Fur Babies and Human Babies Unite!
Did you know that in 2012 there were 60,000 births registered in New Zealand? Did you also know that there are over 5 million companion animals in country? That’s a lot of cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs and mice to look after! Usually, the ‘fur babies’ come before the real human babies. Have you noticed how often new couples acquire a new puppy or kitten to use to, either conscientiously or subconsciously, test their own suitability for parenthood? I suppose you can technically rehome a pet if it doesn’t work out but once that human baby is placed in your arms, you’re a mum or dad for life and that one is here to stay.
Our busy little household has a 17 month toddler, a Jack Russell dog, a Border Collie dog, two Birman show cats and multiple horses and farm animals. They don’t appear to run riot (not too often anyway), so perhaps I’m qualified to offer advice on how to maintain a harmonic life with your fur babies and human equivalents.
- Train, train, train – I’m not referring to the choo-choo-Thomas type either. Your sweet little puppy needs to receive regular training if he is going to turn into a well behaved canine citizen. Take him to puppy school or train him at home. Make sure he follows basic commands of sit, down, stay, come and the magic ‘no’ word. ‘No licking’ was a command used often when our son was very young – oh so tempting for a dog to clean up that little face smeared in peanut butter. Remember to reward your dog for listening to your commands with a hearty pat or even a dog treat when the small child is not looking. You’ll need to do this training well before the baby arrives as time will be limited after the birthday.
- Peaceful buggy walks – The secret to a peaceful walk with you dog is to teach him to walk on a short lead next to the buggy, without pulling or lugging to the side. Use a fixed, short lead; retractable, zip line style leads aren’t suitable for walking dogs off buggies as the lead can become quickly entangled in buggy wheels, posing a trip hazard. NEVER tie the dog lead to your buggy. You’ll really appreciate your dog walking calmly next to you and you can enjoy many happy hours of walking with the family – it’s the best thing to do, even if you’re exhausted from sleepless nights.
- Pet Inspection – Expect your fur babies to inspect all new baby paraphernalia – particularly the cats. Let them get over their curiosity before the baby arrives. Our animals have fully inspected buggies, car seats, high chairs, cots and even baby baths. When baby arrives, you can draw the hard line and insist that baby items are for baby – no more buggy rides for the Jack Russell. This rule includes that plush new baby sheepskin that your cat is eyeing up with her soft paws!
- First Introductions – It’s a good idea, if you are able, to bring home an item of clothing from the hospital that has the new baby’s smell on it. Dad can do this when he returns home to feed the animals! Your fur babies will recognise the smell when they finally meet the new baby. We brought our new son into the family home, safe in his capsule and let our dogs and cats sniff him all over. They were fascinated, having never seen a small human before. It’ll take a few days for them to adjust and get used to the new arrival and the loud noises he/she might make. Before long however, they’ll simply adore their new pack member.
- Feed safety – Once your baby is on the move, you’ll need to relocate your pet’s water bowls from the floor to a safer location. Remember it only takes a few centimetres for an infant to drown in water so please keep water bowls well out of reach. We moved our cat’s water bowl to the top of a high dresser and the dog’s bowls outside onto a picnic table. We trained out dogs to tolerate hands around their face during meal times. Be careful doing this as many dogs can get possessive of their food – teach them to tolerate it as puppies. It’s important that they learn to ignore hands coming in and out of the bowls as they eat because your toddler may annoy your dog when he is eating and you don’t want any nipping incidents. It’s also useful to train your dog the command ‘leave it’. Our toddler loves nothing better than to hand feed our dogs items of food that he doesn’t particularly like. We need to tell our dogs to ‘leave it’ and not take food when he offers it to them. This becomes even more important as food items such as grapes, raisins and chocolate can be deadly to some dogs.
- Taste testing – Every parent will have their own take on how to manage pet biscuits and babies. Babies like to put everything in their mouths so it’s only natural to expect them to taste test a few biscuits. It didn’t take long for our little guy to work out they didn’t taste that great (yes he was supervised for the choking hazard). He’s never eaten them since so it is one item of pet food we can leave out for the pets. Taste testing with wet pet food is not negotiable though and this is placed on high tables out of reach of small mouths. You’ll find that your dog soon learns that under the high chair is a great place to sit. I personally don’t mind this as they are great at keeping the floor clean, but don’t set an example to your child by feeding the dog food scraps during meal times. Monkey see, monkey do… your small person will love tossing food over the edge of the chair, copying your actions.
- Sleep safety – Cats love warm cosy places to sleep and the nursery fits that description perfectly. Be very vigilant to keep your cats out of the nursery and away from the cot. The main reasons for this is because some cats may be tempted to sleep on your child’s face and cause suffocation if he/she is too small to push them away. We used good old kiwi ingenuity and used a bungy cable to keep the nursery door open wide enough so that air could flow in the room but not wide enough to enable a cat to squeeze through.
- Gently does it – You’ll need to teach your child to be gentle with the fur babies. Their natural reaction to the feel of soft fur is to scrunch up their fingers, pulling the fur. Teach your child to stroke with open hands, saying ‘gentle’ and to pat softly. You’ll find dogs are more tolerant of enthusiastic pats in comparison to cats. Most cats ‘train’ their small humans to be nice through the correction of claws! We are fortunate that our Birman cats are a very tolerant breed and rarely use their claws, even when playing.
We firmly believe that it’s fabulous for children to be able to grow up in an environment with pets. It teaches them compassion, friendship and responsibility. With a little extra training and preparation, your child will grow up to be the best of mates with your animals. Next time when you’re feeling a little lazy, all you’ll need is a look from your dog who’ll be saying, ‘come on mum, let’s get outside in the fresh air and go for a walk!’. They really are great for the health and overall well-being of the whole family.