Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

PETS AND BABIES

10 tips to help prepare pets for the arrival of a new baby

We are expecting a bumper crop of babies among our relatives and neighbors in the next few months, and of course, they all have pets. With that in mind, we thought it would be a good idea to review some of the best ways to ready pets for the new kid in town and to introduce everyone safely.

Begin now to prepare your dog or cat for this momentous change in the family. While you will still love your pet as much as ever, it's a fact of life that you will have less time to spend one-on-one with him.

-- Prime your pet for the transition by making sure he has interactive toys that will keep him entertained when you are busy with the baby. Good choices include food puzzles, treat balls and other independent-play toys.

-- Your pet should be used to staying on his own. If you are in the habit of taking him with you everywhere, now is the time to cut back on that so he learns that "me time" isn't scary. Instead, give him several short playtimes or attention periods throughout the day and continue this habit after the baby arrives.

-- Take your pet to the veterinarian to make sure he is in good health and free of parasites.

-- Enlist the services of a trainer or behaviorist to help with any behavior problems -- such as jumping up on people, aggression or fear issues, or housetraining mistakes -- that you've been meaning to work on.

-- Scent is important to your pet. Accustom him now to the smell of baby products such as lotion and diaper cream. Apply them to your hands before handling your pet's toys and playing with him.

-- Introduce baby noises through the use of a CD such as "Preparing Fido." Play it at a low level, giving your pet his favorite treats, and then gradually increase the volume. The goal is for him to stay relaxed despite the unusual sounds.

-- Using a doll, practice doing "baby things" in the pet's presence, such as changing a diaper or going for a walk with a stroller. (The experience may help you feel more comfortable, too.)

-- Cat owners, you may be concerned about toxoplasmosis. You can take some simple precautions to protect yourself and your baby from this infection. Keep your cat indoors so she can't hunt and eat wild prey. Scooping the litter box once or twice a day will also minimize risk. Assign the task of scooping the litter box to your spouse or another family member. If that's not possible, simply wear disposable gloves while scooping the box and wash your hands thoroughly after discarding them. Toxoplasmosis also can be acquired from soil, so wear gloves while gardening. Finally, ask your doctor and your veterinarian about running titers on family members and your cat. You may already have immunity.

-- Once the baby is born, have your spouse or another family member take home a blanket, diaper or other item that carries the baby's scent. That person should let your pet sniff it and give him a treat and praise him as he does so. This will help him to associate the baby with good things.

-- When you come home, greet your pet first without the baby. Then with a favorite treat or toy to give, such as a stuffed Kong, let him meet Junior under your watchful eye. Always supervise interactions between pets and babies so you can teach them how to behave around each other. You'll be laying the foundation for a strong and happy relationship between your children and animals.

Q&A

Eye loss won't affect

kitten's mobility

Q: The kitten I adopted came with a bad eye infection. My veterinarian says it would be best to remove the eye, but I feel terrible doing that to him. Won't he have problems getting around? -- via Facebook

A: When we humans contemplate losing our eyesight, we think of all the terrible ways it would affect us: We couldn't drive or read or look at funny cat videos on Facebook. But a cat's visual acuity is much less than that of humans to begin with, and cats rely much less on their eyesight than we do, surprising as that may seem.

Veterinarians and cat owners are often astounded by the abilities of blind cats, especially those who lose their eyesight early in life. Even if they lack both eyes, we've seen them chase toys down the hall, jump up on kitchen counters, catch bugs and perform acrobatic feats. They are fearless explorers.

Cats who lose their vision in one or both eyes quickly adapt, learning to rely on their senses of sound and smell, as well as the tactile cues provided by their whiskers. Cats are also very good at sensing touch and vibrations, as well as changes in air movement. And a kitten's brain is very "plastic," meaning that he can still forge new neural pathways that allow him to be just as able with uniocular vision or to make greater use of other senses to compensate for a complete loss of vision.

Adult cats may not have the same brain plasticity, but they can also adjust well. If they lose an eye to trauma or glaucoma, you may see that their balance is as good as ever, but they may take a little longer than a kitten might to adjust to their new condition. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Stray cat struts

new mouthpiece

-- A University of Florida veterinarian teamed up with a UF dentist to repair the mouth of a stray Siamese mix who had a large hole in the roof of his mouth. Dr. Julie Levy found the cat in a shelter, where he was on the list to be euthanized. The hole made it difficult for him to eat and drink, and more likely to develop infections. Dr. Levy wondered if the defect could be repaired surgically, and asked dental surgeon and prosthodontist Dr. Fong Wong for help. An acrylic cast served as a temporary measure until Dr. Wong could make a permanent metal prosthesis. Now able to eat, drink and groom himself, the cat has a name -- Darryl -- and a new home, with Dr. Levy.

-- Nicknamed the "American Gentleman," the Boston terrier looks as if he's wearing black-tie, dressed as he is in black, brindle or seal with a white chest and belly. First known as "round heads" or "bullet heads," the dapper dogs eventually took the name of their birthplace, the city of Boston, where they were created from a cross between a bulldog and the now-extinct white English terrier. Bostons are smart and sassy, and they like to be the center of attention. They have a short, smooth coat that's easy to groom, and most weigh 13 to 16 pounds, although they can range up to 25 pounds.

-- Pet insurance is a $600 million industry in North America, growing at triple the pace of U.S. accident and health coverage, according to a Nov. 13 Bloomberg/Businessweek article. That leaves a lot of room for growth, however. Estimates are that just over 1 million pets in North America have health insurance, which translates to less than 1 percent of dogs and cats in the U.S.

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

CAPTIONS AND CREIDTS

Caption 01: When you're expecting a baby, prepare your pet before the birth. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: Boston terriers are one of the breeds that originated in North America. They were first bred in Boston in the 1860s and 1870s. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 2