Baby Health and Safety Article

Pet Safety

Like anything involving your baby you must use common sense and patience. Do your homework by contacting your pediatrician and your local kennel club. Find out as much information as you can about the type of pet that you have and ask your pediatrician for helpful tips.

We hear a lot of horror stories when it comes to new babies and dogs, and the statistics are sobering:

Each year dogs bite an estimated 4.5 million people, and children are by far the most common victims. Seventy percent of fatal dog attacks involve children. There are currently more than 60 million pet dogs and nearly 70 million pet cats in the US.

If you think such an attack could never happen in the safety of your home, you should be aware that the majority of dog attacks happen in the victim's home or in a familiar place nearby. More than three-quarters of the dogs doing the biting belong to the victim's family, or to a friend.

Dogs have a tendency to become territorial and jealous. From the family dog's perspective, a newborn may appear to threaten the dog's position in the family hierarchy. Many dogs willingly accept a new addition to the family and may even become protective of this new "pup."

But other dogs may resent the intrusion of another individual vying for the attention of the masters. Others may simply be confused and unaware of what's expected of them in this new situation.

Some pet owners choose to shower the family pet with additional attention in anticipation of the baby's arrival, knowing that they will likely be unable to devote as much time to caring for and interacting with the pet once the baby arrives.

Yet experts advise the opposite approach. In the weeks before the baby's arrival, gradually reduce the amount of time and attention the pet receives. The reasoning goes that the pet will be less likely to negatively associate the baby's eventual presence with being ignored.

If your pet has any undesirable behavior problems, it's best to resolve them before baby's arrival. Such problems will tend to be magnified once the baby arrives in the home. If your pet has been obedience trained, review and reinforce commands before the baby's arrival.

Remember to reward good behavior with gentle praise, caresses and treats, rather than focusing on punishing poor behavior. If your pet has not been neutered, consider rectifying this situation as soon as possible.

Male dogs are about six times more likely to bite than female dogs, and male dogs that have not been "fixed" are three times more likely to bite than neutered males.

Introducing a Newborn to Your Dog
The number one piece of advice given to dog owners is to have a proper introduction between your baby and dog. Before the baby arrives, familiarize your pet with the scents that will be associated with the baby.

Let your pet smell and inspect a blanket that has been used to swaddle your baby in the hospital. Make a positive association with the baby"s scent by talking gently to the animal and giving treats. You may even wish to allow your pet to sleep with the item.

It may also be helpful to make a tape recording of your baby's cries in the hospital. Or record a friend's infant. Bring the tape home and play it for your pet, while gently playing or otherwise positively interacting with your pet.

As your pet grows accustomed to these new sounds, gradually increase the volume.

Several tips you should consider:

  • It's important to carry out the usual welcome-home ritual. It might be a good idea to have someone else carry your baby into the house so you can greet your pet as you usually do.
  • Don't lock the dog in a room or remove him from the house when you bring the baby home for the first time. The dog may interpret this as punishment and become aggressive.
  • Allow the dog to see the baby from a safe distance initially. Place a leash on the dog for easier control. The dog will most likely be interested in sniffing the baby. Remember that he is forming an opinion; be positive and cautious at the same time. Talking calmly, offer petting and praise. Do not force the dog toward the baby.
  • When the baby cries, make sure the dog understands that this is okay. You don't want the dog to think you're hurting the baby.
  • Animals can also be jealous of newborns. Try to give your pet as much attention as you did before the baby arrived.

Doing What You Need to Do
If the dog shows aggression, or if you don't fully trust him, remember your priority is to protect your baby. This means the dog must go.

With a brand new baby you barely know, and a dog that has been by your side for years, this may be a difficult concept to grasp. But think it through, and do what you need to do.

Breeds of Concern
Certain breeds are believed to be more aggressive than others. But the American Veterinary Medical Association cautions against relying on such beliefs. Aggressiveness in dogs is related to a variety of factors.

Experts advise vigilance to prevent the opportunity for an attack, rather than avoidance of any specific breed. That said, it could also be argued that several breeds of dogs are statistically more likely to attack.

According to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, dangerous breeds include pit bulls - which are three times more likely to attack than German shepherds - the next most commonly reported aggressive breed.

Other experts note that animals that have been bred for protective traits, such as chows and rottweilers, may not be the best choice for families with children. In contrast, sporting breeds such as labradors and golden retrievers may make excellent pets for children.

Cats are less likely to interfere with an infant than dogs, but they still present potential problems. Scratches are obviously a danger. Cats are also better able to jump up to get at an infant, so extra vigilance is in order.

Never leave your baby unattended where a cat may reach him. While it's a myth that cats will attempt to "suck the breath" out of a sleeping infant, it's not unheard of for a cat to attempt to curl up and sleep on a warm baby. Obviously this poses a risk of suffocation and should be prevented.

Cats also startle easily at loud noises, such as sudden crying from an infant. They are likely to scratch when startled, so never leave a baby alone with a cat.

We're talking birds, reptiles, and amphibians. If you own a large carnivorous reptile you probably don't need reminding that they can be dangerous.

Anything that considers your infant to be a potential snack should be either removed from the home or monitored with extreme care. They don't call these wild animals for nothing. Enough said.

Smaller reptiles and amphibians can harbor dangerous bacterial diseases. Remember to wash thoroughly after handling them and before touching anything else, especially your baby.

Birds may harbor parasites, and many people are allergic to feathers. Birds that are allowed to roam freely about the home pose obvious risks. Any pet may harbor parasites and diseases, some of which may infect humans.

Be sure that all pets are healthy and well cared for. Consider a veterinary checkup for pets before the arrival of your newborn.

American Pet Association - Phone: 800-APA-PETS (800-272-7387)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Phone: 1-800-311-3435
American Veterinarian Medical Association - Phone: 847-925-8070


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