In France, almost 63 million pets live in harmony with us and our little ones. Almost half of households have one. In fact, 20% of us choose to adopt an animal as part of our children’s education. In terms of favourite pets, fish are in first place (around 34 million) followed by cats (almost 13 million) and dogs (about 7 million). As goldfish do not present any particular risk, let’s concentrate on our furry friends: dogs and cats. How can we ensure our little cherubs live in harmony with our favourite pets?
The number one rule is never to leave your child alone with an animal. Keep an eye on your dog or cat to ensure they keep their distance from your child. The way your baby reacts varies depending on their age and ability to interact with their environment. They always try to grab everything within reach, making no exceptions for dogs or cats! But if your pet ends up losing a tuft of fur, it’s not going to be happy!
In the first few months following the birth, we love the fact that our newborn cannot move around without our help. We can hold our babies and enjoy long cuddles, which they enjoy just as much as we do.
But babies are not capable of analysing an animal’s behaviour if it feels threatened. Unlike us, they don’t understand what it means if a dog growls or a cat arches its back! It only takes a split second for an animal to bite or scratch, so keep an eye on your baby at all times. While they’re tiny, you need to supervise any contact between your baby and your dog or cat. Pay particular attention to the following:
Never leave your child unattended with your pet. Your pet must never be less than one metre away from your child.
A month before your newborn arrives, ensure that your pet notices there are some changes in the house. Start by closing the door to your baby’s nursery so that your pet cannot get in.
Get them used to not jumping up onto the sofa or sitting on your knee, so that you can feed your baby in peace. This should be a special time for you and your baby. Make the most of this special bond, as babies grow up so fast! In no time at all, you’ll be hearing “but Mum, I’m not a baby any more!”
It’s also preferable for your baby in terms of safety and hygiene. What’s more, it gives your pet time to get used to your baby’s cries.
Bear in mind that we don’t view our home in the same way as our pets. In simple terms, a cat tolerates us on its territory and a dog defends its pack’s space.
Around the age of 6 months, your little one starts to sit up unaided and nibble a piece of bread in their hands. Your dog will quickly learn to join in, especially for picking up food that falls onto the floor! This doesn’t really apply to cats. Even though it can be funny watching them interact, you still need to be careful. If your dog is easily attracted to food and can sometimes be rough, you need to pay particular attention.
The next stage is when your little one starts to move around. From the age of eight months, your child will start to crawl. It’s unlikely that they are copying your pet, but they can try to follow them all the same. They can also be clumsy as they try to stand up, falling over again and again. They could end up falling onto your cat or dog, or try grabbing the closest thing at hand, which could well be an ear or a tail. It is important that your pet does not find itself in a situation where it feels threatened.
If you have even the slightest doubt regarding your pet’s behaviour towards your child, speak to your vet immediately. Even if your cat or dog appears to demonstrate ‘normal’ behaviour, you still need to be vigilant.
Nevertheless, pets are beneficial for children. Cats have a relaxing effect, as we can see as there are so many cat cafés springing up. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association even shows that a dog can reduce the risk of asthma in very small children.
In any event, bear in mind that you should never adopt an animal just because your child wants a pet. Your child’s whims are temporary, but a pet is a long-term commitment! But seeing your little cherub make friends with your pet is absolutely priceless. They could even soon be best friends!