If the risk of developing allergies is your biggest concern when thinking about pets and children coexisting, don’t spend another second worrying about it. Recent studies show the exact opposite: kids who grow up with pets actually have less chances of developing respiratory allergies, and that’s not all. The benefits of this relationship include physical, psychological and emotional gains. What is commonly said, on the contrary, is to wish good luck to the pets as a light joke, since this friendship will definitely include fur being pulled, pinches and clumsiness (and slowly understanding their own strength) from the baby.
According to a study published by the American Medical Association, babies who coexisted with pets at home were 13% less at risk of developing asthma – and for those who live on farms or around many animals, even 50% less. Research around the world shows that cohabitation strengthens the immune system, lowering their sensitivity to fur, pollen and dust, therefore reducing the amount of antibiotics the child will have to take. Scientists have also found that children living with pets are less likely to develop headaches, stomach problems, colds and even obesity – besides these children having more bacteria linked to slower weight gain, pets are one big incentive to non-stop running around, right?
Emotional and social advantages for the child
If the physical advantages weren’t enough, animals also strengthen kids’ sensatorial, social and affective development: children become more sociable, learn about responsibility, companionship and caring at an earlier age, learn to demonstrate their affection and become less anxious. The benefit of a friendship between dogs and kids has also been noted in cases of children on the autism spectrum.
When should you worry?
For obvious reasons, parents whose kids have a history of allergies to animal fur should talk to a pediatrician about the possibility of adopting a dog or cat. About 10% of the population has some form of allergy associated with pets, such as rhinitis.
If your pet is the jealous type or just all around not very social, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on them when they play with the kids – never leave babies and animals playing on their own. Even the sweetest pets can accidentally hurt the child while playing or react to a pinch or tail pull.
What to do to avoid risks?
The pet should have their vaccinations and vermicide applications up to date, as well as protection against ticks and fleas. Try keeping the pet away from the child’s bed or crib and keeping food and water away from the baby’s reach. But, if your child ends up eating dog or cat food, don’t fret – it happens. Explain that it is not allowed and remove it from where it was. Same thing goes for licks: avoid having the pet lick the child’s face or mouth and wash the area anytime that happens – yes, it happens more than you can imagine.
You child should not come into contact with the area in which your pet urinates and defecates. Fur should also be cleaned up and vacuumed daily, preferably.
What is the best age to have a pet?
It depends. Growing up with a pet while the child is still in the womb has been proven to be beneficial for their immune system. It’s important, however, to remember the pet demands attention, care and time for playing and walks (if it’s a dog). When the child turns one, they will interact more with the animal at the same time the family has already had time to establish a routine.
But, if your routine is still up in the air because of the baby, it might not be a great idea to introduce a whole new element to your life at this moment. Will you have time to walk the dog? During the first weeks of puerperium, for example, when almost no one has the time to leave the house, this could pose a challenge for you and the best thing to do is to wait a little.
If the idea is to help your child’s social development and understanding of responsibilities, after they turn four kids become more apt to understanding rules and taking on chores.
What about those who already have pets, what to do as they baby arrives?
Cats and dogs might become very protective during your pregnancy. Some become more aggressive than others when other people approach the mom or baby, but there are also those who will feel jealous and will need to understand that you still love them and they are a part of the family. Get your pet used to the baby’s things – let them smell the entire layette, go inside the room to become familiar with it, get close to your belly – anything to connect them to this moment.
When the baby is born, take an item of clothing or a blanket with the child’s smell to the animal. And, when you come back home, ideally someone should go inside first and pet the animal and give them love so then the newborn can then come into the house. No worries: allow them to smell the child as much as they want, but preferably keeping away from the baby’s face – it’s rare, but it could happen that, in an effort to play or care for the baby, the pet could hurt them. In time they will get over their curiosity.
During the first few months, the mother’s attention will be geared toward caring for the newborn – the seemingly infinite cycle of diaper changes, breastfeeding and sleeping. The animal will certainly miss you, therefore it’s a good idea to put some time aside to spend it solely with your pet – if it’s a dog, they will love a walk around the neighborhood and, that way, you can also leave the house and breathe for a little while.