Often before you become a parent you already have some precious babies in your home. Whether it’s your beloved pooch, your crazy cat or a happy hamster, they are very much loved members of the family. When that thin blue line appears, you ask yourself whether your pets could harm your baby. Are there any precautions you should put in place during pregnancy? Should you take measures to protect your baby from your beloved pets once they arrive? Should you panic and re-home your precious pets altogether? We take a look at pets in pregnancy and how pets can be bad (and good) for your baby.
Take care with the cat’s litter tray
During pregnancy you’ve got a ‘get out of jail free’ card to avoid changing your cat’s litter tray for at least the next nine months. That’s because feline faeces can carry a nasty parasite that could cause toxoplasmosis. During pregnancy toxoplasmosis can cross the placenta and harm your unborn baby. It can cause miscarriage or stillbirth and affect your baby, usually by affecting their eyesight after birth. All that sounds super scary but before you drive your beloved kitty to the nearest rehoming centre it’s worth knowing that toxoplasmosis is only a risk to an unborn baby if caught for the first time during pregnancy or within a few weeks before you get pregnant. Also, on average, only 4 out of 10 infections will pass to the baby. If you’ve had your cat for a while then chances are that you’ve already been infected with toxoplasmosis and didn’t even know it, as it presented no symptoms. And so you’re probably already immune. It’s worth getting a test to see if this is the case.
Regardless, you should take precautions by either getting someone else to change your cat’s litter tray. If you have to do it then wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
Small pets in pregnancy are surely harmless. Aren’t they? Unfortunately when you’re pregnant even your smallest furry friends could potentially harm your baby. Hamsters, guinea pigs and mice can carry a virus called lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV). This is an infection that could cause severe birth defects and miscarriage. Again the risks are small. Dr. Joseph Stavola, chief of Paediatric Infectious Diseases at New York Weill Cornell Medical Centre in New York City. said:
The virus definitely exists, but I believe on a very small scale. It has not been shown to be rampant in mice, and in fact, probably few carry it. So the chances of picking up LCMV while pregnant are, right now, very, very slim.
If you have a small rodent as a pet, avoid cleaning its cage and never touch any urine, saliva or droppings. If you’re worried then pop the cage in another room. Ask your partner to be the one to cuddle and clean out your tiny pets’ cages during pregnancy.
Dogs are generally very safe pets that don’t pose a threat to you during pregnancy. The only thing to watch out for is, if you have an excitable pooch, make sure they don’t jump up and barrel themselves into your belly.
Once your baby arrives never leave your dog unattended in the same room. There is a risk that they could harm your baby, even if you never imagine that they will. Dogs can become agitated by a baby’s sudden cry or movement and you just never know how they will react. They have been known to pick up a baby with their teeth to move them (just as they would do to a pup). They have reacted with aggression to the cries of a baby. You may have the gentlest, soppiest pooch on the planet but it’s still never worth the risk of leaving them alone with your baby for even a second.
More exotic pets
Perhaps you have more unusual pets in pregnancy such as a snake, a lizard or a turtle. Can they pose a risk to your baby? Reptiles can carry salmonella, which can cross the placenta and harm your unborn baby. The risks of this causing damage are very rare but it’s still worth taking precautions. Avoid touching your pet reptile or wash your hands and any surfaces he’s been on afterwards.
Preparing your pets for the new arrival
If you have a cat or a dog then a new baby will mean a big change to the household and to their familiar sights, sounds and smells. It’s worth taking time to prepare your pet for the new arrival. It could be worth investing in extra training for your pet to get them to be more obedient to your commands before the baby arrives. Your partner could bring home a baby sleepsuit from the hospital after your baby has been born. That way your pet can get familiar with new smells. Be aware of the fact that your pet might get jealous of the new arrival taking the spotlight. Work in one on one time to cuddle and play with him to minimise this.
Pets can make children happier and healthier
It’s worth taking note of the precautions we’ve mentioned, especially when dealing with pets in pregnancy. But the good news is that the risk of pets causing danger to pregnant women are small and having a pet in the household can make children healthier. A recent study revealed that pets can make children less prone to allergies and obesity. The study from the University of Alberta revealed that if children are exposed to pets, such as cats and dogs, in their first months of life, they have a reduced risk of developing allergies and obesity. All the furry cuddles and licks expose your child to healthy bacteria that can boost their immunity. One is Ruminococcus, which is associated with a lower risk of allergic disease, and another Oscillospira, which is linked to leanness. Your child will be exposed to both twofold if you have a pet in the house.
A TIME study also found that children who grow up with pets in the house have less risk of catching colds and coughs in their first year. It is thought that exposure to fur shedding and microbes that your cat and dog might carry into the house from outdoors, may strengthen your baby’s immune system and make them less prone to these ailments.
A happy household with all your ‘babies’
When dealing with pets in pregnancy take care and make the necessary changes. It’s important to supervise your pet and baby closely and never leave them together in the same room.
After taking these considerations on board it’s worth knowing that pets can have a happy and harmonious place in the family. They can provide both you and your child with so much fun, laughter and affection. Once your children are older family pets teach them all sorts of important lessons about caring and sharing and responsibility. A happy home often includes a much loved and cherished pet. They can provide the best cuddles, be the best friends, help you appreciate the good times and get you through the tough times. Enjoy making your pets part of your growing family.