As a pet owner, you’ve gotten a glimpse of what life will be like as a parent. Remember that time your puppy made a mess on your new carpet? Or when your cat woke you up in the middle of the night just to fall back asleep on your face? Well, get used to all of that because a baby is especially good at getting you up at midnight and great at ruining expensive furniture!
The good news is you already have a pretty good idea of what will happen once your new baby makes three. That being said, having pets can pose a slight risk to you and your healthy pregnancy but you’re in the exact right place to prepare your family, pets, and home for when you come back from the hospital with the newest addition!
- One of the biggest pet-related health concerns is toxoplasmosis, a parasite that cats can carry and excrete in their feces. Although the chances of being infected are very low, particularly if you have indoor cats, toxoplasmosis can be harmful to your baby during immediately before your pregnancy. The good news: If you’ve had your cat for a while, you’re likely to already be immune to toxoplasmosis because you’ve probably been infected with it, as most cat owners have been. A simple blood test is available that will confirm your immunity, but it won’t be useful unless you were tested before you conceived (the tests aren’t sensitive enough to show whether you have a new infection or simply have antibodies from an old infection). Talk to your health care practitioner and see if you were tested before you became pregnant. And, as a precaution, you may want to put someone else on litter box duty for the duration of your pregnancy!
- Hamsters, guinea pigs and mice, however, can carry a virus called lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV), an infection that can cause severe birth defects and miscarriage. So if you’ve got a rodent at home, avoid cleaning its cage, and by all means, don’t touch its saliva, urine, blood or droppings. Some moms-to-be put cages in a guest room or somewhere else they don’t spend much time in while they’re expecting.
- As for snakes, lizards, turtles and other exotic pets, you want to be concerned with germs like salmonella, which they can carry. Try to avoid your reptile (your partner can clean up!), and if you do touch it, make a point to wash your hands thoroughly afterward. Also, clean any surfaces it’s been in contact with.
As for your pup and kitty, you may need to take some steps to prepare them for the arrival of their new “sibling.” Consider signing your pets up for obedience training if they’ve never had it before (yes, cats can be trained too), exposing them to babies (and their extensive array of sounds, smells and gear), getting them used to a different sleeping arrangement when the baby comes home, and carving out a different eating space, too (preferably one that’s out of reach of the baby’s probing fingers.)
Once your little bundle arrives, have your partner bring home a onesie that the baby has worn in the hospital or birthing center for the dog and cat to sniff. And, finally, try to put yourself in your pets’ shoes (or paws) for a minute: A new baby is a huge deal for them too, so be mindful about their feelings. Don’t suddenly withdraw from them, and especially from your affection-hungry pup. A better approach is to gradually acclimate them to spending a little less time with you. Perhaps your husband or partner can give your ‘old baby’ some one-on-one time while you’re nursing (or better yet, napping), for example.
And most important: Never leave a baby (or toddler) alone with a dog!!!
Even the most gentle canines can be unpredictable and become uncharacteristically aggressive or territorial when a newborn “intruder” has come into the house. It is best to err on the side of caution. Cats are more likely to keep to themselves (they know what curiosity can do), but you’ll still need to teach kitty to stay away from the crib or changing table.