Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Babies and Pets

Many expecting parents with cats and/or dogs wonder what will happen when the pets meet the new baby. Many pets have not been around babies and the pet owners may not know how they will react to the newcomer in the household. Others may have bad habits that you are afraid might harm your child.

Some pet owners immediately decide to find new homes for their pets when they find out they are expecting. If you have an aggressive or unpredictable pet, this could be a good idea. Aggressive dogs, for example, may lash out at the new baby. Some dogs may show aggression due to jealousy when he sees you giving attention to the new baby. However, you should not get rid of a family pet just because you are expecting. Most dogs and cats will get along with the new baby, and undesirable behavior that has not been addressed before can likely be corrected before the baby arrives. For example, say your dog likes to jump up on people. You might be concerned that he might jump on the baby or jump up on someone who is holding the baby. This is a habit that you can correct before the baby arrives with some simple, persistent training.

You may also want to start getting your dog used to being confined when you are at home. There will be times when you will need to confine your dog to keep him from interfering with baby tasks (such as diaper changing or play time). You will understand this need the first time you shake a rattle with an energetic dog in the room. First, you need to decide on a good spot to confine the dog. The basement and the kitchen are good choices. If there is not a door to close the space, use baby gates. Begin confining the dog for short periods of time, such as 15 minutes. He might whine the first few times, but once he learns that he will be let out soon, he should begin to calm down.

Cats can be another concern. Most cats like to sleep on or next to people for warmth. Some cats especially like to sleep on or close to your head to feel the warmth of your breath. A cat sleeping on a defenseless baby could be a smothering risk. Instead of getting rid of your cat, try a crib tent. A crib tent is a frame with netting that attaches over your baby's crib and keeps out the cats. There is usually a flap secured with Velcro that folds down to allow you to access the crib. Crib tents can be found at most stores that sell baby furniture.

If your pet has been around babies and small children before and behaved, chances are you have nothing to worry about. If your pet has never been around a baby, see if a friend or relative is willing to bring their baby into your home to test the waters. Or carry a doll around wrapped in a blanket, giving it plenty of attention, and see how your pet reacts. If you are still unsure when the new baby arrives, try keeping your pet on a leash around the baby until you feel confident enough to take it off.

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