment. Cat owners can also take positive measures to help their felines prepare for a baby's arrival.
Below is a compilation of strategies recommended by the Humane Society of the United States and in "The Power of Positive Dog Training" to help owners proactively prepare pets for the arrival of that bundle of joy.
Before a baby's arrival:
• Take your pet to the vet for routine health exams, core vaccinations and bring stool samples for analysis.
• Spay/neuter your pets to reduce reproductive and behavior issues. Altered pets are usually calmer and less likely to bite.
• Consult with a certified behaviorist to address existing behavioral issues like fear, anxiety, nipping or rough play.
• If the dog's crate/bed, toys and other possessions are currently located in what will be the nursery, move them into a room like your bedroom — not a laundry room, basement or backyard — as soon as possible so your dog can adjust to the change gradually, rather than the week before the baby's arrival.
• Expose pets to baby-related sounds, like recordings of baby vocalizations, and equipment, like a stroller and rocking chair, and provide treats to create positive associations with these new sounds and objects.
• Train your dog to lay calmly on the floor beside you when you sit on a chair. Don't allow him/her to jump in your lap without an invitation.
• Invite friends with infants to visit your pet with their children, but provide strict supervision and keep the dog on a leash, using obedience commands and providing treat rewards for appropriate behaviors. Never force a pet to interact with babies or young children.
• Install baby gates or other open barriers to prevent pets from entering the baby's room. This allows pets to become accustomed to baby-related activities without making them feel isolated.
• Acclimate pets to baby care routines and scents by carrying a baby doll, placing it in a stroller when walking your dog, simulating bathing and diaper-changing, saying the baby's name frequently, and applying baby powder and oil on your skin.
• Apply double-stick tape to discourage pets from jumping onto cribs, changing tables, etc.
• Arrange to have a friend or relative — someone your pet already knows — care for it during your hospital stay. Provide specific feeding, medication, daily routine instructions and emergency phone numbers.
After the baby's birth:
• Have a partner or friend bring home a blanket with the baby's scent and allow the pet to investigate the new odor.
• Upon your return, have someone carry the baby into another room so you and your pet become calmly reacquainted while you provide yummy treats as a distraction.
• After getting reacquainted you may invite - but never force - a pet to sit next to you and the baby. Reward your pet with praise and treats to create a positive association with the baby.
• Never leave pets alone with babies or toddlers. Their high-pitched vocalizations, small stature and crawling behaviors resemble wounded prey animals which may trigger predatory responses from some dogs with tragic results. Do not allow pets to sleep in the baby's room.
• Try to maintain your pet's daily routine as closely as possible because animals thrive on structure and predictability in their lives.
• Baby's naptime may provide you with daily quality time for your pet. Activities like gentle play, grooming, cuddling and reviewing obedience skills with yummy rewards strengthen the bond you share together and may prevent jealousy issues.
• Watch for behavioral changes like aggression, fear, sleeping, eating or housebreaking problems, lethargy, and self-mutilation, which could be signs of stress in animals unable to cope with the presence of a baby. A consultation with a vet or certified animal behaviorist might be warranted. For serious cases, owners might have to consider re-homing the pet into a calmer setting.
Latest Carroll County Times Opinion
• Always model appropriate interaction with pets such as gentle petting and handling, speaking in a quiet voice and not engaging in rough games. These early lessons lay the foundation for teaching children to respect animals.