As every new parent knows, there’s no shortage of folksy, unsolicited advice out there. Although some of these tips are helpful, others range from annoying (if you “sleep when the baby sleeps,” when, exactly, do you get a shower?) to downright dangerous (Grandma’s magic teething whiskey, for instance).
When it comes to babies and pets, there’s some particularly questionable “wisdom” dished out to parents. If you’re preparing to add a new member to the family, beware of these common myths—not only are they false, but they can lead to unsafe interactions.
Your Pet “Knows” There’s a Baby on The Way
We like to think that our pets understand us on a deeper level, but in truth, they have no sixth sense about a pregnancy, say the experts.
“Pets often act strangely when their owners are pregnant, as if they can sense the change, but they don’t understand that the change will result in a new human in the home,” says veterinarian Stephanie Liff, medical director Pure Paws Veterinary Clinic in Manhattan.
Your cat doesn’t know that you’re about to welcome a baby—but he does know there’s a Pack ‘N Play blocking his favorite window. As nice as it would be to think that your dog is celebrating with the family, he’s more likely anxious about the sudden change in household routines.
With this in mind, take measures to lessen your pets’ anxiety during this hectic transition period. Try to stick to established routines and schedules, and introduce new furniture and baby gear into your home slowly. When you bring home the baby, remember that your little one will be a big surprise to your four-legged family members. “It’s important to remember that this is a stressful time for you and your pet, so go slowly and be patient,” says Liff.
For a step-by-step guide to introducing babies and pets, read our guide.
If You’re Pregnant, You Have to Get Rid of Your Cat
Every so often, a panic about toxoplasmosis—a rare parasitic disease that can be transmitted through cat feces and, more frequently, undercooked meats—makes its way through the morning news circuit. Although the infection poses a serious risk to unborn babies, pregnant women do not, as some have suggested, have to surrender their cats.
Instead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that pregnant women have another family member clean the litter box. When this isn’t possible, women should wear disposable gloves, then wash their hands with soap and warm water after coming into contact with the litter box, advises the CDC. Additionally, all household cats should be kept indoors, and pregnant women should avoid adopting new cats or handling strays.
Your Baby Will Be “Part of the Pack”
If you’re nervous about introducing a new baby into the home, you may have heard this well-meaning piece of advice: “Don’t worry, your baby will be part of the pack—your dog will treat him as his own.”
Maybe—but then again, maybe not. The arrival of a baby won’t magically transform your nippy, ill-tempered shih tzu into Lassie.
“I find it’s very dependent on the dog,” says Shelby Semel, a New York City-based trainer and canine behavior expert. “I’ve seen dogs treat the baby like one of the family, even so much as becoming protective over the baby. Others want little to nothing to do with the baby and keep to themselves. Some will be stressed with the change in routine and lack of attention, but not always.”
Instead of assuming things will go smoothly, Semel recommends addressing any behavior issues and training needs before the baby arrives. Then, on homecoming day, make sure to properly introduce your dog and his new sibling. Going forward, consult with your veterinarian and a trainer if problems arise.
Some Dogs Make Great “Nannies”
You may have heard the one about pit bulls and Rottweilers being employed as “nanny dogs” throughout the ages. While it’s true that the unfairly maligned breeds have historically been considered family-friendly pets, there’s no evidence that these dogs—or any dogs—were entrusted with the care of babies.
Poodle or pittie, don’t assume that it’s OK to leave your baby and dog alone together. Although Instagram loves a photo of a pooch snuggling his little best friend, babies—with their flailing limbs and loud noises—can be unsettling for dogs, and the strength of a dog can be dangerous around little ones.
“Every pet is different, but in general, babies shouldn’t be left completely unattended with a pet,” says Liff. “Even the kindest dog could upset a baby if they lick them, take food from their hands, or knock them over with a wagging tail.”
Cats Want to Smother Babies
Whereas dogs tend to be given too much credit when it comes to babies, cats are often vilified. Old wives’ tales abound about jealous cats sneaking into cribs and intentionally suffocating babies, allegedly lured by the scent of milk. Urban legends about evil cats have been circulating since Victorian England, when a coroner determined that a cat sucked the breath out of an infant.
Although cats may show an unusual amount of interest in a crib, it’s not because of any sinister motives. Instead, it’s simply second nature for a cat to poke around a new soft, comfortable area. “Cats are curious, so any new furniture will initiate exploration,” says Liff.
Regardless, the American Society of Pediatrics’ safe-sleep recommendations certainly don’t include snuggling up with a cat—or, for that matter, anything—so it’s important to ensure that your baby isn’t sharing his crib with any feline friends.