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Pets in the family

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Research has shown that children who have pets get many benefits.
  • While pregnant, think about how your baby will change things for your pet.
  • Young children need to learn how to look after your pets.

What to consider before getting a pet?

Owning a pet can be fun for both you and your child.

However, there are many things to think about before you get a pet. These include:

  • Can you afford a pet?
  • Do you have time to look after a pet?
  • Do you know how to look after a pet?
  • Will a pet fit in with your family?

Looking after a young animal can be time consuming and expensive.

Adding a pet to your family should never be an impulsive decision. Your local vet may be able to help you choose a pet to suit your family.

What are the benefits of pets?

Research has shown that children who have pets get many benefits.

  • Pets may help prevent social-emotional problems in children.
  • Children who have pets have higher empathy scores.

Pets and pregnancy

If your family already includes a pet, you will need to help them adjust to having a baby in your home.

Some things you can try to do while you’re pregnant, are:

  • get your partner to take over all pet care duties
  • get your pets used to being home alone

Think about how you are going to care for your pet once your baby arrives. When your baby arrives, will this change:

  • Where your pet sleeps?
  • Where your pet is allowed in your home?
  • How your pet travels with you?

If so, make these changes before your baby is born.

Animals are sensitive to changes in your family. They read our body language so will be aware that something is happening. Thinking about it in advance might help your pet adjust.

Cats and pregnancy

Toxoplasmosis is an infection that can cause serious problems during pregnancy. It’s caused by a common parasite that can be caught by:

  • eating raw or partly cooked meat
  • using food utensils that have been in contact with raw meat
  • contact with infected cat faeces (poo)
  • drinking contaminated water

To lower your risk of infection:

  • if possible — don’t handle kitty litter
  • disinfect your cat litter tray at least daily
  • don’t feed your cat raw meat
  • practice good kitchen hygiene

If you need to change the kitty litter yourself:

  • wear gloves
  • wash your hands thoroughly afterwards

Dogs and pregnancy

If you are pregnant and have a dog, try to make sure it can walk on a lead.

Exercise your dog regularly to stop it getting bored. Bored dogs can mean trouble, especially if they’re used to a more active lifestyle. Regular attention will reduce the chance of jealousy problems.

Teach your dog if any rooms in your house are going to be off-limits when your baby arrives. Also, consider training your dog to stop jumping or barking.

Pets and babies

Here are some basic rules to follow if you have both a baby and a pet:

  • Never leave your cot uncovered. This helps stop your pet finding its way to your sleeping baby.
  • Never leave your baby or toddler alone with the family pet. Toddlers might unintentionally be rough, and the pet might fight back by biting or scratching. Children under 7 years should never be left unsupervised with a pet.
  • Teach your child not to share their food with your pets.

Your baby and your pet

You must supervise all contact between your pets and your baby. If you need to leave the room, take either your pet or your baby with you.

Teach young children about pets

Young children might love animals, but they don’t know how to look after them unless you teach them what to do.

Teach your children not to approach an animal when it’s:

  • sleeping
  • eating
  • playing
  • unwell
  • in their bed or kennel

It’s also a good idea to teach your child to always ask before patting someone else’s dog.

Teach your child to be gentle with pets. If they are gentle, most pets will be gentle in return. Remember to also praise your pets when they’re interacting with your child.

Teach your child to wash their hands before eating — especially if they’ve been playing with your pet. They should also learn not to allow pets to lick their faces.

Older children and pets

When your child is old enough, encourage them to take part in caring for your pets. This can be:

  • feeding your rabbits or guinea pigs
  • walking your dog
  • cleaning your bird cage

Illnesses from pets

Children can get health problems from pets, such as:

Here are some tips on how to make this less likely:

  • Worm cats and dogs regularly.
  • Don’t allow pets to lick your child’s face.
  • Wash your child’s hands after touching your pet.
  • Dispose of pet faeces as soon as possible.
  • Cover sandpits when not in use to prevent dogs and cats from soiling (pooping) in the sand.
  • Always wash cat bites and scratches with soap and water.
  • Keep your pet free of fleas with collars, shampoos, powders or sprays.

Animals and allergies

Allergies to pets are a common cause of asthma and allergic rhinitis (hay fever).

The main source of allergen is in:

  • the sebaceous glands in cats’ skin
  • dogs’ saliva

Cat allergen can remain in your house for up to 6 months.

Allergies to rabbits, guinea pigs and birds aren’t as common as cat and dog allergies.

If your child is allergic to your pet, you may have to find it a new home.

Your doctor will be able to answer your questions about animals and how they can share your home.

Sick pets

See a vet if your pet is sick. Your vet will tell you if your pet has an illness that your child can catch.

Most pet infections aren’t passed on to humans.

Resources and support

Read the Responsible Pet Ownership Education Program booklet “We Are Family”.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2023

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