Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Baby's Homecoming to the House of Cats

Hello Everyone-
We recently have added a new addition to our household-- our first baby!  Our first human baby, that is...   Jacob Tristan Weiner (aka Jake) was born February 21.  Two days later, my husband and I were faced with the question that all of our friends and family members had asked throughout the pregnancy:

"How will your pets will deal with the baby?!"

We were not sure how they would react, but overall we were confident that the transition would not be too bad.  After all, we bring random animals into our house so often that I assumed the pets would just think we brought another "stray" home.

Meet Jake- our newest "pet"  :-) He is 1 day old here.

Now, keep in mind that NOT all pets are safe around children. Some can be aggressive, fearful, jealous, or unpredictable.  Thankfully, our pets are very tolerant.  Our dogs have never shown any aggressive behaviors or prey drive (which is the instinct to chase a small moving animal).  I would like to share our personal experiences with introducing our pets to our baby, but please remember that not all pets will react the same way.  If you are bringing a baby or child into your house, discuss your pet's temperament with your veterinarian first.  I have known dogs that are great with babies, but unfortunately become unpredictable once the child grows into a walking toddler.  Again, please discuss any concerns and safety measures with your veterinarian or board certified veterinary behaviorist prior to exposing your pets to a newborn, toddler, or young child.

Warnings aside,  I have found that cats tend to be either curious or fearful of babies.  Cats do not tend to lash out, bite, or scratch unless cornered, which may become an issue once a baby becomes an active toddler or a small child.  Our goal as parents will be to teach our son to respect the pets and not to chase them or tease them.  I'm sure that there will probably be some tail or ear grabbing along the way... so we will have to be careful.  I will be sure to share these experiences with you as Jake grows.

So... how did our first day go when we arrived at the house with the baby?

I'll start by saying that we had family members bring home some clothes that the baby wore in the hospital prior to our arrival.  I instructed them to leave the clothes lying out where the cats could smell them.

Baby clothes from the hospital-- available for sniffing and exploring by felines...
Here's Jake! He's ready to come home!
When we got home,  we left Jake strapped into his carseat while he slept, and I allowed the cats to see him and smell him.  Two of the cats came to check him out on their own (the brave ones- Cosmo and Nemo). Cosmo, being the troublemaker of the house, was very curious and he sniffed Jake up and down.  He did not appear scared at all.  Nemo also checked him out, but then proceeded to roll around on the ground-- completely lacking any signs of stress.  Jaime, our older patriarch, is an extreme chicken and he immediately ran away from the room and hid under the bed.  This is exactly what I expected from him.  Paulie, our socially inept cat, did not even realize we were home, so I had to pick him up and   bring him to the baby.  He just walked away.  Overall, the first introduction was uneventful.

Cosmo was very interested in the newcomer.
In preparation for bringing the baby home, we did our best to make the nursery and sleeping areas safe and clean.  We installed a tall metal gate at the entrance to the nursery to decrease the pet traffic into the room.  We put up the gate about 4 weeks before the baby was due, and before that we were keeping the door closed.  I expected the cats to jump the gate immediately, but I was pleasantly surprised that they avoided it. Perhaps the vertical, slippery bars made it less tempting.   Now that the baby is here, we've noticed that our adventurous Nemo can indeed jump the gate, but she only tends to do so when we are in the nursery and she wants to join us.  If I catch her in the act and scold her, she usually will stop climbing the gate and will then slink away guiltily.

 So far, none of the cats have jumped into the crib.  Having a cat jump into a crib and smother the baby tends to be a common concern among pet owners.  I suppose it's not impossible, but after seeing how the cats react to the baby, I do not think it is probable. The biggest potential threat in our house is Paulie since he's a major "cuddler", but he prefers to sleep with us.  He does not see the baby as a source of affection (Jake can't pet him yet...) so he does not seek attention from him.  The cats do not cuddle with each other for warmth, so I can understand why they wouldn't snuggle with a baby for warmth either. Nevertheless, my husband and I monitored the nursery in anticipation of a "feline crib jumper".  Thankfully, the gate still allowed us to close the door when we weren't there.  There have been no observed attempts to join Jake in his crib. Again, if this changes, you all will be the first to know.  (On a side note, I have heard of cat owners installing a screen door at their nursery entrance.... a cool idea!)

 As you will see in future Blog entries, we strive to make all the rooms in our hour cat friendly by providing ample litter boxes, water bowls, scratching posts, and window perches.  The nursery has none of these things, so the cats do not need to go in there for any of their resources.  They are curious, and prior to the gate installation, the baby changing table provided a nice bed by the window.  Besides hiding under the crib,  there isn't much in there for them to play with.

Bassinet ready for baby...
Bassinet protected from kitties

In other rooms of the house, we have taken some other precautions.  During these early weeks, we do have a bassinet in the master bedroom for the baby.  The cats, of course, see this as a beautiful, comfy bed.  We line it with towels when it is not in use to keep the sheet beneath it clean in case one of the cats jumps in.

Nemo says, "This new bed is perfect!!"

In the guest room,  we placed another gate since there are litter boxes in that room.  This gate has been placed in the doorway about 6 inches from the floor so the cats can crawl under it, but the dogs cannot.  This will prevent an exploring toddler from going into that room and playing in the litter like a sand box.  For additional health reasons, a powerful HEPA filter is in in that room to remove litter box dust and cat hair from the air.  We also have another style of gate provided  at the entrance of our laundry room, where other litter boxes are kept.

Air filter-- helps to remove allergens

Parasite control is also very important.  Indoor cats can acquire intestinal parasites, fleas, and heart worms. ( Did you know that about 15% of all potting soil used for indoor plants contains eggs for roundworms?  We all know that some cats love to play with potted plants...)  Intestinal worms such as roundworm and hookworm are zoonotic (which means they can be passed to people) and fleas can carry Bartonellosis ("cat scratch fever").  Therefore, all of our cats are given a medication on their skin called Revolution every month to prevent infection from all of the above. Similarly, our dogs are given Sentinel pills  (to prevent intestinal worms, flea eggs, and heart worm) and Parastar topical ointment ( to kill ticks and adult fleas) every month.

I have had many owners voice concerns about applying chemicals to their pets, especially in the presence of  children.  I understand this concern now more than ever.  The medications that we are using, however, are extremely safe and they are not harmful to people when applied to the pet correctly.   There are many over-the-counter flea/tick medications that are dangerous, however, and I recommend sticking with what is recommended by your veterinarian.  There are real risks for a child to acquire roundworm, hookworm, tick-borne diseases or flea-borne diseases.  As a matter of fact, the Center for Disease Control states that it is the  responsibility of veterinarians to educate owners about preventing zoonotic parasites.  There is no way I am letting Jake be exposed to parasites, so our 4 cats and 2 dogs are getting chased down monthly to get their preventative medications.

Over the past few weeks, I have found that the cats and dog have chosen to interact with the baby in different ways.  While the baby is nursing or being held, Nemo often tries to join on the same lap. She will even "mark" him has her own by rubbing her head on him.

Nemo says, "Who is that??"

Nemo decides that Jake can share a lap.

Paulie chooses, instead, to sit next to us when we are with Jake.  Jaime will reluctantly come out and sit on the back of the couch behind my head while I hold the baby, and Cosmo will walk right up to Jake and roll around next to him.

Jaime is a little uneasy... but he'll still sit with us.

Paulie is wondering who mommy is holding....

Frisby (our faithful dog) also sits next to us in an effort to reclaim her rights to the couch.  Sometimes she barks or paws at me while I am nursing because she wants attention.  If I am home alone with the baby, she sometimes will beg to come into the nursery with me, so I allow her through the gate.  Most of the time, she just sits near us for company.

Frisby wants to know who is taking up daddy's attention.

As long as Frisby can still fit on he couch, she's happy.

Those of you who know "Kitty" -- our very special Pomeranian-- keep asking what she thinks of the baby.  Honestly, I'm not sure she recognizes his existence.  She is more interested in relaxing in her bed....

Ignorance is bliss!!!

Until next time!
- Dr. Schock