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When Baby Meets Your Pet

For parents, the process of introducing a new baby to their pets can sometimes be a difficult and stressful one. And if the parents were first "mom and dad" to a pet before the baby arrived, the family pet may have the biggest adjustment of all to make.

But on "The Early Show" Thursday, resident veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner Bell shared some tips to make introducing the new baby to your pet as smooth as possible.

According to Bell, before you bring your baby home, is a very good time to make sure that Fido and Fifi have a clean bill of health. Be sure to have your cat and dog thoroughly examined by your veterinarian to make sure they are healthy and infection-free. Also, send your pooch to the spa. Be sure to have your dog bathed, groomed (to remove excess hair), and nails clipped. And if you haven't already, Bell said, get your pet spayed or neutered. A lot of seemingly aggressive behavior, she said, can be resolved by this simple step. Plus, Bell added, spaying or neutering your pet is best for your pet's long-term health.

In addition, every dog should be properly socialized and undergo behavior training, but this is especially important, Bell said, when you are bringing that new baby home.

"You don't want your out-of-control pooch jumping on you while you are holding the baby, or mistaking the baby for a moving, breathing chew toy," Bell said.

Make sure your dog is trained to obey the basic commands: sit, stay, down, and heel. Bell said this will come in handy when you first arrive with this new object that smells so enticing, and looks so funny. You want your dog to obey a sit or down command. It wouldn't be good for Fido to come jumping in your lap, when your baby is nestled there peacefully.

The next step for pet owners is to "rehearse" with your pet for when the baby arrives.

Bell explained this "rehearsal" means decreasing the amount of time with your pet.

She said, "They will certainly get less of your attention when the baby arrives, so if they don't expect as much of your attention, it won't be as disturbing to them once baby is here. Have someone other than the mom-to-be give the pet special time and attention. If the pet was particularly attached to mom, her focus on the baby will cause stress. Having another 'point person' will minimize this change in roles."

Bell also recommended permitting your pet to sniff all the new baby stuff that is coming into the house.

"They will be very curious," she said. "If you let them indulge their curiosity before the baby arrives, this will help."

Let them sniff the furniture, diapers, baby powder, baby wipes, among other baby items, Bell said. After they have given the baby's room and stuff a good inspection, she said, then -- especially if you are not going to allow the pet in the room once the baby arrives -- cut off access.

Another way to get your pet acclimated you your baby is to play a CD called "Baby Sounds for Pets" that plays a collection of typical baby noises. Playing this from time to time, Bell said, might make the arrival of the baby with her squalls and cries less frightening. Also, if you have mechanical swings, rocking chairs, or other toys that make noise you can play those in advance.

Bell also suggested inviting a friend who already has a baby over for visits. Of course, she said, supervise any interaction between the visiting baby and your pet. This will allow your pet to get accustomed to the look, smell (using the powder and wipes), and sounds of a baby. In essence, anything that will get the pet used to your future routine activities. Whenever your take your dog to the park, let them get close to babies. Let them hear the sounds the babies make, and observe the actions of the little ones. Observe how your dog reacts to these new experiences. Bell said this will give you a clue into how he will react to your baby.

Another way to help your pet is to start "playing house." Carry a baby doll around, mimicking the carrying of the baby by doing diaper changes and bathing, among other baby-related activities. Bell said you should block access to "off limits" areas early. If you don't want your pet in the baby's room, on the changing table, she said, institute and enforce these rules several months early. You can also lay double-stick tape to furniture to discourage your pet from jumping on it.

But why is it important for your pet to meet your baby's scent even before the baby comes home?

When the baby is born, but before mom brings the baby home, Bell said, bring home a towel or blanket that has the baby's scent on it, and allow the pet to sniff away. Introduce the pet to the smell of baby powder too. When mom arrives with the baby, don't scold the pet for being curious; this is natural. New moms should be sure to greet the pet with lots of love and attention. Allow the pet to sniff the baby's feet, and Bell said a little lick won't hurt.

And when it comes time for that first face-to-face meeting, what's the proper way to introduce the pet to the baby?

A positive introduction to the new baby will go a long way toward a positive healthy relationship between baby and pet, Bell said. You might even want to have someone else bring the baby into a room with the pet so that the new mom can greet the anxious pet first. This is a continuation of the gradual process of introducing the pet to the baby. Some experts Bell said even suggest isolating the pet from the new baby for a day or two so it can get used to the mother being around again. It is never a good idea to leave your pet alone with your young child, Bell said. There should always be adult supervision.

And despite being a new mom, pet owners should make a special effort to spend time with the family pet, Bell said.

Why?

Having a new baby brings a lot of excitement and requires a lot of preparation and work, she said. But it is important for new mom to find a little quality time to spend with the family pet. Even if it's just five or 10 minutes of fetch or a good belly scratch, she said, this will go a long way to reassure your pet that they are still loved and an important part of the family.

Because cats tend to be more independent minded than dogs, most of the tips listed above tend to be more relatable to dogs. However, there are some myths about cats:

Myth: "Cats will try to smother babies."
Truth: Bell said cats do NOT try to smother babies! If anything, cats will go to great lengths to stay away from this loud, smelly, newcomer.

Myth: "Pregnant women cannot own a cat".
Truth: Bell said, while toxoplasmosis is a real concern to the health of an unborn child, it is very rare in the U.S. The parasite, toxoplasma, is found in the feces of cats that have eaten raw meat, birds, mice, or contaminated soil. This parasite is more commonly found in uncooked or undercooked meat, particularly pork. So, Bell said, pregnant women should not handle the cat's litter box and uncooked meat.

Myth: "Cats that have 'accidents' on the baby's bedding are acts of aggression."
Truth: Bell said, not so. If anything, she said, the kitty is trying to reclaim territory by replacing the baby's smell with her own.

Bell also announced on "The Early Show" she is expecting a child.