Many couples treat their pets like a child substitute, smothering it with love and attention. But what happens when they start preparing for the pitter-patter of tiny feet?
Can pets tell when a woman is pregnant?
You may not think your dog or cat knows you’re expecting, but often they do. Cats are adept at detecting changes in mood, posture, behaviour and body chemistry associated with pregnancy. If they feel neglected, cats may become aggressive or begin urinating in inappropriate places. Being highly sociable animals, dogs can become overprotective of their pregnant owner, barking or growling at other family members. Stick to your normal routine as much as possible, but if you’re worried about your pet’s behaviour, talk to your vet.
Preparing your pet for the baby
As parents-to-be, you’ll be excited, but your pets may just feel anxious and confused. Make them feel more relaxed by taking the time to familiarise them with all the new baby equipment in the house. Let them sniff the baby’s blanket and inspect the cot and bedroom.
Before the baby is born, get your cat used to not spending time in the baby’s room. Cats are both curious and sensitive to territorial changes, so it may come as a shock to suddenly find a room off limits when the new baby arrives. If your cat has already tried to acquaint itself with the baby’s bassinette, you’ll need to put an immediate stop to this. If you’re unable to close off the room, fill the cot with inflated balloons or place double-sided tape around the edges as a deterrent. Never let your cat sleep in your baby’s bassinette; even the healthiest cat can have fleas and worms – things you won’t want passed on to your baby.
Introducing your pet to the baby
As soon as baby is born, send home a blanket with his or her scent on it for your pet to sniff. This will get your pet used to the unfamiliar smell and prevent any anxious sniffing and licking when you first bring your baby home. Introduce them calmly in a controlled environment, and just in case your dog gets overexcited, have more than one adult present. Don’t let your pet lick the baby – this could transmit worms or infections to your newborn.
Help, my pet is jealous of the baby!
The joy of bringing home a new baby may not be shared by every member of the household. The proud parents will be preoccupied with the new arrival, leaving the family pets feeling somewhat neglected. Continue to give your pet plenty of attention, both when your baby is present and when you have time alone with your pet. Don’t constantly reprimand your pet as soon as it goes near the baby. Instead, set up positive associations and, if you feel concerned, calmly create a little space between pet and baby, rather than yelling ‘No. No!’
Health & safety tips
There are certain pet-related tasks pregnant women should avoid. Top of the list is cleaning out the cat litter tray. Cat faeces can contain a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which, in unborn babies, can cause blindness, brain damage and even miscarriage. While the chances of contracting it are very slim, always wear gloves when working in the garden, where you may come into contact with cat faeces, and stay away from stray or unknown cats. You should also avoid handling raw meat, so give your cat packaged cat food for the duration of your pregnancy.
You’re very unlikely to contract an illness from your pet bird, but it pays to be safe. There have been cases of psittacine birds (parrot-type birds such as cockatiels, parakeets, parrots and macaws) transmitting diseases like parrot fever (psittacosis), salmonella and Mycobacterium Avium Complex to humans. Pregnant women should have someone else clean out the birdcage and always wash their hands after handling pet birds (or any animals). Reptile faeces also pose a risk to unborn babies and infants, as they could contain salmonella bacteria.
During the last trimester of pregnancy, your growing belly may affect your balance. If your dog is boisterous, you’d be wise to have someone else walk him. With your feet well and truly hidden by your expanding waistline, you also run the risk of tripping over pets sleeping or lying on the floor. Take extra care to avoid a tumble. If your dog is large and has a habit of jumping up, train him out of this habit early on in the pregnancy. Although small, there’s a risk he could damage the baby if he got you at the wrong angle.