Saturday, April 09, 2005

Babies, dogs and cats

People with pets often wonder how their pets will adapt to a new baby. Every family's situation is unique; however, it is possible to do things to help prepare your pets for a new addition and to make everyone's cohabitation successful.

The most important thing to consider is safety. If you have a docile cat or dog who is a loving member of the family, in all likelihood you can introduce the baby without any fear. However, if your current pet is aggressive or jealous even before you have a little one, you will have to think about the ramifications of a new addition.

For an aggressive dog or cat, consider the things that trigger the aggressive behavior. Is your pet fine with all people, but occasionally acts out with other animals? In this instance you may be fine. What is the symptom of the aggression? A warning growl or hiss with no follow-up action is probably okay. However, if your pet goes from affectionate to attack-prone without warning when being petted, it may be necessary to find a new home for Fido or Fluffy. If your dog has been around children, how did he react? Carefully watch his behavior to learn the warning signs of his aggression so you can protect yourself and your baby.

Some people do additional training for their dogs while they are expecting. For example, one couple I know would lightly tug on their dog's fur or pet her backwards, then reward her with a treat in preparation for the rough and tumble of their new baby. This also gives you a preview of how your dog reacts to unexpected treatment.

Regardless of your pet's temperament, rule number one is to never leave a pet alone with an infant. Your pet cannot tell you if it is upset by the change in the household and may act in surprising ways. Then, watch your pet closely to see how he reacts to the baby. Many pets understand the role of the baby in the family and are very protective. Others are seemingly indifferent, but perfectly able to live side by side with the new addition. Note that some animals will be alarmed or bothered by a baby's cry. It may irritate them or may worry them; many a dog has dogged its owners heals until a bottle was heated.

The baby will probably love watching your animals once she realizes there are little furry members of the household. Most babies raised with friendly animals will not fear them and will assume they are an important part of the family. As baby gets older, take her hand and show her how to touch your dog or cat, emphasizing the words "soft" or "gentle" as you help her stroke and pet. Having a pet can provide companionship for a child and can encourage a lifelong love of animals. In addition, recent studies have shown babies in homes with pets may be less likely to develop allergies and asthma later in life. The benefits are clear as long as you have patience and are safety conscious.

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