August 30, 2022

Did you know that Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world? It’s estimated that almost two thirds of Australian households have a pet today, with dogs the most common choice.


There are many benefits of having children and pets together; they can teach children about caring for another living being and create a trusted, nurturing bond… so much so that it’s not uncommon for children to share their secrets and bedtime stories with their pets!


However, children 0-4 years of age are the highest risk age group for serious dog attack injuries requiring hospital treatment. The large majority of these injuries happen in the child’s own home or at a friend or family member’s house, which means children are commonly injured by their own dog or a dog they know.

So how can you best prepare your pet for the arrival of a new baby?

The good news is that there are some simple things you can do to help ensure that interactions between your pet and children are fun and safe.

Preparing your pet

Fur babies are often integrated into our lives long before the arrival of children, so bringing a new baby into the home signifies a big change for our pets.

Animals are creatures of habit, so integrating a change of behaviour and routine as soon as you know a baby is on the way will help give them time to adjust and ensure a smooth transition.

Some practical ways you can prepare your pet for the change in their daily lives include:

  • Babies take up a lot of our time and, as a Mum, you might be breastfeeding at all hours of the day and night. Where possible, your partner should take over all pet care duties such as feeding, exercise, play and hygiene.
  • Get your pets used to being alone for varied periods every day, even if you are at home.
  • Baby noises can be confronting and a little scary for our pets, so getting them used to these new sounds can be a good idea. One helpful way to overcome this issue is to play a recording of baby noises at different volumes to help your pet adapt and become comfortable with their new, wonderful world of babies.
  • If you intend to walk your dog with the baby in a pram, you should practise this before your baby arrives. Teach your dog to walk by the side of the pram but never tie your dog’s lead to the pram.

Preparing your home

There will also be a range of changes to make to your home environment – or your pet’s home if they currently rule the house! – to help ensure your pet and baby have safe spaces to sleep, eat and play. Some things to consider include:

  • You may need to change your pet’s sleeping arrangements. Your pet will take time to adjust, so ensuring the new sleeping area is safe, cosy, and warm is very important.
  • Set up ‘pet free’ areas in your home through the use of baby gates and barriers.
  • If your pets travel with you in the car, you may need to re-organise the seating arrangements to ensure they are safely secured and separated from your baby.

The first meeting

Bringing your new baby home and introducing them to your beloved pets is an exciting time, and the first six months can make a world of difference to their relationship.

Some ways to help make sure their first meeting is successful and safe include:

  • Greet the pets without the baby first. A new mother looks and smells different to the last time the pets saw her when she was pregnant.
  • Wait until everyone is relaxed and settled before you introduce the new baby.
  • Bring the dog in on a leash. Allow the dog (or cat) to approach mum and smell the baby. As part of this process, you may wish to unwrap the baby’s feet so the dog can smell them.
  • Never force your pet to meet the baby. If they are not comfortable, stop and try another time.

A growing bond

As your child grows and becomes mobile, it brings about a whole new world for your pet. This once static being can now follow them around and will look to play and interact with them more, including at times when they may want to be left alone.

This stage also brings about a whole new world for you – while in the past you would have been most concerned with ensuring your pet couldn’t reach your baby, you now also need to make sure your toddler’s access to your pet and their belongings is restricted too.

The best way to help ensure that ongoing interactions between your child and pets are safe is to follow the supervise or separate rule – if you can’t be there to actively watch, it’s safest to separate them.

No matter how much they love each other, all kids and pets will need a break from each other at some stage during the day – to help separate them, it’s a good idea to set up a pet free zone where your child can play safely, and a child free zone where you pet can play and relax.

There are some high-risk times when pets and children should always be separated, including when your dog or child is sleeping or eating, and when your dog is playing with toys, unwell, injured on their bed or in their kennel.

As your children get older, it’s important to teach them about boundaries and how to safely interact with pets – the best way to start is by modelling safe behaviours in the way you interact with your pet.

Choosing the right pet for your family

We’ve discussed those of us who already had fur babies before their human baby’s arrival, but what if you’re considering bringing a pet into your family?

From dogs, to cats, fish, chickens and even alpacas, there are a wide range of options. It’s important to plan carefully to find the pet that best suits not only your family, but also your lifestyle and your living arrangements.

If you’ve decided a dog is the right fit for you, check out the RSPCA’s handy Puppy Guide which has been created to help you make the right decisions for you and your potential new best friend.

3 tips for a successful child/pet relationship

  • Take the time to prepare your dog for the arrival of a new baby
  • Always actively supervise children and pets
  • Set up a pet free zone for your child and a child free zone for your pet

For more information check out the Victorian Government’s ‘We are Family’ resource and our Dogs and Kids fact sheet.