Pets and Pacifiers – When Children and Animals Don’t Mix

Author: Dr. Jason Nicholas

Published: May 12, 2021

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baby and family dog photo

Welcoming a new baby into your family and home is truly one of the greatest joys in life. But if you’re a pet owner, this great joy can also come with a host of new things to consider.

Children and pets can adore each other and grow up as great allies, but they can also cause each other harm – whether intentional or not. It’s imperative to plan ahead and take necessary precautions in order to avoid emergencies and create a home that is comfortable for all family members – pets included. 

Here are some quick facts you should be aware of when bringing your new baby into your life with pets (or a new pet into your life with children):

  • Over 400,000 children aged 12 years and under are treated for dog bite injuries each year. And most of those bites happen in their own home and are inflicted by the family dog.
  • Because of their aggressive behaviors towards children, or the anticipation of such behaviors, thousands of pets are relinquished to shelters each year when a new baby is brought into the household.
  • Bringing a new baby into the household can be one of the most stressful events in your pet’s life.
  • Many common diaper bag and baby nursery items are harmful to pets.
  • Many veterinary emergency visits cost pet owners several hundred to a couple thousand dollars and precious hours of free time – both commodities that are typically in very short supply for new parents.

Children and Pets:

  • Children and pets can adore each other and grow up as great allies, but they can also cause each other harm.
  • Your pet will be at a greater risk for injuries, poisonings, and other emergencies when a child enters the picture.
  • Never leave your pets and children alone together in the same room.

These statistics are scary, but they are not meant to discourage parents from pet ownership; they are meant to remind you to think ahead and prepare your home when you plan to introduce a new family member.

baby on couch with cat-DP

Preparing for Your Baby’s Arrival

The earlier in your pregnancy that you start training and preparing your pets, the better. However, don’t forego training if you are far along in your pregnancy or have already had your baby. Your pet can be trained to tolerate – even love – your baby at most any stage, although you may have more time earlier than later.

Take the time to find a veterinary behaviorist or a pet trainer that is both certified and positive reinforcement/reward-based. It’s both unsafe and a waste of time, money, and energy to work with an ineffective or unsafe trainer, so do some research, ask your veterinarian, and be sure to check reviews and references. To find a veterinary behaviorist or a certified trainer in your area, please see our Training and Behavior Resources page.

If your pet currently has aggression issues, or you fear he may develop aggression, skip the trainer and go right to working with an experienced animal behaviorist - and ideally one who is also a veterinarian. To find a veterinary behaviorist please consult with your veterinarian and see our Training and Behavior Resources page.

preparing your pets for when a baby arrivesYou should try your best to prepare your pets for what is likely to be their new routine well before the baby actually arrives. This can go a long way to keeping the stress of the transition as low as possible for them. Your trainer or behaviorist will provide you with more specific tips and suggestions to ensure as smooth a transition as possible for each of your pets, but here are a few to get you started.

  • If your pets are used to being on the bed or furniture, start discouraging and preventing such access. Your baby will likely be spending a lot of time there, so this will help avoid unintentional injuries.
  • Babies demand a lot of your time. There is no way around the fact that you will be spending less time with your pets once the baby comes along. Start preparing your pets for this change right away. Focus on the quality of time you spend with them, rather than the quantity.
  • Create a safe place for your pet away from where you typically spend time in the house. Once the baby arrives, your pet can escape to this place when there is too much chaos or the baby starts crawling. You might want to start feeding your pet in this safe place too, so they start immediately associating it with good things.
  • Think about where the baby gates will eventually go – will your pets still be able to get to their water bowl and their litter boxes? If not, add new bowls or boxes well in advance of the gates going up.
  • Allow your pets to smell and inspect items associated with the baby before the baby arrives. This could include a new rocking chair, the baby’s crib, and swing – even blankets and clothes. If you have friends with children, introduce your pets to them (at a safe distance) so they start getting an idea of the sounds babies make.

Maintaining Safety Once Baby Arrives

Congratulations! Now that your baby has arrived, what else can you do to keep this precious new bundle safe?

First and foremost, never leave your pets and children alone together in the same room. This point cannot be emphasized or highlighted enough. No matter how well-behaved or how well-trained your pets are, at the end of the day, they are not 100% predictable and the repercussions of a bite can be devastating. It’s not worth it. If you or another responsible person will not be there to directly supervise their interactions, do not leave your pets and children together in the same room.

From an early age, teach your children how to appropriately and safely approach and interact with cats and dogs. Recognize that young children will pick up on your actions, as well as your words. Lead by example – treat your pets with love and respect, and be gentle. Your children will likely emulate your interactions.

If your pet has a medical condition that is causing them chronic pain, such as arthritis, a slipped disc, or something else, they will likely be protective of their painful area and be more likely to bite if touched or approached. Work with your veterinarian to diagnose and appropriately treat such conditions. And be vigilant about keeping your children at a safe distance.

Finally, when children are in the home, it’s even more important to follow a complete, safe, and effective whole pet and whole environment parasite prevention program. Certain parasitic infestations can be transmitted to children. If you are currently not on a regular program, talk to your veterinarian and get started now.

And don’t forget about your indoor-only cats; they are not immune to such infestations, and they are sometimes the missing link in an ineffective parasite prevention program.

Keeping Your Pets Safe, Too

When preparing a pet-friendly household for a new child, child safety is usually the only element discussed. But the fact is that your pet will also be at a greater risk for injuries, poisonings, and other emergencies when a child enters the picture. So it’s important to take additional measures to keep your pet safe during and after the transition as well.

Generally speaking, there are four types of emergencies that your pets will be at greater risk for once your baby comes home or once they start toddling. These are:

  • Gastrointestinal inflammation and obstruction (including vomiting and diarrhea)
  • Poisonings & toxicities
  • Traumatic injuries
  • Stress-related injuries & illnesses

Fortunately, many of these can be easily prevented by prior awareness and by taking some simple preventive measures.

First and foremost, never leave your pets and children alone together in the same room!  Not only will this one step go a long way towards keeping your kids safe, but it will keep your pets safe as well. After all, kids pull tails, poke eyes, and feed pets from their snack cup – among other things… all of which can spell an unplanned trip to the veterinarian.

From diapers and wipes to baby snacks and pain relievers (and a whole lot in between), the diaper bag is a huge potential minefield for your pet’s safety. To avoid these problems, never leave the diaper bag on the floor or a low-lying piece of furniture. Always hang the diaper bag, and ideally do so on a wall hook or coat rack, well off the floor.

Be sure to promptly and securely dispose of all dirty diapers and wipes. Aside from the pure nastiness of a pet eating a dirty diaper, these items typically don’t pass through a pet’s system, leading to an expensive surgical or endoscopic procedure.

Many of the snacks that toddlers and small children eat can also cause significant problems if the family dog gets into them. For example, many toddlers LOVE raisins and grapes – which they frequently drop. Some dogs, and there’s no way to predict which ones, will suffer debilitating, expensive, and sometimes fatal kidney failure from grape and raisin ingestion. However, even if your child’s snacks don’t cause toxicity in your pets, the gastrointestinal inflammation that can be caused by such a drastic change to their diet can be enough to bring on an uncomfortable (and messy) bout of vomiting or diarrhea.

Pets also develop stress and boredom when a child is introduced to the home. As a new parent, you are going to have your hands full and your energy and focus depleted. You will have less time to play with and exercise your pet. Traumas such as hit-by-car accidents or animal fights, which are both more likely to occur when under-exercised or bored pets bolt past you as you open the front door, can be prevented by isolating your pets to areas of the house that prevent their access to opening doors.

Stressed pets aren’t only more likely to bite, they’re also at increased risk of certain medical conditions. To decrease your pet’s stress, take the preparatory steps listed above, and consider enlisting a friend, family member, neighbor, or paid service to walk your dog regularly throughout the day. For cats, you might want to consider these stress-relieving tips.

When it comes to the safety of your kids – be they two-legged or four – prevention truly is the best medicine! With a few simple steps and some key preparation, your kids and pets can enjoy a wonderful, long, and safe life together.

101 Essential Tips Book Series

About the author

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Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Nicholas graduated with honors from The Royal Veterinary College in London, England and completed his Internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Nicholas spent many years as an emergency and general practice veterinarian obsessed with keeping pets safe and healthy. He is the author of Preventive Vet’s 101 Essential Tips book series.

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