Getting a pet as a "starter baby" seems like a smart idea, until the real baby comes along. Planning and caring for an infant leaves less time for your pet but, in most cases, your two loves can coexist. Here are tips to help make room in your heart — and your home — for the new addition.
• Pregnant women should avoid contact with cat feces, which can cause toxoplasmosis, an infection that may result in birth defects or a miscarriage. Keep your cat indoors, avoid handling kittens and stray cats, and have your baby-daddy change the litter box daily.
• Reptiles and amphibians can transmit salmonella bacteria to the fetus and children younger than 5, whose immune systems are still developing. The consequences can range from diarrhea to birth defects and fatal illness. Moms-to-be and babies should avoid direct and indirect contact with the animals, their equipment and their stool. Your best bet is to remove the animal from your home.
• To make your pet calmer and less likely to bite, spay or neuter the animal.
• If your pet has behavior problems, train him now while you have the time.
• Gradually decrease the amount of attention you give your pet, so he won't feel ignored when the baby arrives. If the mother-to-be is the pet's primary caretaker, have another family member begin bonding with the animal.
• To acclimate your pet to babies, invite friends with infants to visit your home.
• In the nursery doorway, install a baby gate or — if your pet jumps — a screen door.
• Arrange for your pet's care during the birth.
• After the birth, have a friend take home a blanket so your pet can get used to the baby's scent.
• Have your pet sit next to you while you hold the baby, and reward him with treats for good behavior.
• Never leave your pet and baby alone together.
• Train your pet to distinguish his toys from the baby's.
• Wash your hands with hot, soapy water after handling a bird or its cage.
Sources: AmericanPregnancy.org, ARAV.org, CDC.gov, HSUS.org