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Bringing Home Baby – How To Help Your Cat Cope With The New Arrival

Congratulations!  You’ve just found out that you’re pregnant and can’t help but share the good news with all of your friends and family.  Everyone is overjoyed, but then the questions start – How long will you be taking off work?  Do you have any names picked out?  And what are you going to do with your cat??  You’ve probably already received plenty of opinions as people offer advice about problems that you didn’t even know you had.  Fortunately, your feline friend doesn’t have to be a source of stress, and may in fact be one of your most faithful companions every step of the way.  Here are some tips to help ease the transition for both you and your cat and hopefully help separate fact from fiction... During Pregnancy
  • One of the things that often gets brought up when discussing cats and babies is toxoplasmosis.  A zoonotic disease (in other words, transmissible to humans) that is sometimes spread by the faeces of cats, toxoplasmosis results in many cats needlessly ending up in shelters each year through fear and a lack of education.  The disease can have serious effects on the unborn child if the mother happens to contract it during pregnancy, so do talk to your doctor about your concerns, but in reality the disease is extremely rare and easily prevented.  Avoid consuming undercooked meat or unpasteurised milk (another source of infection), which is common sense for pregnancy in general.  Wear gloves when gardening or handling anything else that may be used by cats as a toilet.  And if your cat uses a litter tray inside, it’s the perfect excuse to have your partner take over the charming task of cleaning it!
[caption id="attachment_1157" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Cats like somewhere soft to sleep! Just remove any fur they leave behind with a clothes brush or sticky roller."]Cats like somewhere soft to sleep! Just remove any fur they leave behind with a clothes brush or sticky roller.[/caption]
  • Babies require a lot of stuff, and all the new toys can be just as interesting for your cat as they will be for your future child.  To help your cat adjust to the changes in his environment, try introducing him to some of the new items as you set up your nursery.  Cats should be discouraged from sleeping in cots and prams (covering them with netting, crinkly plastic or aluminium foil can help), but it’s not the end of the world if you do spot them there.
  • You may also consider getting them used to the sounds and smells of a baby by using recorded baby noises and allowing them to sniff scented baby products, or having friends’ babies come around the house.  When introducing anything that the cat may find particularly stressful such as the sound of crying, start by playing it quietly and for short periods of time, gradually increasing until they have been conditioned to the new stimulus.  Lots of petting and small food treats can help keep the experience positive for them.  The more familiar they are with the baby’s environment, the easier the transition will be when you add the baby.
After the Birth
  • Although extremely curious by nature, cats are also creatures of habit and feel most comfortable when they have a routine.  It may be difficult in the first few months, but try to keep your cat’s routine as constant as possible.  Feeding times should stay the same, and don’t forget to fill the water bowl each day. If they’re used to brushing and play time, try to keep up with that as well, again don’t forget to enlist your partner for help!  Suddenly being ignored can be stressful and could lead to behavioural problems.  But at the same time don’t overcompensate and pay them more attention than they are used to as this can be just as confusing.
  • Let’s face it, babies are stressful and sometimes we just need to get away from it all.  Your cat is no different, so be sure to allow your cat plenty of alone time.  If they want to hide under the bed for the first few days or weeks, that’s OK, they will come out when they feel safe (but talk to your vet if their behaviour becomes alarmingly abnormal or they refuse to eat or drink).  If they are allowed outside, make sure they always have access to the cat flap or if they do stay inside, make sure there is a quiet space they can retreat to if they feel the need.
[caption id="attachment_1172" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Once your cat gets used to the new arrival they may begin to enjoy your little one's company - and vice versa."]Once your cat gets used to the new arrival they may begin to enjoy your little one's company - and vice versa.[/caption]

  • Most cats will view the new baby with interest and curiosity, and perhaps a bit of healthy fear.  It is extremely uncommon for cats to show outright aggression towards babies, but until you know how your cat will react, it is best to have their first meetings closely supervised.  As they become better acquainted, you may even find that your cat enjoys their company and will snuggle up with them as they would with you and that’s ok!  Some people needlessly worry about the cat suffocating the baby, but if you think about it, it’s nearly impossible though do certainly keep them separate during nap times.  And if your child is going to have an allergy to the cat you’ll figure that out pretty quickly, again not worth worrying about unless you happen to be one of the unlucky few that it affects.
As with any issue regarding members of your family, especially small children, if you have any concerns always seek the guidance of your GP.  Do also consult your veterinary surgeon, as they will likely have loads of advice on how to ease the transition.  Keep up to date with your cat’s vaccines and particularly deworming, as some types of worms can be spread to humans (particularly little humans that crawl on the floor and put less than desirable objects in their mouths...).  As your baby grows into a toddler and beyond, it is important that you teach them how to interact nicely and gently with your cat to avoid pulled tails and retaliatory scratches.  Of course by the time your child hits the terrible twos, the cat will be the least of your concerns!
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Choosing a first family pet.

Most children love animals, and there are many benefits from owning one. Apart from the fun and companionship, caring for an animal can help give children a sense of responsibility. On the other hand, children can become bored with things quickly when the novelty wears off, so adults always need to be prepared to take overall responsibility for a pet. Choosing the right pet for your family’s lifestyle can make it more likely that the children will stay involved and that their relationship with their pet will be a fulfilling one. The basic welfare needs of all pets are that they should be provided with a suitable environment and diet, the right health care as needed, be kept with others or apart from others (depending on species), and be allowed to exhibit normal behaviour patterns. These basic rights are a legal requirement under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Different animals have very different needs however, so it is worth doing some research before deciding which pet would best suit your family. Dogs The most popular pet in Britain for many years (although now being caught up by cats), dogs are also amongst the most time consuming and expensive to keep. It is not fair to leave a dog alone at home for long periods, so this would make it unsuitable if everyone is out at work all day, unless a reliable dog walker was used. As well as needing company and exercise, dogs need time spent on training, and grooming if long-haired. Having a garden and somewhere close by for exercise would be ideal. Expenses would include food, vaccinations, neutering and other vets bills, grooming or clipping and boarding kennels or dog-sitters. Dogs come in all shapes and sizes so the traits of different breeds should also be considered. If a dog is your choice of pet, you can expect years of fun and loyalty. Cats The independent nature of cats means that they are not quite as reliant on humans as dogs. With a cat flap or a cat litter tray and food available, they can be left for a number of hours, but most cats still enjoy human company. Not all cats like to be lap cats though, so their enjoyment of your company may be on their own terms! This very independence of character is part of the appeal to a cat lover. They also exercise themselves, but long-haired cats need daily grooming. Expenses to consider would be vaccinations, neutering and other veterinary bills, cattery fees. Rabbits The number of pet rabbits in the UK goes up all the time, and many now live more like cats and dogs than in the traditional hutch. Rabbits can be litter-trained like cats and can make very good house pets. They are not always ideally suited for children though, as they may resent being picked up and scratch or kick. To keep them in good health they should have the correct diet, vaccinations and in some cases, neutering. They need daily attention to ensure they do not suffer from problems like fly strike or overgrown teeth. Caged animals In general, these animals take more time to look after than you might think. Cleaning out cages can be quite time-consuming and can reduce the amount of time spent handling and interacting with the pet. The smallest furry animals can be very quick and a bit nippy, making them less suitable for young children. My own personal favourites in this group would be guinea pigs and rats, but we are probably all influenced by which pets we grew up with ourselves. Guinea Pigs These make very good pets and are easy to handle and sociable. They need the right diet (especially a source of vitamin C) and as with all caged animals they need their home to be regularly cleaned. They like to have a companion of the same gender. Hamsters The biggest drawback with hamsters is that they tend to be nocturnal, so they may be asleep when you want to play with them and active during the night. They need to be handled very carefully and very frequently to keep them used to handling. If they get ignored for a while they become reluctant to co-operate and will bite. Cages need regular cleaning. A hamster’s lifespan is only about 2 years. Ferrets These are interesting and entertaining animals, which have a longer lifespan than many other small furries. They can have a strong smell, especially the males. Females need to be spayed to prevent health problems. Ferrets can be prone to disease of the adrenal glands requiring hormonal treatment. Rats Another animal which I think makes a great pet if well kept and well handled. They are intelligent and like to play and interact with humans. They do like to live with a companion rat of the same gender. Fish These can be enchanting and relaxing to watch but there isn’t any opportunity for handling as with other pets. The initial expense of setting up a tank is quite high. They can be ideal pets for a family with little space and no garden. Birds Many different species are kept as pets, either caged or in an aviary. Caged birds can be tamed and handled and allowed out of the cage to interact with the family, while birds kept in an aviary can enjoy having room to fly. Specialist knowledge is needed to offer the best conditions as different species of birds have very different requirements. Exotic Pets Snakes, reptiles and others require very special environments which are secure and have controllable temperature, light and humidity. They also require very special diets to keep healthy and should not be considered good first time pets. Some grow to a very large size which would make them impractical for many people to look after. If you want to know more about the care needed by a particular type of pet, most veterinary surgeries will be happy to advise. It is also worth remembering that some of the worries about expense can be eased by taking out pet insurance. This is not just for dogs and cats but is also available for rabbits, birds and exotics. Note from editor: The PDSA have a fun interactive 'Pet Finder' tool that is very helpful.
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In praise of the Guinea Pig

guinea_pigI love Guinea Pigs, I think they are fabulous little creatures, friendly, full of character and very easy to keep.  I recently did some work for a vets based at the back of a large pet store and one of the highlights of my day was walking past the Guinea Pigs and watching them all running about! Guinea Pigs make great pets but are particularly good for children. They are easy to handle and calm when held, in contrast to rabbits, who although very cute to look at, can cause nasty scratches if they wriggle in your arms.  They are easy to tame and rarely bite, unlike hamsters, who can nip if they are disturbed and are not used to being handled.  Guinea Pigs are also great pets to do things for; make them a little house from an up-turned shoebox and they will be straight in there; pop in a couple of toilet rolls and they will get to work shredding them immediately, another reason why I think they are so good for children, who will be delighted their efforts are well received. Guinea Pigs are very sociable creatures and will soon learn to 'talk' to you when you appear with their dinner!  They should be kept with at least one other of their own kind and watching them play is a great distraction.  However, although Guinea Pigs and Rabbits are often kept together, it is not an ideal pairing.  Not only are their dietary requirements different but rabbits can often bully the Pigs and sometimes cause nasty bites.  Also, rabbits can carry a bacteria which doesn't affect them but can cause flu like symptoms in guinea pigs. Guinea Pigs are easy, and cheap, to keep and, as long as they are looked after well, tend to be relatively healthy.  They should be fed a diet consisting of a majority of good quality hay, a small amount of pelleted Guinea Pig food and a daily amount of fresh vegetables.  These, and the Guinea Pig food, are particularly important as, like humans, they cannot make Vitamin C in their bodies.  They cope equally well outdoors or indoors but they should always have enough room to have a good run about and be provided with different toys to keep their interest.  They should be handled and played with everyday as they thrive on human contact and interaction. I don't see many Pigs in my consultations (much to my disappointment!), particularly not for the number of them there are out there.  The biggest issues they have are fur mites, which can make them very itchy, or dental problems.  It is difficult to prevent the mites and some pigs are very sensitive to them (it is quite common to see two together where one is badly affected and the other is fine).  However, they are easily treated with medications and anti-mite spot-ons (just like the kind used for cats and dogs) from your vet and these spot-on products can be used to ward off infestations, which can be a good idea for those Pigs who are vulnerable.  The majority of dental problems are caused by over-grown teeth; Guinea Pig's teeth grow continually and can develop nasty spikes if they are not fed correctly.  A Pigs diet should consist of at least 80% hay, the tough woody stems help to keep the teeth ground down and the correct shape. So, if you are looking for a new pet who will be a great companion without being too much trouble, who will be less wriggly than a Rabbit, more handle-able than a Hamster and less giddy than a Gerbil, why not try a Guinea pig?! Cat is the resident vet at Pet Street