Despite the Disneyesque images of smiling children and their pets, establishing or maintaining behaviorally healthy homes
with pets and children can be challenging. Expectant parents often have questions about introducing their babies to pets.
And parents who plan to add pets to their homes also have important concerns about their children's safety. Veterinarians
should encourage pet owners to turn to them for expert advice and assistance. Let clients know that you, not the pet store
employee or the self-proclaimed master dog trainer, are the best source for reliable behavior recommendations.
First, discuss behavior at every nonemergency appointment. Ask clients if they have any behavior questions or concerns. This
is especially important if you know there are children in the house. Take a moment to discuss zoonotic diseases, such as parasite
control and rabies vaccination, as well as the No. 1 risk to children from pets, bite wounds. Provide handouts and other information,
such as a poster in your waiting room, describing your ability to help clients with their pets' behavior problems. Some good
sources for behavior handouts are Lifelearn (
http://www.lifelearn.com/) and the Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, 2nd Ed. (W.B. Saunders Co). Also see the client handout "Bringing home baby: Introducing a pet to your new arrival." In
addition, carry and display humane behavior modification products, such as head collars and food enrichment toys.
Once your clients come to you for behavior advice, make sure you're prepared to answer their questions. Here are some tips
about keeping the pet-child relationship a happy and healthy one.
Teach your dog well
...AND BABY MAKES FOUR
Regardless of whether a pet has previously displayed behavior problems related to children, well in advance of a baby's arrival
expectant parents should start preparing their pets for the many changes a new baby brings. It is much easier for pets to
begin adjusting before an infant arrives than to get used to household changes and the baby all at once. This preparation
also gives owners an early chance to see how their pets are adjusting and may help owners avoid assuming that any problems
seen are due solely to the new baby.
Get a historical perspective
Expectant parents may ask you if it will be safe to have their pets, especially dogs, around a new baby. To advise these parents,
first find out about the pet's history with babies, toddlers, and children. If there has never been such exposure or if there
has been fear or aggression in the past, advise owners to be extremely careful. In such cases, schedule an appointment with
the owners specifically devoted to discussing this problem rather than trying to fit it in at the end of a 15-minute annual
examination, heartworm test, and vaccine booster appointment. Even if you don't treat a lot of behavior cases, you, your clients,
and your patients will be well-served if you take the time to sit down, get complete historical details about the problem,
and discuss the different aspects of the situation with the owners. If your clients have already brought the baby home and
cannot make an appointment with you right away, help them make arrangements to board the animal until the appointment, or
advise them to keep the pet and child separated until you can talk further.
Defining what problems can occur
Most aggression to children is caused by fear. Cats may be fearful of newborn infants and usually react by hiding. With dogs,
aggression usually appears when the baby becomes mobile. Even dogs that have a history of behaving well with visiting children
may show some aggression to toddlers they live with. This is why it is so important to have measures in place to separate
children from pets before problems arise (see "Setting up barriers" ).