Writing about pets and small children is a subject very relevant to my world since I have a two year old, a baby due in July, two dogs and a cat. Even if you don't have little kids of your own, you might have friends with kids, grandchildren or neighborhood children who want to play with your pets.
What can I do to help my pets adjust when I bring a new baby home?
Bringing a new baby home is a big change for everyone, including your pets! With a little preparation you can help make the transition go smoothly.
Routine - Dogs and cats love their daily routine. The best thing you can do for your pets after the baby arrives is to preserve their routine. Try to maintain a regular walk and feeding schedule. If your plan is for the baby to move into the bedroom and the pets to move out, transition them to their new sleeping spot before the baby arrives so they're adjusted by then.
One-on-one time for the pets – I know life gets really busy and crazy once you have kids, but try and carve out a little time each day to spend with your pets apart from the kids, whether that is snuggling, petting or playing together.
Food dispensing toys – There are a variety of food dispensing toys for dogs, like KONG® or Busy Buddy® toys, to keep dogs busy and happy. If you need some space from your dogs it's ok to put them outdoors or in their crates with a food dispensing toy for a couple hours.
Do I need to worry about my pets getting my baby sick or vice versa?
Preventative care - Before the baby arrives I recommend having your dog or cat examined by your veterinarian. Make sure your pet's vaccines are current. Dogs should be on heartworm preventative and flea control. Most heartworm preventatives are also general de-wormers so giving that once a month dose keeps them parasite free. Fleas can carry infectious diseases so using a monthly preventative for both dogs and outdoor cats keeps fleas out of the house. A healthy, parasite free dog is not going to get your baby sick. Likewise, the majority of infections that kids get will not affect your dog or cat.
Baby-proof - Cat litter boxes should be put in areas that are inaccessible to the baby once he or she starts crawling since cat feces can carry infectious diseases.
Allergies - Interesting research has shown that newborns exposed to dogs and cats are less likely to develop allergies than children without pets. Acquiring pets after they are born did not show the same benefit. This suggests that it is good for our baby's immune systems to be exposed to pet hair and dander and even an occasional kiss!
My two year old seems to resent the dogs. How do I get her involved?
Many toddlers go through a period where they feel like the pets are competition and are jealous that their parent's attention is split. If this is the case, try to get your toddler involved in caring for their pets. Depending on the toddler's age he or she may be able to scoop kibble into bowls, brush or help give baths, and practice giving basic commands. Be careful with kids touching food bowls when a dog is eating as some dogs are protective of their foods. If giving treats, have your toddler hold the treat flat in their palm, or put it on the ground for the dog to take. Teach the command "leave it" to your dog to make sure he or she doesn't snap at treats in the child's hand.
Supervise games involving both the pets and the toddler – try laser pointer, fetch or chase. Model gentle behavior towards pets and teach your toddler to use words instead of pushing and grabbing to get the animals to cooperate. Babies and toddlers should never be unsupervised with pets.
My toddler wants to pet every dog we encounter. How do I teach him to be careful?
Before petting someone else's dog, teach your toddler to ask "Is your dog kid friendly?" If the owner thinks her dog is friendly (some dogs are ok with adults but not kids), kneel down and help your toddler put out a hand slowly for the dog to sniff, then pet its back gently. Many dogs don't like their head being pet and are scared by the fast movements of kids. Toddlers should not be petting strange dogs without direct parental supervision and assistance. If you get a bad vibe from the dog, don't risk it.
Teach your toddler about dog body language – A nice dog that will tolerate getting pet has a relaxed wagging tail, does not making hard eye contact and is moving towards you. A dog that is scared and potentially aggressive is moving away from you, showing the whites of his/her eyes, lifting a lip in a snarl or might have a ridge of fur up on his/her back.
As children grow, they learn to love and appreciate animals as much as we do. They also become more respected by our pets. Hopefully these tips help you to keep everyone happy and healthy!
Dr. Kristel Weaver is a graduate of the Veterinary School at the University of California, Davis where she received both a DVM and a Master's of Preventative Veterinary Medicine (MPVM). She has been at Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care in San Ramon since 2007. She currently lives in Oakland with her husband and their daughter, Hayley. If you have questions you would like Dr. Weaver to answer for future articles, please email firstname.lastname@example.org