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Pet Meets Baby: Pet Bite Prevention


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National Dog Bite Prevention Week is May 15 to 21, from the American Veterinary Medical Association. These are notes I give on a talk at conferences regarding bringing home babies to homes with pets, how to acclimate pets to babies and also to young children. 

People have called their veterinarian because their dog is acting “weird,” sniffing around their tummy. It turns out what they needed wasn’t a veterinarian but a pregnancy test.  In fact, their best friend with four legs turned out to be the test.

Today, lots of families expecting their first baby already consider their pet their “baby1.” In fact, for over 20% of the families having a first baby, the dog or cat came first2. They tell themselves, Fido or Fluffy will get the same attention as always after that newborns comes along. But of course, that rarely realistically happens. Having a baby is life changing, and similarly so is having a second or third child. The relationship with the pet changes, the household changes, and pets don’t always respond well to change.AVMA supports National Dog Bite Prevention Week

Another problem is that people forget their pet is – after all, a pet. No matter how wonderful a pet is with children adult supervision is always required3. Most instances of injuries to the kids or pets and most dog bites occur as a result of no supervision4.

Preparing for the new addition ideally begins before there’s any announcement, months or even years before the pregnancy occurs is actually ideal5.

            It’s All About Thinking and Planning Ahead

Ideally, it’s best to get the pet acclimated to babies well before the stork arrives. Ask friends, relatives to visit your house with their newborns and rambunctious two-year olds (dogs should be on-leash) 6.

When the baby fusses, toss some kibble or treats into the air. The trick is to make it seem as if the baby is presenting the yummies. The goal is for pets who get agitated by the sound of crying baby to now associate that fussing with something enjoyable.Pet expert Steve Dale writes about babies and pets

In some cases, even the best treats won’t convince a pet that a wailing baby isn’t terrifying. That’s not as bad as it sounds. What’s bad is to learn this when the baby is actually home. Knowing in advance of the real arrival allows for the time to readjust the pet’s attitude with desensitization and counter-conditioning7.

Download the sound of a crying child from the Internet. Play it back the sound of the bawling baby at a very, very soft level below the threshold that affects the pet as the pet enjoys dinner several rooms away. Ever so gradually pump up the volume, and move the food dish closer to the speakers so eventually the pet associates the crying with dinner8

Also, become their favorite actor. Periodically speak baby talk to a doll.9 This conditions pets to your “baby tone” as well as the attention going elsewhere.

Exactly why parent supervision is a must

Is this why adult supervision is a good idea?

As for a visiting toddler, it’s imperative the visit be fun. Don’t force your pet to interact (in fact, it’s best they meet outside). Caution is normal if your pet has not been previously exposed to “little people.” However, if your pet is fearful, it may take several visits to warm up10.

If your pet offers even a hint of aggression, the good news is that now is the time to nip the problem in the bud – before baby comes home. Call in professional help11. Mostly when pets aggress to people – young children, in particular, they’re fearful.

It helps is to have control of the pet when the baby arrives; review basic dog training12. It’s also helpful to teach dogs and cats to go to an assigned quiet place, such as a bed13.

            Getting Ready

Some suggest keeping pets out of the baby’s nursery (even as you are preparing for the baby’s arrival). This only serves to enhance the pet’s anxiety and/or curiosity, and potentially creates a problem where there was none.   Pet expert Steve Dale writes about babies and pets

Veterinarians don’t want to deal with treating an obstruction (or grossed out clients), so pet owners should create a dog-proof place to store dirty diapers (a favorite snack for some not so discriminating dogs). Don’t wait until the baby arrives to relocate the dog’s favorite bed or the cat’s litter box14.

Pet expert Steve Dale writes about babies and petsThese days, delivering a baby seems to happen quicker than the drive through at a fast food restaurant. If there’s an opportunity, bringing in the baby’s blanket home hours or days the actual baby is an introduction nearly as effective as face to paw15.

Pheromone products, such as Adaptil and Feliway (Ceva Animal Health), can soothe tense nerves16

            Old Wives Tails

Be pre-emptive, explain why giving up cats for fears of toxoplasmosis is unwarranted, and if a medical professional has questions – contact you. Toxoplasmosis concerns are real, but when clients understand how it’s transmitted, and offered common sense precautions, they are unlikely want to give up their cat(s). 18.

Cats do not suffocate babies: They may want to lick messy faces, though19.

Domestic ferrets do not hunt down and injure infants: Ferrets, like all pets, should never be left alone with newborns or young children20. However, ferrets are not baby killers.

            Home Sweet Home

 Once the baby’s odor is awash in a blanket, don’t wash it. Place it 10-feet from the pet’s food dish, and gradually inch it closer over the next 48-hours. As the pet enjoys a delicious meal, the association will be made with the baby’s smell.

Parasite control is always important, but even more of an issue with infants and young children21.

No one knows for sure if pets actually get jealous – but they may learn to resent the attention the baby is receiving22. Suggest clients maintain as much of the pet’s usual routine as possible. So, if Fluffy was typically brushed or Fido was taken for a walk at 7 p.m. – attempt to continue the routines. You might have to adjust the times, but create a new normal routine. Pets thrive on structure and consistency.

 

  1. Horwitz, D., DVM, Diplomate ACVB, Clinician’s Brief (publication of NAVC), July, 2011 http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/column/applied-behavior/and-baby-makes-two
  2. American Pet Products Association Pet Owners Survey 2011-1212, pgs. 139 and 246.
  3. Pet Meets Baby: A Guide for Families Bringing Children Home to Pets, publication of the American Humane Association, Denver, CO, 2011, pg. 20-21, http://www.americanhumane.org/assets/pdfs/interaction/pet-meets-babypdf.pdf

4.Pelar C., CPDT, Living with Kids and Dogs, C & R Publishing, Woodbridge, VA, 2005, pg. 1-6.

  1. Horwitz, D., DVM, Diplomate ACVB, Clinician’s Brief (publication of NAVC), July 2011, http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/column/applied-behavior/and-baby-makes-two
  2. Pet Meets Baby: A Guide for Families Bringing Children Home to Pets, publication of the American Humane Association, Denver, CO 2011, pg. 6, 7, http://www.americanhumane.org/assets/pdfs/interaction/pet-meets-babypdf.pdf
  3. Pet Meets Baby: A Guide for Families Bringing Children Home to Pets, publication of the American Humane Association, Denver, CO 2011, pg. 6, http://www.americanhumane.org/assets/pdfs/interaction/pet-meets-babypdf.pdf
  4. Landsberg, G. BSc, DVM, Dipl. ACVB et al Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, Second Edition, Saunders, New York, 1997., pg. 244-245.
  5. Horwitz, D., DVM, Diplomate ACVB, Clinician’s Brief (publication of NAVC), July 2011, http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/column/applied-behavior/and-baby-makes-two.
  6. Silvani, P. CPDT and Eckhardt, L. Raising Puppies & Kids Together: A Guide for Parents, T.F.H. Publishing, Neptune City, NJ pg. 69-77, 2005.
  7. Horwitz, D., DVM, Diplomate ACVB, Clinician’s Brief (publication of NAVC), July 2011, http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/column/applied-behavior/and-baby-makes-two.
  8. Horwitz, D., DVM, Diplomate ACVB, Clinician’s Brief (publication of NAVC), July 2011, http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/column/applied-behavior/and-baby-makes-two.
  9. Pet Meets Baby: A Guide for Families Bringing Children Home to Pets, publication of the American Humane Association, Denver, CO, 2011, pg. 14, http://www.americanhumane.org/assets/pdfs/interaction/pet-meets-babypdf.pdf
  10. Pet Meets Baby: A Guide for Families Bringing Children Home to Pets, publication of the American Humane Association, Denver, CO 2011, pg. 9-10, http://www.americanhumane.org/assets/pdfs/interaction/pet-meets-babypdf.pdf

15/ Horwitz, D., DVM, Diplomate ACVB, Clinician’s Brief (publication of NAVC), July 2011, http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/column/applied-behavior/and-baby-makes-two.

16 Horwitz, D., DVM, Diplomate ACVB, Clinician’s Brief (publication of NAVC), July 2011, http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/column/applied-behavior/and-baby-makes-two.

17 Landsberg, G. BSc, DVM, Dipl. ACVB  Journal of Veterinary Behavior Clinical Applications and Research, “ANXITANE® tablets reduce fear of human beings in a laboratory model of anxiety-related behavior,” Volume 5, Issue 5, Pgs. 268-275, September 2010.

  1. Dale, S CABC et al, CATegorical Care: An Owner’s Guide to America’s #1 Companion, American Humane Association, Denver, CO, 2010, pg. 14.
  2. Dale, S CABC et al, CATegorical Care: An Owner’s Guide to America’s #1 Companion, American Humane Association, Denver, CO, 2010, pg. 15.
  3. Umbachm K PhD “Ferrets: A Selective Overview of Issues and Options,” California Research Bureau, Volume 4, Number 3, 1997; www.library.ca.gov/crb/97/notes/V4n3.pdf.

21..Companion Animal Parasite Council, Your Pets, Your Children and Your Future,  2007 www.petsandparasites.org/downloads/petskidsfuture.pdf.

  1. Horwitz, D., DVM, Diplomate ACVB, Clinician’s Brief (publication of NAVC), July 2011, http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/column/applied-behavior/and-baby-makes-two.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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