We all wish—and often expect—that our pets will take to new members of the family easily. We love them, we love our kids, so they should love each other! But adding a new family member that doesn’t do much besides cry (initially) and take away precious belly-rub time can be a huge stressor for our pets.
If you’re like me, you’ve imagined that your pup will be like Nana from Peter Pan. I’ve even had to stop myself from buying that cute hat on Amazon multiple times, because it’s not fair to expect every pet to not only love but like a new baby or child in the family.
It’s a big change. So as I’m counting down the days until our little lady arrives, I thought I’d share just a few tidbits about how to prepare our pets medically and behaviorally for a new arrival.
There aren’t many diseases to worry about transmitting from dog or cat to baby, but there are a few you should know about. They are all easily minimized, if not eliminated, with the appropriate care and prevention.
The first are intestinal parasites. Hookworms and roundworms that dogs carry can potentially carry can be spread when exposed skin comes into contact with the larva of these worms or the larva is ingested. The worms grow and can live in the skin or sometimes eye. So it’s important to keep your dogs on a heartworm preventive medication that also covers intestinal parasites. These are monthly preventatives for your dog such as Heartgard Plus or Sentinel Spectrum.
Toxoplasmosis also gets a lot of attention when expectant mothers live with feline family members. Toxoplasmosis is actually pretty difficult to get from cats. You’re more likely to get toxoplasmosis from undercooked pork or contaminated water than from your cat. Cats get toxoplasmosis from eating infected wildlife, so for most indoor-only domestic felines, the likelihood is very low. To play it safe, follow a few simple rules:
- Clean the litter box once a day: it takes longer than 24 hours sitting in stool for toxoplasmosis to become infectious, so if you scoop once a day or more, it shouldn’t be a problem.
- Keep your cat indoor only: if they can’t eat infected wildlife, they can’t get toxoplasmosis.
- Avoid feeding your cat a raw diet: again, no infected meat consumption, no problem.
- Have another family member or friend clean out the litter box once daily. (You might already be doing that if you were averse to smells as much as I was in my first trimester!)
If you are concerned about your possible exposure risk to toxoplasmosis, be sure to speak to your own physician about testing.
Changes in the Home
There are so many changes that come with a baby. Our little lady isn’t even here yet, and our house already feels so different. Your pets are aware of these changes too. It’s important that we try to anticipate changes to our pets’ schedule and lives so that we can prepare them, because once baby is here, there will be enough to worry about.
One new item is the stroller. If your dog is like our Emmie, she gets spooked by everything from a plastic bag floating in the wind to the vacuum cleaner. She has definitely barked at other people pushing strollers. It’s important to introduce the stroller before there’s a baby in it and get the dog used to walking with the stroller. If that means you’ll be that crazy neighbor pushing around an empty stroller with your dog, just say your vet made you do it. For dogs fearful of strollers, use positive reinforcement to create a positive association with being near the stroller. (For Emmie, that means treats—and LOTS of them!) Also, remember that you should NEVER attach your dog to the stroller when cruising with baby.
The car seat is another common piece of baby equipment that you’ll want to expose your dog to. Practice getting in and out of the car with your pup. You’ll want to make sure that your dog cannot get to your baby while in the car. You can purchase a dog seat belt or have a small crate available.
Introducing Baby to Your Pets
Have a family member or friend bring home something from the hospital with the baby’s smell on it before the baby’s arrival. The day baby comes home, have everyone come in before the person holding the baby come in. Keep your pet distracted with praise and treats while the baby comes in, and try to stay calm.
Later, while the dog is leashed, allow her to gently investigate, maybe just smelling at the feet for a short while. Then give your dog lots of praise for the gentle investigation. You want to avoid punishment, instead rewarding and praising gentle calm behavior. Avoid allowing the pet to lick the baby (but a few licks at the feet is not a huge concern). And never leave baby alone with your pets, ever.
Be sure to speak with your veterinarian if you think your pet may need medication to help with the anxiety of the changes that come with a new baby. Sometimes having an anti-anxiety medication can help with the transition to this great new adventure that the whole family is starting.
Finally, I would like to thank all my wonderful colleagues and staff here at Medical District Veterinary Clinical for their support and well wishes as my husband and I get ready to welcome our future Illini!
She’s due at the end of this month, so if all goes according to plan, I will be on maternity leave through April, with Saturday hours starting again in May, and back to full time in June. We are very excited (and a little nervous) to start this next big adventure in our family!
—Alyssa Kritzman, DVM