This article was previously published on Atrium Health's Daily Dose
Pets and babies can be best friends. But it can take a lot of love -- plus a little planning, patience and supervision -- to get there.
For some of us, our pets are our first 'babies.' They're not just like family – they are family.
While you're excited to watch your child's bond with their pet grow, you might be a little nervous about their first meeting. Don't worry. With a lot of love – and a little bit of planning, patience and supervision – your pet's connection with your baby will develop naturally and safely.
Family pet, meet baby
Harshita Reddy, MD, a pediatrician with Atrium Health Levine Children's Charlotte Pediatrics. is a mom of two kids, one dog and three cats. We asked her to share tips about how to introduce your family pet to a newborn, and how to help parents teach their kids to be responsible pet owners.
While Dr. Reddy's pets have been with her for years, her young kids are relatively new to the family. Here's how she navigated her pets' first introduction to her kids:
"We let all of the animals explore the nursery – and then vacuumed – before and after the baby came home from the hospital," says Dr. Reddy. "We let the pets smell the baby's clothes after she had worn them. Eventually, we let them see and smell the baby under close supervision. Take your time, trust your intuition and err on the side of caution."
Benefits of having pets
No matter the animal – horses, fish, birds, lizards, turtles, cats or dogs – pets can help lower blood pressure as well as reduce feelings of loneliness by giving you more chances to socialize and get outside.
"Your pets will be your little one's first best friends. Babies learn social skills, play skills and eventually empathy from four-legged family members," says Dr. Reddy. "And studies have shown that kids who are exposed to cats and dogs early on are less likely to develop certain types of allergies."
Pet ownership comes with pretty great health benefits for people of all ages, but there are of course some concerns for safety when babies and young kids are around pets. Bites are the most alarming injuries, but scratches can be harmful, too – especially if they're around the eyes or become infected. "Pets can be very territorial with their food, chew toys, or sometimes their crates and living spaces," says Dr. Reddy. "Model appropriate behavior for your kids – they should see the grown-up using common sense and caution."
The dos and don'ts of kids and pets
- Make sure your pets get regular checkups at the vet.
- Get your family in the habit of washing their hands after contact with any animal, including your pet.
- Teach kids to be gentle with pets.
- Teach kids to step away calmly (and not run) when an animal is overenergetic.
- Spend one-on-one time with your pet as much as possible.
- Let your pet lick your little one's face.
- Play games that teach pets to play roughly with kids, especially infants.
- Leave newborns alone with pets.
- Let kids bother animals while they're eating or playing with a chew toy.
- Yell at your pets as they adjust to life with a new family member.
You've learned a few tips to help you introduce your pet to the newest family member – now learn how easy it is to find a pediatrician where you live.