The Benefits of Pets for Babies

If you are a pet owner, you probably consider your pet like a child.  He’s certainly a member of the family and, before any human babies came along, he probably demanded a lot of your attention.  Now that you’re expecting or already have a baby in the house, the dynamics may be a bit different.  But there are tons of benefits of pets for babies, so foster the evolving relationships in your growing family to ensure your pet and your baby get along like siblings – or depending on your family, maybe even better than siblings.

The Benefits of Pets for BabiesThere are several myths about having pets around babies.  The first is that pets are unequivocally dangerous to the safety of an infant.  Maybe if you have a pet boa constrictor or hyena, this is true.  But for your average pet cat or dog that has had obedience training and has spent some amount of time around children before, there is no reason to think you cannot introduce a baby into your pet-loving home.  In fact, many dogs and cats take to their new baby brother or sister immediately and are extremely protective and nurturing.

It’s true, some pets tend to be territorial with their owners, especially those that have been raised by one family since birth.  Just like an older sibling, pets can get jealous of a new baby and act out for attention.  However, there are some ways you can prepare your dog or cat for the arrival of a new baby.  First, invite friends over with infants to get your pet accustomed to being around a baby and understanding baby noises.  If that is not possible, use a baby doll and role play.  If you know it, use your baby’s name while you are pregnant so your pet will hear it.  Wear baby oil and baby powder to familiarize your pet with the scents that will soon fill the air of your home.  Before the baby arrives, be sure to block off areas of the home that are off-limits to your pet and complete any other training that you feel is necessary for a well-behaved pet.  Also, start spending less time with your pet so he gets a sense of what the future holds.  It can be helpful to encourage an equal relationship with all adults in the household so there are no attachment issues when the baby arrives.

AA054089The second myth about having a pet is that they are unsanitary and therefore get babies sick.  Again, this is not true.  In fact, it’s quite opposite.  Studies show that babies with pets are 44% less likely to have ear infections and 29% less likely to need antibiotics during infancy.  Fewer antibiotics at a young age is highly beneficial because, as children have more and more courses of them, their bodies become resistant to antibiotics aimed at attacking bacteria.

Pets do track in some germs and bacteria from the outdoors and litter boxes so it’s important to use baby-safe natural cleaning products to sanitize on a regular basis.  But having some germs around is actually helpful in building strong immune systems.  Research indicates that pet dander can improve immunity and may lower risk of allergies.  Do make sure your pet gets regular check-ups, takes any recommended medication and immunizations and is bathed frequently.

So which pets are the best for babies?  Families with dogs are 31% more likely have healthy babies than those without.  Cat families report 6% healthier babies.

Pets can also be highly entertaining for babies.  The antics of cats and dogs playing around the house, chasing a squirrel outside or chowing down on their dinner may be just what your baby needs to snap out of a fussy mood and break into a tremendous giggle.  Hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, bunnies and ferrets can be like a circus show to a baby, especially if you have running wheels, hiding spots or other fun toys in the cage.  Colorful fish tanks with many different size and shapes of fish are also very entertaining to babies – the larger the better.  And for those who don’t have any pets, just visiting a local pet store can be a fun afternoon activity.

Beyond the physical health benefits of pets for babies, watching parents take care of pets can instill an added sense of nurture, compassion, pride, respect and responsibility in children as they grow up.  They are more likely to be animal lovers, which often translates to nature lovers.

Of course if you experience any negative moments, even the smallest growl or nip, between your pet and baby, address it immediately.  Never tolerate disobedience from your pet when it involves the safety of your baby.  If you need to, involve a professional trainer to help you resolve the issue quickly.

Having a baby is exciting for everyone in your family, including your pet.  Find ways to incorporate your pet into your daily activities with your infant, whether it’s a loving lick during tummy time or enjoying a walk together.  Take pleasure as they discover the joys of siblings and develop their own loving relationship.