Pet Peeves: Jealous of the Baby

Preventing Problems with Your Pet

Preventing Pet Pitfalls

Once your baby is home from the hospital, your best bet for family harmony is to help your pet associate her with things he likes and enjoys. Both Driscoll and DeFranco suggest taking a couple of used baby blankets or burp cloths and placing one where your pet eats and one where he sleeps -- for cats and dogs, eating and sleeping are two of life's greatest pleasures. It's also smart to let your pet sniff baby while you hold her. And don't forget that animals aren't all that different from babies. They crave love and attention, so it's wise to ask a friend or neighborhood child to come play with your pet.

Unfortunately, despite your best efforts, your pet may act out. A dog may urinate on a baby toy, or a cat may defecate in your child's bouncy seat. These aren't acts of anger. "Animals communicate through the chemicals they produce in their bodies, namely urine or feces," says DeFranco. "Marking territory is a pet's way of asserting himself." If your pet behaves this way, think about what changed in his world that made him act out. Is your dog not getting enough exercise? Is your cat's litter box dirtier than usual? Then set about resolving these issues.

Ultimately, the best preventive measures you can take are constant supervision and observation. "If a pet growls, nips, or hisses, it's a sign of aggression," says DeFranco. Discipline him with a firm no, and take him out of the room for 15 seconds. Then make a point of rewarding your pet with a pat or a treat when he behaves well. If your dog or cat is continually aggressive with your child, your choices are these: Hire an animal behaviorist to help change your pet's behavior, or find another loving home for your pet.

Rules for Pet and Baby Harmony

  • Rule No. 1: Wash your hands each and every time you come into contact with your pet. Pets may be lovable, but sometimes they're not the most hygienic housemates. Case in point: When was the last time you drank from the toilet?
  • Rule No. 2: Never leave your baby alone with your pet. Even the friendliest dogs or cats may act unpredictably if a child grabs for them or startles them with a noisy toy.
  • Rule No. 3: Get your pet checked at the vet regularly. A healthy pet is less likely to have behavior problems than a pet that is feeling poorly or has an undiagnosed illness.

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