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Posted on 05-25-2017

One of the questions that our veterinarians get asked frequently, comes from clients who are going to be new parents of the two-legged variety!  They want to know how to introduce their new baby to the pets in their household safely and with as little stress as possible.  For new parents, bringing the baby home is in and of itself a huge life-changing endeavor let alone thinking about the effect it may have on their pets! It is very important however, to consider how a new family addition can affect your dog or cat and to help prepare them in advance.   Preparing and planning ahead are key to avoiding a lot of stress for both Fido and the new parents.  The way that a pet reacts to a baby and how the animal demonstrates that they are anxious or stressed by the situation, can be very different depending on whether you have a dog or a cat.  It is important to recognize species-related differences in body language and social interaction, and to be able to pick-up on these cues and intercede before anything negative occurs.  While it is not possible to cover everything associated with this important topic in a short article, we hope through this three-part blog series, to at least cover some of the basics in regards to pet and family health, animal body language, and planned daily routines to get you started in the process of planning!

The first basic step is to make sure that your four-legged family member is healthy and up to date on vaccinations as well as internal and external parasite prevention.  As we have discussed previously, some of the common internal parasites are transmissible to people; and with infants and toddlers who have immature immune systems (as well as their propensity to touch things and put them in their mouths without washing!) they are at higher risk.  Also during the warm months when we are outdoors, we would prefer not to have our pets bring external parasites such as ticks into the home that could end up attaching to our children!  A thorough physical exam of your pet should be completed and possibly additional laboratory tests may be recommended by your veterinarian as well to rule out systemic causes of illness or pain that could affect your pet’s behavior and ultimately how they adjust to new family dynamics prior to bringing the baby home. Vaccinations, especially for diseases such as rabies (even if your pet is indoor-only our veterinarians still recommend it) are also imperative should there be a biting incident. 

While the goal is to prevent any biting from occurring, the reality is that dog bites happen more than most people realize or are willing to admit.  The majority of dog bites surprisingly are not from stray animals- approximately 70% of all dog bites occur in or around the home and are from a dog whom the child is familiar with! Therefore, our second step is to learn to identify and recognize basic animal body language that dogs and cats can demonstrate to tell us that they are fearful or anxious and want to be removed from the situation before things escalate to possible aggression.  Check out the pictures below which illustrate canine and feline body language. 

Lastly, you want to begin thinking about your current routines with your pets.  What times of the day do you feed them at?  What time and how often do you take your dog for a walk?  What rooms do your dog or cat currently spend time in and will they be able to continue to be in those spaces when the baby arrives? Although many of these things may seem like no big deal, an abrupt or sudden change in the regular routine can be very stressful for pets and result in adverse behavioral responses as they try to adjust.  Our veterinarians can discuss with you how to go about adjusting your routines and make suggestions to help make the transition smoother.  Animal behavior is complex and introducing a new baby to the household is topic that takes considerable time to prepare for and discuss; a consultation appointment with your veterinarian is an excellent first step in getting started on this journey!      

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