Dog Meet Baby

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For new parents, bringing a baby home from the hospital is equal parts thrilling and terrifying.ᅠ While you're secretly wishing that your new addition came with an instruction manual, if you have four-legged family members at home, you may also be feeling nervous about introducing your new baby and your pets for the first time.

"Most dogs do absolutely great with new babies," says Dr. Brian Killough, veterinarian at Long Animal Hospital. In fact, he says that many dogs end up taking ownership of the child, even alerting Mom or Dad when the infant begins to fuss.

Prepping Pets
Preparation before bringing the baby home is key in order to ensure that your pets are comfortable with the changes.

"Months before the baby comes, spend some time in the baby's room with the dog. Get him used to being in that room so he knows that's just part of the normal daily routine," Killough says.

This was the approach Stephanie Sakoda, mom to 6-month-old Carter, a boxer named Zoey, and a cat named Folly, took. When she was pregnant, she and her husband opened up the various baby lotions and shampoos so that their pets could get used to the smells.

When it's actually time for the first meeting, Killough advises letting it happen on the animal's terms.

"When you bring the baby home, sit down on the couch and say, 'Hey, see your new brother?' and let the dog come up and sniff a little," he says. "Don't place the baby in the dog's face, because you never know how an animal is going to react.'

The Germ Factor
Sakoda says that introducing baby Carter to her pets went even better than she had anticipated. In fact, Carter and Zoey have developed such a close bond that Zoey can often be found playing with the baby and licking his face.

This kind of interaction isn't cause for concern, says Dr. Stella Lawsin, pediatrician at South Lake Pediatrics. Unless the baby has an open sore or wound, the likelihood that germs will spread from pets is very small, as long as the dog is vaccinated and healthy.

In fact, encouraging your pets and your baby to get to know each other is scientifically proven to be good for everyone.

"They've done studies that show that babies that are exposed to germs earlier on, for example from pets, actually have less chance of developing allergies later," Lawsin says.

Children who grow up with pets in the home are much less likely to develop fears of animals, she says. Some parents' natural instinct, however, is still to keep the dog in a separate area of the home in order to protect the newborn. This can be devastating for a pet.

"They're pack animals, and so they feel like they're getting tossed out of the pack, " Killough says. "The biggest thing is just making sure your pets are part of the process. Don't go from letting him have the run of the house to locking him up in a room." When you change diapers, talk to the dog, he says. "Obviously they don't understand, but this way you're not ignoring him. When you go for a walk, take the dog with you."

Lauren Levine is a Charlotte-based writer who has contributed to The Charlotte Observer, The Huffington Post, USA Today, and others.