According to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, around 40% of households in the UK have a pet. Having a pet at home brings developmental, social and emotional benefits for children, but it’s important to be aware of the risks pets can pose to little ones too. Animals can aggravate allergies and asthma, and can carry germs or infections.
Of course the arrival of a new baby in the household will also have an impact on your pet, so it’s worth taking time to prepare everyone for the changes ahead.
Make sure you always wash your hands thoroughly with soap under running water after touching or feeding a pet, as this will help to avoid illness or the spread of infection.
Babies and dogs
As soon as you learn that you’re expecting a baby, you’ll need to start to prepare your home and develop new routines with your dog. This will help to prepare them for the lifestyle changes ahead.
Here are some hints and tips for dog owners to ensure a good, safe start to the relationship between your dog and your baby.
- Set up the cot and bring out the buggy before the baby is born so that your dog can get used to seeing them about the house.
- Play recordings of baby sounds to familiarise your dog with them.
- Train your dog to go to his bed, or to a safe place in the same room as you and your baby. This will give him somewhere to relax (quiet time) out of the way when you’re busy with the baby.
- Avoid rough play with your dog – you don’t want your dog to also be boisterous around your baby.
- Reward good calm behaviour in your dog, and be attentive to their needs too. You may feel tired, especially during the first weeks, but going for a walk is good for your dog and therapeutic for you and your baby too.
- Learn to recognise your dog’s body language, so that you can understand how he is feeling and avoid difficulties.
- Make sure your dog is healthy – no worms, ticks or fleas.
- Leave your baby or child alone with ANY dog. Always supervise.
- Try to force the relationship.
- Leave nappies or baby toys around that could be dangerous for your dog.
You may also find this RSPCA leaflet on growing up with a dog useful.
Babies and cats
Once you find out you’re pregnant, you’ll need to be really careful when feeding your cat and cleaning out the litter tray. If you can get someone else to do this for you, please do. Cat poo can contain an infection called toxoplasmosis, and although it’s rare, if you get it when you’re pregnant, the infection can be passed to your baby. It can cause harm to the baby or even cause you to miscarry.
If you do have to clean out the litter tray, make sure you wear rubber gloves and always wash your hands thoroughly when you’ve finished. Further information about toxoplasmosis can be found on NHS Choices.
Here are some further hints and tips for cat owners:
- Be aware of how your cat reacts to being handled. Some cats don’t like being touched and can snag at your skin. This will give you an idea of how your cat is likely to react to an enthusiastic baby grasp in the future.
- Get your cat used to baby sounds by playing recordings of crying and gurgling babies, softly at first and then gradually increasing the volume. That way, your cat won’t be stressed when the baby arrives.
- Put out your cat’s food in a place where the baby won’t be able to reach it.
- Provide your cat with a safe, quiet place to go when things get busy and noisy with the baby.
- Keep cat toys and baby toys completely separate.
- If you need to, change the place where your cat sleeps, so that they don’t wander into the nursery at night.
- Force your cat to interact with the new baby.
- Leave dirty nappies about as this may cause the cat to wee and poo in the spot where the nappy was left.
- Don’t leave your baby alone with the cat unsupervised.
Leaflet: Your cat and your baby
Further useful links:
The most common pets are dogs and cats, but you can find information on a whole range of different pets (and keeping your little ones safe around them), from the following sites:
Remember, you can also discuss pet safety with your health visitor.