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Pregnancy, pets and your baby

We explain the precautions you should take when introducing a new baby to your pets.
Many parents-to-be worry whether it's safe to keep a pet in the house with a young baby around, especially after recent stories in the news. However, millions of people have both small children and pets and get along just fine. Having said that, it's a good idea to take a few precautions before your baby arrives just to make your transition to parenthood a little easier on your furry friends.

Pets and pregnancy

It's absolutely fine to spend as much time as you like with your pets while you're expecting, after all they're as much part of the family as your new baby. However, you will have to give litter tray duty a miss at least until you are less bumpilicious. It's especially important for pregnant women to avoid contact with cat faeces because of the risk of toxoplasmosis - a disease that can cause severe birth defects to a developing fetus. While the risk of contracting this illness is very low it still pays to be careful. For this reason you should....
  • Get someone else to clean and empty your cats litter tray daily or, if you don't have a choice, clean it wearing rubber gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards

  • Wear rubber gloves while you're out doing the gardening
Preparing your pet

No matter how placid your pet, the arrival of a new baby can come as a bit of a shock, especially if they're used to your undivided attention. The key to making the change less stressful for you and for your pet is to plan ahead; we explain how....
  • Take a look at your pets behaviour, if they have a habit of jumping up or nipping, don't sit or stay on command, scratch or lash out or always pull when on the lead, it really pays to teach them new ways before your little one arrives. Consider taking your pet to training school if this will help you to feel more confident about their ability to behave once you have a baby.

  • Get your pet used to the idea that certain areas of the house will be off limits, start to keep appropriate doors closed and use safety gates or screens to block off stairs or other other 'out of bounds' openings.

  • To make up for their newly restricted access, create a special 'retreat' for your pet somewhere in the house where they can go to escape if all this change is getting a little much. A nice cosy bed somewhere out of the way is good for a dog and a climbing station can be a nice idea for cats, especially once your baby starts moving around.

  • If possible get your pet used to the sights, smells and sounds associated with a small child, invite friends with babies around for lunch or take your pet out visiting with you. You may also like to get a toy doll and teach your pet not to touch, it should then be easier for them to transfer this behaviour to your living and breathing 'doll' after the birth. Wearing baby lotion as a moisturiser and using baby talc or baby wash will help your pet to get used to some of the smells associated with a new baby, making the whole thing less scary for them.

  • Build a walk or play routine that you will be able to continue once your baby arrives. Pets are creatures of habit and just like babies they'll feel much more secure and able to cope with change if this is incorporated into an established routine.

  • Like it or not you'll have less time to spend with your pet once your baby arrives. By gradually spending a little less one-on-one time with your pet they'll start to get used to this change and won't associate the arrival of your baby with a negative change in your behaviour. Do however make sure that any timeyou do spend with your pet quality time.

Before your baby arrives
  • Take your pets for a check up at the vets to make sure their immunisations are up to date and have them wormed and checked for fleas

  • Arrange for someone to look after your pets while you are in labour, it's best if this is someone your pets are used to
Introducing your pet to your baby

If you, like many parents-to-be, are worried about how your pet will react on your first day home with your baby, having a rough plan laid out may help you to feel more confident. It can be a good idea to....
  • Make sure your pets are well exercised before you and baby return home, this will be one less thing for you to think about and it'll also mean you need to do less 'entertaining' while you get used to being a parent.

  • Enter your home alone, your pets will be pleased to see you and will want some attention so have your partner or a friend carry your baby through to the nursery while you distract your pet with treats.

  • After your pets have calmed down, bring them with you to see your baby. Giving them lots of praise and treats for good, calm behaviour will help them to associate the presence of your newborn with a positive experience.
Once your baby is here
  • As a precaution, avoid leaving your pet and your baby alone together.

  • Keep your pet out of your baby's nursery especially when your baby is in there sleeping

  • Make sure you wash your baby's hands thoroughly when they've been touching your pet and clean any of your baby's belongings if your pet has been playing with them.

  • Try to keep your pet's routine as regular as possible, making sure that you remember to feed them, let them out for some fresh air, take them for walks and give them lots of attention.

  • Once your baby is old enough to crawl or walk it is important that you teach them how to behave around your pets. Teaching them not to grab or poke anywhere they shouldn't will help to avoid any 'snap' reactions from your pet.
Cats - Cats are very territorial creatures and you may find they become withdrawn or unsociable once your baby arrives. Help them to get used to the new presence in 'their' home by giving them as much attention and affection as possible. You may find that your cat begins to 'spray' inside your home; understand that this isn't meant as an attack on, or rejection of, your baby instead its a sign they feel unsecure as they are making your own, and your bayb's scent with their own. To help phase out this behaviour you shouldn't reprimand them but instead give them lots of positive attention.

Dogs - Dogs are very loyal to their owners so making them feel involved will help them to accept their change in circumstances. Try to spend some one-on-one time with your dog each day, a quick 5 minutes of your undivided attention while your baby is napping will really help your baby to adjust. You could also teach your dog that they're allowed to spend time with you and the new baby as long as they remain calm and quiet.

With a little preparation you'll be able to introduce your baby into your pet’s life with relatively little stress. However, if you do worry that your pet may snap or bite it’s always worth getting professional advice just in case.

Are you worried about how your pet will cope with a new baby or do you have any tried and tested tips that you can share with other parents-to-be? Click here to visit our Talk forums and chat to other AskBaby members.

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