As a nation of pet lovers it’s important to consider the effect a new baby can have on a household and the animals in it. It’s also vital to be aware of the precautions one should take when pregnant when it comes to things like poop-a-scooping, not to mention the nasties that can be found in the cat tray. We asked vet Nick Haley MA VetMB MRCVS to give us the low-down.
I am going to have a baby, and already have a pet. What should I do now?
Preparation for a healthy relationship between your pet and your baby can start even before the baby is born. A regular health check should be in any pet owner’s diary, but it would definitely be sensible to arrange a check over, and a chat about preventative health care. Some of the diseases we worry about can particularly affect pregnant women, and a lot of practices offer free consultations with nurses to discuss worming and flea treatment, so take advantage of this in the early stages of pregnancy if they do.
If your dog is not used to children, why not take some nephews and nieces on some walks to get them used to the idea of small people? Obviously, as with any introduction, you should be careful in case your pet responds in a way you are not expecting, but it will pay dividends if he/she is used to being in the presence of kids before one suddenly appears at home. If your dog is at all disobedient, or you do not trust his temperament, there are some excellent trainers and behaviourists that can work wonders, but need time, so again, now is the time to address minor problems, like excessive boisterousness, or possessiveness over toys, which may not be a big issue for adults, but could present big problems for youngsters who don’t know the ‘rules’.
How should I introduce my baby to my pet? What precautions should I take?
Just like anything else new in the house, a baby can upset a dog/cat. They can find it scary or threatening, and may act abnormally as a result. They need to know that the baby is not a threat, and that it is not something to fear, or dislike. Most animals are keen to welcome another member of the family, but all the same, you must be careful and never assume that this will be the case. All meetings should be supervised- even if you trust your lifelong faithful friend, animals can still be unpredictable, and they may feel their place in the hierarchy is under threat by the new arrival. If your dog/cat is not keen to meet the baby, don’t force the issue – It will come with time. Obviously, the chances are that you have spent some time away from home having the baby, and so animals can often be very excited when you first get home. Showing the baby straight away at a time of heightened excitability is not a great plan. Take your time, allow everything to settle down and then allow the animal to come to you, so you can introduce the baby to him when things are calmer. Allowing dogs or cats to sleep in the same room as the baby should be avoided. We’ve all heard horror stories – thankfully they are extremely uncommon, but it just isn’t worth taking the chance of leaving an animal and baby alone together. There are nets available to prevent cats climbing into a cot to snuggle up in the warmth.
Sparky’s Spots has a wide collection of helpful reviews if you’re looking to buy products for your pet cat, such as: nets, window perches, feeders and harnesses.
Why is it dangerous to handle cat litter when pregnant, and are there any other precautions to take in terms of pets and how to clean up after them / feed them when pregnant?
The main disease that we worry about with cat litter is Toxoplasmosis. This is a disease that typically affects cats that hunt. It is also found in raw/undercooked meat, and on unwashed fruit and veg, and in fact, more infections come from these sources than cats, but it still pays to take precautions, as infection during pregnancy could lead to serious consequences, including blindness and other congenital defects. The best way to reduce the risk of infection is to avoid cleaning up the litter tray altogether – and so this duty can be passed on to your partner with a clear conscience! As previously mentioned, though, the bug can also be found in other places, so steer clear of rare meats, and if you’re gardening, wear gloves. As you would anyway, wash your hands after handling your pet, or if you do have to handle any waste.
I have two young babies, what types of dog are good, safe and family oriented dogs?
This is a question that I am bound to get in trouble with someone for answering! Owners of every breed get defensive about their own, and if I criticise a breed, there will be a ton of people waiting to jump to its defence. I suppose I would be naturally wary of bigger breeds, not because they are naturally more aggressive, but because if they did become aggressive, the potential is greater that they could hurt someone. The honest answer is that there is no one dog that you could recommend as a ‘safe’ dog – you can never assume that a dog is going to be OK with kids. There are, however, some breeds which have a particular reputation for being easy to train. Labradors, for instance, are popular, with good reason. They are, in general, eager to please and fit in well with an active family life. I have met very few grumpy Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and even a Greyhound, which love to tear about but can be equally at home slobbing on the sofa might be worth considering as they are generally very tolerant and can fit into your hectic routine!
I personally have a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, who is the most loving dog I have ever known, and up until recently the breed had an excellent reputation as a faithful and loving family dog. They are not, however, the easiest to train, and you may find you’ve got enough on your plate with a new baby, without having to train a naughty and naturally boisterous puppy! Remember, you don’t just have to consider a pure bred dog. Mongrels are often healthier, live longer and can, of course, be just as loving. Why not consider taking on a dog from a rescue centre? There are plenty of animals needing homes, and you will have the advantage of seeing the dog fully grown and developed in his personality. Staff at the centre will normally carry out a full assessment and tell you honestly whether the dog is suitable for a house with children.
What diseases are commonly caught by children from dog waste? (Toxocariasis etc) and how can I prevent this?
Again, there are many of potential diseases, but the one we worry about most is Toxacara – This is a worm that some dogs carry in their gut and in most cases you will not see any signs in the dog. In people, infection is most likely to be through handling dog waste, but the eggs can also be found in soil, so washing hands after any mucky play outside is sensible. A lot of cases in people do not cause serious signs, but at the worse end of the scale, lung and eye problems can be caused, so you should be careful. It is prevented with a routine prescription wormer, so keep your dog fully wormed, and washing your and your kids’ hands whenever you have picked up waste is a must.
Will my pet be upset by the arrival of a new baby?
This depends on the nature of the animal. Cats particularly, can be sensitive to any change, and so we should bear them in mind when big changes like babies come into the house. Stress can lead to soiling the house, or cystitis in some animals, so have a chat with your vet if this happens as there are some products available to ease the stress. Pets may see the baby itself as something to be scared of, or a competitor, but they may also feel left out, as it is natural that they will get less attention when you are looking after your new arrival. As far as you can, try to keep to your routine of feeding and walking/play that you had before the baby. Of course, there are a lot of things that you can involve both children and animals with, and everyone needs exercise, so long dog walks, hiking holidays etc can involve the whole family. Activities such as agility, obedience, and ‘flyball’ can be a great way for animals and children to bond, and for children to learn a sense of responsibility for looking after animals, as they grow older.
What about other precautions I should take from the pets point of view?
We often worry (rightly) about possibly dangers that animals can present to children, but what about the other way around? Don’t forget the number of soft toys, blankets, teething aids that will be lying around – any one of which may appear to be a handy chew or snack for an unsuspecting animal. I have lost count of the number of chunks of rubbery toy I have removed from dogs’ guts, and it really can be dangerous to them. Tidying up after your new baby/toddler will obviously help, and if something does appear to go missing, or be in several pieces when you get up in the morning, just bear in mind it might be in the dog! Some foods that are fine for kids can be really bad for animals – Most people are aware that chocolate, particularly dark chocolate can be poisonous to dogs, but raisins, for instance can also be very toxic to both dogs and cats. On a longer term note, clever animals will soon get the message that sitting around a high chair will pay dividends as dropped rusks and rice cakes litter the floor. It’s amazing how much weight animals can put on simply by hoovering up these bits, and kids love sharing food with pets. It’s probably best to discourage this outside of proper training, but also don’t forget to keep an eye on that waistline, and cut back on normal food if picking up scraps is unavoidable.