Pets and Babies

Parents of new babies who also own pets are frequently asking me some pet-icular questions about how to prepare their pet for the arrival of a baby. Well, let me sit down and not roll over on this important topic.

First of all, a baby being injured by a pet is a very rare occurrence. The number of serious injuries to babies caused by a dog or a cat are far less than the number that occur through accidents, burns, and poisonings.

If your dog or cat is not aggressive to strangers, it is unlikely they will be anything but gentle to your baby. That being said, there are some precautions you can take.

• Make sure your pet is in good health by having them checked out by your vet before bringing a new baby into the house.

• Even if a dog is obedience trained, it is still a good idea to never leave a baby or small child unattended with a dog for any reason, and the same goes for cats.

• Place a gate in front of baby’s room to prevent the dog or cat from getting in unnoticed.

• If you are worried that a cat will suffocate or injure a baby in a crib, be reassured that this has never been reported in medical journals. But if you are concerned, you can get a crib net to keep your cat out.

• Familiarize your pet with the baby’s smell by exposing them to some blankets or clothing used by your baby in the hospital, or by putting baby lotion on your hand.

• Playing recordings of a baby crying or inviting friends to come over with their babies may get your pet better adjusted before the new baby comes home.

• When the baby arrives home, allow your pet to smell the baby from several feet away, and let them get closer slowly but surely as long as they don’t get overexcited.

What if your pet actually licks the new baby? Stay calm and be reassured. It is important to remember that germs in a pet’s mouth are usually harmless to humans and pose little risk even to infants.

That being said, it is still possible that your pet has had its mouth in unclean areas before licking your baby, so it is best to avoid having your dog or cat kiss your baby as much as possible. And don’t forget to wash your hands after handling your pet and before handling your baby.

Hopefully tips like this will lick the problem or concerns you might have when your pet is introduced to your new baby.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and on WCAX-TV Channel 3. Visit the First with Kids video archives at www.fletcherallen.org/firstwithkids