No matter how much you plan ahead, the addition of a new family member may be difficult for your pet. Remember, your dog or cat was your first “baby” and is used to being the centre of your attention. So it is understandable that (s)he may experience something similar to sibling rivalry when you introduce a new human baby into your household.
You can minimize this feeling by working with your pet before you bring home the new baby. For example, because your new baby will demand a lot of your time and energy, gradually accustom your pet to spending less time with you. Drastically decreasing attention and frequently scolding, ignoring or isolation your pet after the baby comes home will likely make your pet feel stressed. If your pet is particularly attached to the mother-to-be, another family member should develop a closer relationship with the animal. That way, the pet can still feel loved and provided for while mom is busy with the baby.
How Can I Prepare My Pet?
Below are several suggestions to make introducing your pet and baby safer and smoother for everyone involved. Try to carry out these changes months before the baby’s arrival to best prepare your pet.
- Take your pet to the veterinarian for a routine health exam and necessary vaccinations.
- Spay or neuter your pet. Not only do sterilized pets typically have fewer health problems, but they are also calmer and less likely to bite.
- Address any pet training and behaviour issues. If your pet exhibits fear and anxiety, now is the time to get help from an animal behaviour specialist. If your pet’s behaviour includes gently nibbling, pouncing or swatting at you or others, redirect that behaviour to appropriate objects.
- Consider enrolling in a training class with your dog and practice training techniques. Training allows you to safely and humanely control your dog’s behaviour and enhances the bond between you and your pet.
- Train your pet to remain calmly on the floor beside you until you invite him on your lap.
- Get your pet used to having nail trims.
- Minimize changes to your pet’s routine and living area. Big changes, such as redecorating a room, should be done early, so your pet has time to adjust to the new surroundings.
- Discourage your pet from jumping on the baby’s crib and changing table by applying double-stick tape to the furniture.
- If the baby’s room will be off-limits to your pet, install a sturdy barrier such as a removable gate or, for jumpers, even a screen door. Because these barriers still allow your pet to see and hear what’s happening in the room, (s)he will feel less isolated from the family and more comfortable with the new baby noises.
- Accustom your pet to baby-related noises months before the baby is expects. For example, play recordings of a baby crying, turn on the mechanical infant swing and use the rocking chair. Make these positive experiences for your pet by offering a treat or playtime.
- Use a baby doll to help your pet used to the real thing. Carry around a swaddled baby doll, take the doll in the stroller when you walk your dog and use the doll to get your pet used to routine baby activities, such as bathing and diaper changing.
- Encourage friends with infants to visit your home to accustom your pet to babies. Be sure to supervise all pet and infant interactions.
- Talk to your pet about the baby, using the baby’s name if you have selected one. Sprinkle baby powder or baby oil on your skin so your pet becomes familiar with the new smells.
- Plan ahead to make sure your pet gets proper care while you are at the hospital.
What Do We Do after Baby is Born?
Welcoming a new baby is exciting for your family. Here are some suggestions to try out before bringing baby home.
- Have your partner or friend take home something with the baby’s scent, such as a blanket, for your pet to investigate. Both dogs and cats will have a chance to become familiar with the new scents and to recognize them as normal.
- When you return from the hospital, your pet may be eager to greet you and receive your attention. Have someone else take the baby into another room while you give your pet a warm, but calm, welcome. Keep some treats handy so you can distract your pet.
- Spend time with your pet and baby together. Speak to your pet as you feed or change diapers. Reward your pet with treats for appropriate behaviour. Remember, you want your pet to view associating with the baby as a positive experience. To prevent anxiety or injury, never force your pet to get near the baby and always supervise any interaction.
- Try to maintain regular routines as much as possible to help your pet adjust. Be sure to spend one-on-one quality time with your pet each day – it may help relax you, too.
- Give your pet a place to go that is quiet and secluded. It will give your pet a place to rest, away from the excitement.
- Suspected allergies to pets may really be allergies to other household items, such as laundry detergents and new foods. If your child shows symptoms of allergies, consult your doctor.
Remember: Never leave your pet and child alone, no matter your child’s age. This will protect your child from an exuberant pet and protect your pet from an enthusiastic child.
With proper training, supervision and adjustments, you, your new baby and your pet should be able to live together safely and happily as one, big family!