For pregnant women and expectant mothers, it’s normal to feel anxious and excited, said Lisa Fields of Pet MD, a go-to source of reliable pet health and care information. For pet owners, they may be concerned about how their furry companion will get along with their baby. Vicki Mendiratta, MD, a professor in the division of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, explained, “Pregnancy is time to reflect that your life is changing, and most pet owners can't focus the same amount of time on a pet when they have to take care of a child.” Transitioning from a baby-free household can be a source of stress for moms and pets, but here’s how you can pamper your dog or cat even if they no longer live in a baby-free household.
Practices and Perceptions of Animal Contact and Associated Health Outcomes in Pregnant Women and New Mothers (2016)
According to Hsin-Yi Weng and Kimberly Ankrom of biomedical and life sciences journal portal PMC, 45% of women owned at least one dog or one cat in their households. Among pet owners, 76% said their attachment to their pet was strong or very strong. 18% felt that their attachment to their pets was stronger during or after pregnancy. Only 24% felt that their attachment was weaker. 74% said they have some type of contact with dogs or cats a month before the study. Dog contact (69%) was higher than those with cat contact (34%).
87% said they washed their hands after cleaning dog poop either most of the time or always unlike 73% who reported cleaning cat poop. 25% and 14% of participants reported increasing the frequency of handwashing after dog and cat contact during and after pregnancy, respectively. 26% of respondents strongly agreed that there are diseases that they can get from their pets and other animals even if they appear healthy (versus 5% of those who strongly disagreed).
30% agreed that young infants are more susceptible to getting diseases from animals than older kids and may have a worse illness than an older child if they do get sick (versus 4% of those who strongly disagreed). 53% answered “strongly agree” with the statement “Using gloves and washing my hands during and after handling animal waste will help keep me and my unborn child or young infant healthy” (versus 4%). 46% strongly agreed that exercising care is one way to avoid being injured by animals, as it will help the respondents and their unborn child or young infant healthy (versus 4%).
34% strongly disagreed with the statement “Adopting hygiene measures such as washing hands or wearing gloves during and after handling animal waste is difficult” (versus 7% of those who answered “strongly disagreed”). 17% of respondents strongly disagreed that it is difficult to not allow animals near them while pregnant or their young infant to prevent injury (versus 8%). 41% of participants said they are generally more careful with hygiene around animals now that they are pregnant or having a young infant (versus 5% of those who answered “strongly disagreed”).
32% strongly agreed with the statement “I know what things to do to keep myself and my family healthy and safe around animals” (versus 4%). Likewise, 36% knew where to find information about keeping themselves and their family healthy and safe from animals (versus 3%).
From No Baby to Baby: Ensuring A Smooth and Stress-Free Transition
Pets need time to adjust to the new normal, noted Donna Murray, RN, BSN, of Very Well Family, a parenting website. Hence, they may get jealous because the baby is getting more attention or feel scared of the newborn. Before your pet feels bitter, have your dog or cat’s exercise and daily routine pre-adjusted prior to bringing your newborn home, advised Ilana Reisner, DVM, Ph.D., assistant professor of behavioral medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
That would mean preparing the nursery, furniture, and your baby’s belongings. Cats may be nervous so they hide or spray urine to cope with the change. Ensure that your feline has access to its litter box, water and food bowls, and their favorite resting spot. For dogs, play a CD of baby noises and expose them to smells associated with babies like lotions. If you plan to have your dog or cat stay in your baby’s room, give it ample time to get used to it while you’re still pregnant.
Getting To Know Baby: A Substitute for the Real Thing
Bring your baby stroller when taking your dog or going on a stroll. This should be done while you’re still pregnant. Try placing a baby doll in the stroll so that your dog will know that it won’t only be the two of you, suggested Mendiratta. You can also place the doll in the bassinet at home to prevent your pet from licking it.
Meeting Your Pet’s New Family Member
Introduce your newborn’s scent to your pet. Nancy Peterson, cat programs manager for the Humane Society of the United States, advised, “Send home a blanket or article of clothing so the pet can investigate it.” Have someone carry your baby and greet your pet calmly.
You can let your pet approach your child on the couch. Supervise your pet in case things get too excited. If it does, take your baby away to calm your pet instead of banishing it. Be warned that animals are unpredictable. Babies make sudden moves, which may scare your pet. Exercise caution if you think your cat will relieve itself of your baby’s face, Reisner warned, “Dogs can attack babies, so that's a well-founded fear that should be addressed with supervision or separation, as needed.” When your baby gets older, teach them to stay away from your cat or dog’s food bowls, toys, and litter boxes. Consider installing child safety gates to keep your child from approaching the litter box while still providing your cat unfettered access to the potty.
Protecting Yourself From Zoonotic Diseases
To safeguard yourself and your baby from toxoplasmosis, ask someone to clean your cat’s litterbox each day, if possible, said March of Dimes, a non-profit organization. Otherwise, wear protective gloves and wash your hands after cleaning the litter box. Keep your cat indoors and avoid feeding it undercooked meat. For rabies, consult your doctor immediately to have your wound get treated with anti-rabies shots. Anti-rabies shots stop the virus before symptoms manifest. If left untreated, rabies can be deadly.
Pregnancy can be worrying and exciting for both pets and mothers. Mothers need to take extra caution when taking care of their pet. Gradual transition to a not-baby-free household should be done to prevent animals from getting stressed from sudden changes.