Bringing a new pet into a household with children or introducing a baby to a home with existing pets can be a wonderful experience, but it requires careful planning and consideration. It’s essential to prepare the pet, the child, and the household to keep everyone safe and happy.

If you’re expecting a baby and already have pets in your house, now is the time to focus on them. Does your dog react to loud noises? Does he pull on the leash while walking? Has he been around small children or crying babies? Is he anxious when you leave the house or the room? If your dog or cat has anxiety, especially around noises, quick-moving small objects (that baby will crawl sooner than you think), or when being left alone, now is the time to work on that. Your veterinarian can prescribe anti-anxiety medication that can help with the transition when you bring your baby home. While going for a walk, if your dog pulls on the leash or reacts to other dogs, people, cars, etc., working with a dog trainer is imperative if you want to walk your dog and the stroller at the same time. Be sure to use a trainer that uses positive reinforcement—you don’t want your dog to associate a shock collar with the baby.

It’s important to understand your pet’s body language. Cats and dogs give warning signs before they bite or scratch, although signs can be very subtle. Some cats become overstimulated by petting and will put their ears down. This is not the time to keep petting. Dogs will growl, bare their teeth, or just lift their lip when they feel threatened. By understanding how your pet signals that they’ve had enough, you’ll be better able to separate pet and child before a bite happens.

Get your pet’s wellness exam and vaccinations (especially rabies) updated before bringing a baby home. Take in a fresh poop sample to make sure the pet doesn’t have any parasites that could be transmitted to the baby. If you have an older pet, that could be painful; now is the time to get something to help them be comfortable. This is also an ideal time to tell your veterinarian about the new baby and ask questions about your pet’s behavior.

Before you bring the baby home to your pets, bring a dirty diaper or piece of clothing home so the pet can become familiar with the new scent. Have yummy treats around to give the dog when they’re sitting quietly near you and the baby. Additional walks and cuddles without the baby will also be appreciated.

If you’re bringing a new dog or cat into a home with kids, teach your kids about appropriate behavior around pets. Get books that show children sitting and gently petting their dog or cat. Kissing and hugging a pet can cause anxiety in the pet, so have small children pet with just one hand and make sure they don’t grab fur, ears, paws, or tails. For older children, they can ask the pet for consent to petting. Have them stop petting and see if the dog or cat leans in for more. Explain that they can’t chase the pet and that if the dog or cat moves away, the pet is telling the child to leave them alone.

Having an area where a pet can go to get away, like a cat tree or dog crate, is important. This area should be off-limits to the child. Everybody needs their personal space respected. This includes their food bowl. Would you like it if someone grabbed your food while you were eating? Leave pets alone while they eat or have a chew toy. If you try to stick your hands in their food or take a toy away from them, the puppy is much more likely to start guarding their food.

Whether you’re introducing a new baby to a pet or vice versa, the most important thing is supervision. Never leave a young child alone with a pet, even if you have the most docile 15-year-old golden retriever in the world. A misplaced pat on a painful hip, a pulled tail or fur, or an accidental fall on the dog can cause that dog to react with a bite. Cats will generally run away when they feel threatened, but if they can’t get away (say, if their tail is being held), they will scratch and bite.

Similarly, don’t put your pet in a position that could be dangerous. Don’t lay your baby on the dog in hopes of a cute photograph; don’t let your toddler ride on the dog’s back; and don’t allow your toddler to walk around the house holding food the dog could easily snatch, inadvertently biting the fingers.

Even with the best supervision, bites can happen. Should your child get bitten, it’s crucial to stay calm. Panicking will increase the anxiety of the child and the pet, potentially making the situation worse. Immediately wash the bite wound with soap and water then apply a bandage. Contact your doctor for advice on whether further medical attention is needed.

A positive relationship between children and pets can be so rewarding, promoting empathy, responsibility, and companionship, but it takes work and supervision to keep everyone happy and safe. By following these tips and better understanding your pet’s cues, you can create a wonderful environment for all family members, both furry and human.

Lori Scarlett, DVM is the owner and veterinarian at Four Lakes Veterinary Clinic. For more information, visit