Preparing Your Entire Family for a Newborn Baby, Pets Included

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Illana R. Reisner, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Penn Vet, describes ways to prepare pets and ensure the safety of a newborn baby living in the same household.

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A significant amount of change occurs within the home before a baby is born. The nursery is prepared. There’s new furniture and baby items all over the house. This is the time to prepare your pets for the new arrival.

Parents and family members spend countless hours trying to ensure the safety of their newborn babies after bringing them home from the hospital, from covering electrical outlets to keeping small and sharp items out of their reach. Families with pets, however, must take additional steps to ensure the safety of their newborns in a living environment shared with animals. Illana R. Reisner, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Penn Vet, describes ways to prevent harmful encounters with pets and keep newborn babies safe, drawing from her research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a recently published paper.

“A significant amount of change occurs within the home before a baby is born,” says Dr. Reisner. “The nursery is prepared. There’s new furniture and baby items all over the house. This is the time to prepare your pets for the new arrival.” During this prep period, nervous cats may react by hiding or even spraying. Make sure they have unfettered access to the litter boxes, food, water and their favorite resting places. For dogs, it may be helpful to have a CD of baby noises or exposing them to new baby smells, like lotions.

Families can take certain steps to gradually introduce their pets to the household changes that come with a new baby even before the baby arrives home. One of the biggest changes that accompany the arrival of a baby in a pet-owning family is the cutback of time and attention spent on the pet. Exercise and general schedules should be adjusted prior to the baby’s homecoming, says Dr. Reisner, who advocates engaging in more quality activities to make up for the time that was previously dedicated to one’s pet.

Once the baby has come home from the hospital, canine owners should not allow any dog, regardless of how historically docile, to be climbed upon, poked, prodded, pulled, or otherwise baby-handled, according to Dr. Reisner. A dog is never to be left unsupervised with the children and vice versa. If proper, vigilant supervision is unable to be maintained, the dog should be securely separated from the child.

In such a case where direct supervision is not possible, Dr. Reisner suggests the use of baby gates, keeping the baby on one side and the dog on the other. The baby gate acts as not only a safety necessity, but as a learning tool, teaching the dog that great things can happen when the child is around. Additionally, the baby gate allows the dog to hear and possibly see what’s going on, making it feel less isolated.

It is normal to be anxious and to worry about how your pet will get along with your new baby. Plan ahead, and remember that many of the cohabitating woes that plague pet owners, their newborn babies and the household pet may be prevented with simple yet effective changes.

For more information, other helpful tips or to read Dr. Reisner’s paper, please visit the recently published article. For a copy of her recently published paper, please contact Natalie Kay or Kelly Stratton.

About the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine
Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine is one of the world’s premier veterinary schools. Founded in 1884, the school was built on the concept of Many Species, One MedicineTM. The birthplace of veterinary specialties, the school serves a distinctly diverse array of animal patients at its two campuses, from companion animals to horses to farm animals.

The School has two campuses. In Philadelphia, on Penn’s campus, are the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (Ryan-VHUP) for companion animals; classrooms; research laboratories; and the School’s administrative offices. The large-animal facility, New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square, PA, includes the George D. Widener Veterinary Hospital for large animals; diagnostic laboratories serving the agriculture industry; and research facilities to determine new treatment and diagnostic measures for large-animal diseases.

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Natalie Kay
Karma
215-850-4643
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Kelly Stratton
Penn Vet
215-898-1475
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