The late Christopher Hitchens, on pets:
Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are god.
I own both a cat and a dog. This places me in a rather uncomfortable position, theologically.
I cannot speak with any authority on the divinity of my cat, or my own divinity with respect to my dog. But I can make a comment or two about their relationship with babies, particularly as it concerns sleeping.
Pets and Sleeping: the Myths
Cats and humans have had a tumultuous relationship, at least since the late middle ages. About this time, our feline friends became objects of distrust or worse, as they became associated with witches. If a cat came to your window after you brought a baby home, legend said, it meant a witch had sent her “familiar spirit” to case the joint, as it were. Such visits usually did not end well for the cat.
Because historical memory is long and legends die hard, we all still feel a little uncomfortable with the idea of a cat and a sleeping baby. Today, it is generally believed that a cat is likely to jump into the bassinet or the crib and smother the baby.
Need a SLEEP COACH?
I know of no case reports of cats smothering babies. Sadly and tragically, infants do die of suffocation in their cribs, but the cause of death is due to bedding or other (inanimate) objects in the crib. Despite the Myth of the Smothering Cat, the official recommendation, even from the ASPCA, is that cats and other pets be kept out of the nursery.
Another myth is that your cat will mistake the crying baby for a rival cat and will attack the baby as a result. Again, there is no evidence of this whatsoever. A cat may investigate the source of crying, but only because of innate curiosity. The baby would always be fine. We know where how well the proverbial curiosity served the cat!
Dogs and Sleeping Babies
Dog owners may be concerned that the dog may try to harm the baby, particularly while she sleeps. This may be more of a concern when the dog in question is herself a puppy and/or has not yet been trained.
I tell clients that their dogs are extremely unlikely to hurt their babies on purpose; they could, however, hurt the baby by accident. Puppies are enthusiastic and don’t know yet how to modulate their enthusiasm around humans, who, they learn, don’t play as rough as other dogs. For this reason, it’s best to keep the dog and the baby separated, particularly if the former is young and rambunctious.
- I don’t recommend leaving a cat or or a dog alone with a baby. This isn’t because I believe that pets will harm your baby if given a chance. Pets can be thought of the same way we think of some baby toys. We should keep at least one eye on the baby while she’s playing with it, just in case.
- Pets should be kept out of the nursery or the parents’ bedroom, as the case may be. You already have your hands full attending to the needs of the baby. Attention to a needy animal only adds to your stress.
- In light of the above, if you are expecting a baby and the animal already has the habit of sleeping with you, this would a good time to re-train the animal to sleep elsewhere!
- If the baby is born in a hospital, it’s a good idea to bring home a receiving blanket that smells like baby so that the animal will be already familiar with the new baby when she comes home.
- Always introduce the baby to the pets. Do not force either party to “say hello”, but spend a lot of calm, peaceful time allowing them to become acquainted with each other. Of course, these meetings are always “chaperoned”.
Your pets may become the best friends, and protectors, your baby will have for a long time. Observe a few simple safety rules and you will be glad you did.