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Babies and Pets

Babies and pets: do they go together?  If so, what circumstances create the best match between babies and pets?

Babies and pets can be a great pairing.  However, babies and pets can be a disastrous pairing as well.  It thus becomes essential to choose pets that are well suited for life with small children.  Let’s discuss some of the factors that make pets well suited (or not) for life with babies.

Temperament

Tolerant, loving, laid-back pets are a good match for babies.  Because babies lack fine motor skills, they will inadvertently slap or hit their family pets.  If these pets are of the disciplinarian temperament, babies are likely to be bitten or scratched as a retaliatory strike.  Tolerant, loving, laid-back pets, however, seem to understand that babies mean no harm, so these pets accept with grace all manner of unintentional abuse from babies.  Some particularly territorial pets will see new babies as a threat to their territory (or to their attention from their humans).  This can be a recipe for disaster.  Tolerant, loving, laid-back pets welcome babies into their homes and see these newcomers as one more human to love.  Some tolerant, loving, laid-back pets have even been known to “adopt” their humans’ babies as their own: thus these babies have human AND canine or feline mothers.  That is the mark of a wonderful match.

Size and Strength

Big dogs may not recognize their own size and strength.  No matter how well intentioned these big dogs may be, they may hurt the babies in their homes simply by trying to cuddle or be near them.  It bears noting, however, that not all big dogs are unaware of their size and strength.  Some big dogs can be exceptionally gentle around babies. 

Similarly, some cats can be stronger than they think they are.  Babies’ flailing arms can be fascinating for cats to watch.  It is natural for kitties to swat at things in motion, and sometimes kitties get carried away by their fascination with motion.  Kitties’ claws can thus scratch babies.  These kitties mean no harm, but harm was the result nonetheless.

Conversely, especially small and/or fragile pets can be hurt by babies.  Very young kittens, very small dogs, and ill or injured pets can be unintentionally harmed by babies.  For example, babies (who, as noted above, lack fine motor skills) swatting Great Pyrenees dogs will be significantly different (all other things being equal) than babies swatting six-week-old Chihuahua puppies.  The Chihuahua puppies are much more likely to be injured.

Species and Breed

This author is hesitant to recommend species (dog or cat) and breeds (Great Pyrenees, Chihuahua, etc.) for life with babies as all pets, like all humans, are individuals.  For example, Himalayan cats are generally considered to be very tolerant, laid-back cats.  As a breed, these cats generally are well suited for life with babies.  However, individual Himalayans may not conform to the breed stereotype and thus may not be well suited for life with little ones.  It thus becomes essential for an individualized assessment to be made that is pet-specific.

Timing

Acclimating babies and pets to each other should be well timed.  Ideally, pets enter their homes well before babies’ arrival.  It can be time consuming to housebreak puppies while on 24/7 duty with newborn babies.  Additionally, each new person or pet integrated into a home needs lots of TLC during the transition.  New parents and babysitters will not have enough time or energy to attend to new pets properly while on 24/7 duty with newborn babies.  Poorly timed integrations can lead to poor matches between humans and pets.

Assuming pets enter their homes first, the pets need to be introduced to their human babies gradually.  For example, during pregnancies, let pets see and smell everything in the new nurseries.  When the babies are born and still in the hospital, bring home blankets that smell like the babies: let the pets see, smell, and touch the blankets.  When the babies come home from the hospital, let the pets have supervised access to the babies as the pets’ perceived right of first inspection is very important to the pets.  This procedure increases the likelihood of a good match between babies and pets.

In Sum

Babies and pets can be a great pairing.  However, babies and pets can be a disastrous pairing as well.  It thus becomes essential to choose pets that are well suited for life with small children. 

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