Pregnancy and Pets

Adding a pet to the family

If you don’t have a pet but want to add one to your family, it’s preferable to “wait until your child is at least three” before getting a dog or cat, says Linda Votaw. “Then your child can be taught to treat the animal with respect, can share the feeding responsibilities, and will reap the emotional rewards.”

Another reason for postponing adding an animal to the family is that the care of a puppy or kitten may be overwhelming for new parents, who already have their hands full.

The wild kingdom

The Centers for Disease Control reports that wild animals, not pets, cause about 90 percent of rabies cases. Rabies is prevalent in raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Do not feed or pet any wild animals, and wash your hands after touching anything outdoors that might be contaminated, such as firewood.

If your pet spends time outside, be sure to check him periodically for ticks. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. When you find ticks on your pet, remove them with tweezers.

Pregnancy Alert!

Pregnant women should be extra careful when handling the kitty litter box. A parasite that causes a disease known astoxoplasmosis may be lurking there, especially if your cat spends any time outside or eats birds or mice.

When contracted for the first time during pregnancy,toxoplasmosis can harm the baby, perhaps causing blindness, epilepsy, or mental retardation or damaging the baby’s central nervous system. The most serious birth defects occur when the disease is contracted during the first trimester. Only 30 percent of affected newborns display birth defects, but problems may develop years later.

Humans can also get toxoplasmosis from eating raw or undercooked meat that contains the parasite, or vegetables that were in contaminated soil and not washed properly.

In adults, toxoplasmosis usually causes only a mild illness. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 25 percent of women of childbearing age have had toxoplasmosis without even knowing it. The symptoms — fever, sore throat, swollen glands — mimic a cold or mild flu. If you had toxoplasmosis before conception, your baby will not be affected.

A blood test can reveal whether or not you have antibodies against toxoplasmosis, which would indicate that you’ve been exposed.

Follow-up tests can tell whether the exposure was during pregnancy; if so, you may be given medication, or your baby may be treated soon after birth, to reduce the effects on her.

Tips for avoiding toxoplasmosis:

Don’t adopt a stray cat when you’re pregnant. Keep your cat indoors. Feed him only commercial cat food or well-cooked meat. Keep an outdoor cat off your bed, and don’t hold him close to your face. If possible, avoid handling the litter box during pregnancy. If you must do the job yourself, change the litter box daily (the feces is not infectious until after 24 hours), wear rubber gloves and a mask, and wash your hands thoroughly. After 24 hours, the disease can become airborne — meaning you can breathe it in — so the box should be cleaned daily even if someone other than a pregnant woman is doing it. When gardening, keep in mind that cat fees might have contaminated the soil. Wear rubber gloves, and wash your hands afterward. Before eating fresh fruits and vegetables that may have been in contaminated soil, rinse them thoroughly. Keep insects off and out of your food; among other reasons for not wanting their presence, they may have walked through material infected withtoxoplasmosis parasites. Never eat raw or uncooked meat, especially pork, lamb or mutton. After handling raw meat, wash your hands, kitchen utensils, and surfaces with hot, soapy water.

Scratches and bites

Even the gentlest pet may bite or scratch when he becomes overexcited or threatened. Teaching your baby how your pet indicates that he wants to be left alone is a good way to prevent accidents. These signs range from the subtle, such as when the animal retreats to another room, to the obvious — when he hisses or growls.

Clean a scratch promptly with hydrogen peroxide or soap and water, apply antibiotic ointment, and see a doctor if your baby develops a low fever, fatigue, headache, and a lump on the scratched area one or two weeks after the scratch. These may be signs of cat scratch fever, which is a real disease but causes only the mild flu like symptoms described above. The germ is transferred to the cat’s claws during licking, so in addition to not letting your cat scratch your baby, don’t allow him to lick your baby’s eyes, nose, mouth, or an open wound.

If you’re considering declawing your cat for baby’s safety, you should know that doing so does have possible physical and emotional complications for the cat, according to Cat Fancy columnist Carole Wilbourne. (Also, it may not even be an option — most veterinarians will not declaw a cat over eight months old.) Declawing makes the cat feel defenseless, which may trigger biting and aggression.Training your cat to use a scratching post is the ideal solution.

All animal bites should be washed promptly with soap and water. To be on the safe side, bites that break the skin should be treated by a doctor within eight hours; severe infections can develop if the wound is not properly cleaned. Infections are ten times more likely after a cat bite than after a dog bite, because the wound is deep and narrow. Antibiotics are usually prescribed.

Reprinted from American Baby, “Will our Pet Like the Baby?”, by Cathi Edler, March, 1994

Bringing home the newborn baby and having a pet

For many of us, our pet is reigning king before a baby arrives. But through some biological or hormonal imperative, that all ends with our first glance into our baby’s eyes. Your pet is sure to notice he’s no longer the baby of the family. To soften the blow, start preparing him well ahead of time.

In the months preceding your baby’s arrival, establish a routine—something your pet can anticipate and rely on. Even though your life will be completely turned around for a few months, try to make an effort to continue your pet’s routine.

  • Be realistic: If your pet is used to a daily one-hour jog, start gradually to decrease her exercise time before the baby arrives.

  • Investigate other avenues of exercise: Hire a dog walker (or a neighbor kid), or set up play dates with doggie friends.

  • Stock up on the food and biscuits your pet is used to (now is not the time for a diet change).

  • Stockpile toys, so that your pet will have something to busy herself with.

  • Ready the nursery well ahead of time. Establish room rules and regulations before the baby is present (no need to fuel rivalry). A pet should not be allowed to sleep in the room alone with your newborn. Cats can jump into cribs (and no, they won’t suck the air out of your baby). Allow your pet in the nursery only when you are present. Make it off limits at all other times.

  • Assemble baby furniture ahead of time, so your pets can adjust to space changes. Some pets may even enjoy these changes.

Easing the transition
When the big day arrives (and while you’re still at the hospital), have your mate bring home something that has the baby’s scent on it. A good choice is the cap the nurses place on a newborn’s head. Place it down in front of your pet and allow him to sniff it.

When the baby comes home, allow your pet to see and sniff him, but be sure to hold the baby safely your arms. Never leave your pet alone with the baby, and never let your pet approach the newborn without your being right there to guarantee the baby’s safety.

Now that your baby is home, allow for reasonable together time with your pet. It is especially important that your pet get to spend time with the parent she is closest to.

When you are comfortable nursing or bottle-feeding your baby, your pet can sit nearby and enjoy that bonding and quiet time.

As soon as your baby is old enough, teach him to give your pets their treats.

Most pets ultimately will adjust to their new circumstances—just as you will. Some thought and planning may make the transition a little easier.