This week two of my colleagues wrote about studies linking dog ownership to healthy babies. Kristina Chew wrote that having a dog may help prevent your baby from developing asthma and Cathryn Wellner wrote that babies in homes with dogs have fewer respiratory tract symptoms and infections, fewer middle-ear infections and fewer courses of antibiotics.
That is, of course, great news for dog lovers who worry about their dog licking the baby. It also provides excellent ammunition for parents who want to respond to judgmental or concerned comments about the effect of their “dirty dog” on the baby’s health. These studies are not, however, a good reason to go out and get a dog.
Dogs need a lot of attention and care. They need to be walked, fed, played with, bathed and loved. Babies need a lot of attention. They need to be fed, changed, bathed, and loved. Even in families that already have a well loved dog when baby arrives, this can be a challenge.
On babycenter, Jennifer Borget wrote a letter to her dog Snoop:
I witnessed a sad scene with some of my friends and their pets. They’d start out overly loving to their fur babies, but it would all change once a human baby came along. The pet became an annoying hassle. I saw many friends give their pets away and tell me someday this would be me. I swore up and down nothing would change when a baby came along. We’d still love and treat you just the same.
Well, that was a lie.
The dog did, however, get more attention a few years later once the child was old enough to be a playmate.
On The Stir, Nicole wrote about the adjustments they would have to make to their “spoiled puppy’s” comfortable life:
My husband has already suggested putting him on the floor in his dog bed at night, as opposed to in our bed, since there will be a baby in our room, also. That’s not happening. But things are about to get a little crowded. I know Onion. He’s a curious guy. And when I’m up feeding my daughter in bed in the middle of the night, he’s going to want to know what’s going on and whether or not he can, somehow, turn whatever I’m doing into a game. A tail-wagging, barking game.
On Offbeat Mama, Rodrigues wrote about the way that her dog, Sarah, took a backseat to the baby even though she hadn’t intended it that way:
When I became pregnant for the first time, I promised myself that Sarah would still be a cornerstone in my life; no matter who else entered. At first I kept my promise. I took Sarah and baby Jonah on a walk every day. I sat on the living room floor and played with Sarah and Jonah. I tied Sarah to a tree and put Jonah in his bouncer outside, and we all enjoyed our yard together. But somewhere between a cross-country move, another baby, and two college degrees, Sarah took baby steps toward the omega position.
While I wasn’t neglecting Sarah on any grand scale, I knew I was neglecting her in my own standard of care. Not only that, but she had traveled through rough waters with me; she deserved to spend the last years of her life enjoying my appreciation. I sulked for while over what a terrible dog-friend I was.
These parents concerns were not about germs or dirt that the dogs might pass on to their babies. Their concern, and their experience, was that the dog simply got neglected once the baby arrived. Their human baby took precedence over their fur baby.
My advice to parents: If you have a dog that you love, great. I’m sure you’ll find a way to get past the concerns that these dog owners expressed and find a way to balance the role of your baby in your life with the role of your dog in your life. But if you don’t have a dog, please don’t rush out and get one just for the health benefits for your baby. That isn’t likely to work out well for anyone.
Photo credit: Aaron E. Silvers on flickr