Taking care of your pet to protect your young child
Keep your pets in good health
All pets, whether they are kept indoors or outside, should be in good health, show no evidence of disease, and be friendly toward children. The following suggestions benefit your pets and may also help protect young children from both illness and injury:
- Immunize cats and dogs and use flea, tick, and worm control programs.
- Keep pet areas clean. Dispose of all pet waste immediately. Keep litter boxes away from children.
- Spay or neuter your pets. It can reduce aggressive behavior.
- Seek a veterinarian's advice immediately if your pet becomes aggressive.
Train and prepare dogs for being around children
If you have a dog, train and prepare it for contact with children. Many dogs will try to dominate children because of their small size. In addition, some children are not well behaved around animals. These factors put children at risk for injury. The following suggestions can help prevent such problems. Some of the suggestions may also work with other pets:1
- Teach your dog submissive behaviors, such as rolling over to show its stomach.
- Do not play aggressive games with your dog, such as wrestling.
- Redirect nibbling, pouncing, or swatting behaviors to toys instead of people.
- Closely supervise all interactions between children and pets.
Pets and newborns
Be especially careful when bringing a newborn home where a pet has enjoyed "only child" status. Animals can become jealous, aggressive, and defensive about trying to protect their place in the family. In addition, newborns do not act, smell, or sound human, which may confuse pets. The weak, high-pitched cry of newborns may also sound like prey to animals. Even a very loving, well-behaved pet can quickly transform into predator mode with a newborn.
Try the following to prepare your pet for sharing its home with an infant:1
Before the baby is born
- Slowly reduce the amount of time you spend with your pet before the baby is born. This will help prevent an abrupt change in the amount of attention your pet receives.
- If possible, borrow an item with a baby's scent, such as a blanket. Bring it home and allow your pet to sniff and investigate.
- Carry a doll around.
- Introduce new scents gradually, such as the lotions and other items you have for the baby.
- If possible, play recordings of baby noises, such as crying. Also turn on items such as baby monitors and swings periodically to get your pet used to new sounds.
- Consider enrolling in obedience school, and practice the techniques you learn.
After the baby is born
- When the baby comes home for the first time, have a friend or relative stay with the baby in a different room while parents reacquaint themselves with the pet.
- Bring your pet with you to sit next to the baby. Give the animal treats to develop positive associations with the baby.
- Do not force your pet to be near the baby. This only causes anxiety and increases the chance of injury.
- Do not allow your pet to sleep alone in the same room as a baby. Large pets, such as dogs, can easily overturn bassinets or disrupt a crib. Other animals, such as cats, can smother a baby.
- Never leave a baby alone with a pet. It only takes a moment for a pet to misbehave and cause a serious injury.
- Although extra time can be hard to come by when you have a newborn, try to spend some one-on-one time with your pet each day.
Last Updated: December 3, 2008
Author: Debby Golonka, MPH