HELLO BABY, GOODBYE DOGGIE?
Not true. You can cope with a newborn and a beloved pet successfully – you’ll just have to make lifestyle changes. FELICIA WONG and NIKKI FUNG seek guidance from doctors and mums.
Not true. You can cope with a newborn and a beloved pet successfully – you’ll just have to make lifestyle changes.
Can you keep your dog after your new baby comes along? When Jamie Wee found out that she was pregnant, her family had concerns about her keeping her maltese.
Despite her well-meaning relatives’ concerns about hygiene and safety, the 40-year-old estate manager decided to keep her then seven-year-old furkid.
“We went ahead as we trusted our dog and we felt that we would be able to handle it,” she says.
Here, Young Parents looks at the common issues and dilemmas you’ll face when you juggle a newborn and a beloved pet.
Is it safe?
Dr Natalie Epton, specialist paediatrician and neonatologist at the SBCC Baby & Child Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Centre, sets the record straight: Newborns and pets can live under one roof, but there are precautions you should take.
For instance, it’s best to not let the dog lick your little one’s face during the ﬁrst few months, as bacteria in its saliva is likely to expose Baby to the risk of infection.
If they share an outdoor space, Dr Epton recommends checking the garden for dog faeces before allowing your baby to crawl around the area, as he may put it in his mouth.
“Although he is unlikely to contract bacterial infection from the dog,” she says, “he may pick up worms, so talk to your vet about regularly deworming your dog.”
What about allergies?
But what about pet fur, which is linked to allergies?
Michelle Foo, who kept her four-yearold mongrel, Kiki, after her son, Erik, was born last year, isn’t overly concerned.
“We weren’t worried about allergies because Kiki is a local street dog with short, thick fur,” says the 32-yearold copywriter.
Dr Epton cites studies that show that having your infant live with a pet can reduce the number of respiratory tract and ear infections within the ﬁrst year of his life, and that early exposure to animal fur (of dogs more so than cats) may help to reduce the likelihood of developing allergies.
However, that beneﬁt doesn’t translate to older children who already have a tendency towards allergies.
“If you don’t currently have a dog, don’t go out and buy one just so that your baby will have fewer ear infections. But if you do have a dog, don’t worry too much about the potential for diseases to spread to your baby,” she explains.
Can you make time for both?
Health issues aside, your biggest problem with juggling a newborn and a pet might well be baby envy.
Dogs are creatures of habit, says Dr Brian Loon, principal veterinary surgeon at Amber Vet. They easily get jealous, anxious, nervous or aggressive towards new members of the family if they’re not introduced to them gradually or positively.
Sudden changes in your pet’s daily routine that drastically reduce the time spent together can also cause depression, anxiety and misbehaviour.
Jamie noticed signs of jealousy in her dog Tippy, when her ﬁrst son was born.
“It was hard to spend time with Tippy after my baby was born. I felt guilty about neglecting my dog but it couldn’t be helped,” she says.
Tippy would seek attention by peeing everywhere, instead of on newspapers as he was trained to.
“I think he was jealous that we were spending so much time with our baby,” Jamie says.
The solution, Dr Loon says, is to spend time with your pet without Baby.
This will encourage bonding and positive experiences, and prevent it from developing any fears of abandonment, he explains.
In Michelle’s case, that meant making use of nap time. “When our baby Erik slept, we would play with Kiki; when Erik was awake, we would try to get Kiki to play with us and Baby,” she recalls.
This worked well, as Michelle found that “it wasn’t hard to ﬁnd time for both of them because babies sleep a lot.”
Can they play together?
You should never leave a baby together with the pet in same room without supervision by a competent adult, Dr Loon says.
Jamie, who welcomed her second baby, Jarel, last year, is always mindful of that.
“Even though Tippy is now older at 15 years old and not as active, we are still hesitant about leaving our baby alone with our dog,” she confesses.
In fact, until you are sure of your dog’s sentiments, Dr Loon recommends having two adults present in the beginning – one to watch Baby, and another to supervise the pet in case it has to be quickly, but calmly, taken away.
Keep an eye on their interaction. “Expect your baby to be heavy-handed and excessively rough,” Dr Epton says.
That was what happened at Michelle’s household. “Kiki used to be very scared of Erik because he kept trying to grab her to play,” she says.
But Michelle knows that the relationship between the boy and dog is nothing but loving.
“We scolded him whenever he was playing rough. Now, Kiki is a lot more comfortable with Erik and she has stopped running away from him.”
Dr Epton warns that many dog bites are caused by overly enthusiastic tail-pulling. If the animal is bothered enough to bite or scratch, she advises taking Baby to a doctor for ﬁrst aid and to assess whether antibiotics are needed.
“Dog and cat bites are different from human bites, and contain many bacteria,” she explains.