Baby-safe Pets

By Ginny Frizzi

February 29, 2012 5 min read

Nothing is cuter than looking at your baby snuggle up with your favorite pet. How well these two members of your household get along, however, is in large part up to the adults.

"Babies and pets can go together like cookies and cream or chocolate on pizza. The pairing can be wonderful or just not go together," says Rachel Friedman of A Better Pet, which teaches people how to teach dogs.

"Babies take naturally to pets; both the pets and children simply need to be taught the acceptable ways of treating each other," says Jennifer Simmons, a blogger and breeder of Finnish Lapphunds. "Children need to be careful not to hurt or frighten the animal, and the pets need to learn to be gentle with the child. In my experience, cats tend to keep their distance from children, whereas dogs become their sidekick and playmate."

Simmons advises people to get the dog first and spend adequate time -- perhaps a year or two -- training the pet and bringing it to maturity. "With a baby in the house, it is a long time before there is sufficient spare time to give a puppy the amount of attention it needs. I would never place a puppy into a home with a new baby. There simply wouldn't be enough time for both," she says.

Dog trainer Joan Hunter Mayer recommends choosing a dog that is well-socialized toward people of any age, size, gender or appearance. If parents already have a dog, they should be sure to take the time to socialize it to people, including children and babies. She warns that all dog breeds have the potential to chew, bite, chase, jump and nip, but some breeds are likelier to do those things than others. So parents-to-be who already own a dog should review their breed's general traits. The same applies to parents who are looking to purchase a dog.

"A mastiff and a baby might look cute together, but you shouldn't take risks like that," Mayer says. "You don't blame the dog. It doesn't know how to respond to another animal. If a person has a young baby who will need lots of time and care, then having a puppy will be equivalent to having a second baby. The person might want to consider adopting a dog that has a lower energy level and exercise requirement."

Simmons says: "Babies and pets can go together beautifully, but I would always advise families to choose their breed carefully. Some breeds of dog and cat can be jealous and take their frustrations out on a baby. I always advise people never, ever to leave a child alone with any dog, regardless of breed or how steady the temperament."

Mayer says, "If you are looking to keep a baby completely safe, then I'd have to say the ideal pet would be one where they don't interact at all, such as a goldfish."

Syndicated humor columnist Katiedid Langrock and her husband have given the subject consideration, even though they are not yet parents. They were considering a potbellied pig, which can be trained to go in a litter box. They did their research, which led them to change their minds.

"We got all the information we could about potbellied pigs. We searched different websites, including that of the California Potbellied Pig Association, so we would know what we were getting into," Langrock says.

They found that pigs, though intelligent, are pack animals and can be aggressive.

"It would be cool to have a pig, but after researching, I learned that they get threatened by babies because they see them as the new member of the pack and an automatic alpha member, at that," Langrock says. "There have been too many documented cases of house pigs attacking newborns. They don't recommend buying a pig until your youngest child is about 7 years old, so maybe we will re-broach the pig topic down the line."

Langrock and her husband settled on a 20-pound Flemish giant rabbit -- named Pig, of course -- who is litter box-trained and kept in the kitchen during the day.

"He is a nice pet and would be good around a baby. And we do have a Pig, just a different kind from what we first imagined," she says.

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