Introducing Baby to the Family Pet

Bonding & Safety

Let Them "Play" Together

Give your pet as much attention as possible: If he feels included, he's less likely to act up. "One mistake parents make is putting the baby to sleep and then playing with the pet," says Pia Silvani, coauthor of Raising Puppies & Kids Together. "The pet learns that when the baby's gone, the good times start. It's better to associate your baby with fun." Don't shut your pet out when you and your infant are having quiet time. Give your pet a treat while rocking your child or bring the dog along for a walk. Never tie his leash to the stroller, though: He could take off and tip it over.

Help Your Baby and Pet Bond

Initially, your little one will be oblivious to your pet's presence. But by about 4 months, she'll start to discover a friendly creature. Rosie McKinney of Oshawa, Ontario, found that her daughter, Amber, was entertained by her boxer, Floyd: "Amber thought it was so funny when I was holding her and Floyd tried to nudge his way in." Your pet also provides new sensations that can help your baby's development, says Dennis Vickers, MD, a pediatrician at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, in Chicago. Try guiding your baby's hand to touch your pet's fur. When your child's between 5 and 6 months old, her eyesight will be good enough to track your cat's every move. Rolling a ball to your dog can help your baby's hand-eye coordination. Seeing your pet across the room might motivate your child to crawl.

Be Careful When Your Baby's on the Move

Once your little one can crawl, you'll need to be even more vigilant. "For a pet, a crawling baby can be especially scary," says Dr. Beaver. Watch for signs of pet aggression like growling, hissing, whining, crouching, or folded-down ears -- but don't punish her. She's probably scared. Separate the two of them, and if it's happening a lot, talk to your veterinarian.

It's important to keep your pet's food and litter box in a place your baby can't reach, like the basement or laundry room. This also protects your baby by giving the animal a place to escape if she needs a break. To prep your pet for your baby's increasing interaction with her, gently pull her tail, fur, and ears. (Make it a game and include treats so it's not traumatic.) And don't forget to pick up your pet's toys -- even if they're not a choking hazard, they're covered in germs and your pet might guard them from your baby.

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