Babies, Pets and Allergies

Many of the clients I see are new couples who begin with owning pets together and then add to their family by having children. There are countless preparations and concerns when prepping for the arrival of a baby, and pets are one of them. Clients frequently ask me whether it will be safe to keep their beloved pets, or whether should they consider rehoming them. Such concerns include a cat scratching the baby, the dog biting the baby, diseases spreading to the baby from the pets and whether the baby will develop allergies to the pets.

Most of these concerns do not actually cause any real risk to the new baby, but to any first time parents they are yet another thing to worry about. New parents also be worry about not having enough time for the pet once the baby arrives. Rehoming the pet may seem like the easiest solution to many people when a new baby is on the way. However, there are new studies which show that having a dog around a baby can actually decrease the baby’s incidence of developing allergies, and not only toward pets, but to a variety of allergens.
The studies are showing a higher incidence of this with dogs rather than with cats, and more likely with multiple children in the home. Allergists believe that dogs bring in more outdoor dirt than cats, as they often go outside more, and expose the baby to bacteria which desensitizes the baby’s immune system. They are now calling this phenomenon the “dog protective effect”. The effect has lowered the amount of hay fever, eczema, asthma and some food allergies. In the studies, the dog had to be exposed to the pregnant mother or in the first year of the child’s life.

As a vet, the “protective dog effect” is very exciting!
It may mean that less animals end up in shelters when a baby is born. There are numerous ways to ensure that pets are included in preparing for a baby. First, expose your pets to the nursery before the baby arrives or during the renovation process. In addition, bring home a blanket from the hospital that smells like the baby before you introduce your pet to the baby. If you are worried about the cat scratching the baby, especially as he or she gets older and has more contact with the cat consider putting ‘soft paws’ on your cat or trimming their nails regularly.
Regular fecal exams will ensure your pet does not pass on any parasites to your baby. Making sure the baby stays away from any coveted bones, food or toys can decrease the chances of the dog accidentally biting.

I believe as both a veterinary professional and as a girl that grew up with a family dog, the benefits of a pet to the child growing up with a pet far outweigh the extra time and inconveniences of having a pet in a busy family. Your vet can assist you to make sure this new life transition is smooth for the furry creatures in your family.