Pet dogs

Preparing your pet for a new baby: What to do

Your pets are a part of your family. A recent study in Humanity & Society showed that women are twice as likely as men to think of themselves as parents to their “fur babies.

So, your pampered pet might be in for a surprise when you decide to add a human baby to your family. Some pets take to their new role with joy, smelling, snuggling with and watching over the baby.

However, not all pets have such an easy transition. When your pet is no longer the center of your attention, it may go through a range of emotions, such as:

  • Fear of the baby’s noises
  • Jealousy, acting out by making messes, chewing the baby’s things, or biting or scratching
  • Sadness, such as refusing to eat

It’s tough to predict how your pet will behave around the new baby. Even the most mild-mannered pets sometimes have surprising reactions. However, there are steps you can take to start preparing your four-legged friend during your pregnancy.

Preparing Your Pet

Start with Small Steps

Dogs have extremely sensitive noses, and scent is the major sense with which they interact with their surroundings. If possible, ask a familiar friend or loved one to let your pet smell a blanket or piece of clothing with the baby’s scent on it before you bring the baby home. Having a little familiarity with the baby’s smell may make their first meeting a little smoother.

Give Your Pet Space

The American Kennel Club (AKC) suggests setting up a special area in your home that is your pet’s getaway if they need to relax. For example, your dog might treat his kennel like his sanctuary, or your cat might have a special spot on your bed or a closed-off area for their litter box. Make these spots off-limits to babies and visitors.

Reward Good Behavior

Give your pet a treat when they interact positively with the new baby. For example, if they smell the baby gently and walk away or lie down under the crib. Also give your pet a treat if they follow your command to go to their kennel or safe spot if they need a time out. Reinforcing good behavior can be much more effective in the long term than punishing poor behavior.

It might even help to play recordings of baby noises in tandem with treats before you bring your little one home. This way, your pet will associate the noise with something positive.

If your dog has difficulty following directions, consider enrolling them in obedience classes while you’re still pregnant. You may want to consider teaching your dog these commands before the baby comes:

  • Sit
  • Stay
  • Leave it
  • Come
  • No jumping up
  • No getting on furniture
  • No sleeping in bed with you

Set New Boundaries

During pregnancy, decide what pet behavior is acceptable around the new baby. For example, will you allow your cat or dog in the nursery? Is it ok if the pet lies near or touches the baby? The answers will depend on your comfort level and how your pet reacts to the baby.

That said, we do recommend that you teach your dog not to lick the baby. Even the most affectionate dogs have mouths full of germs. While a little contact is probably unavoidable, it’s a good idea to teach your dog that licking is a no-no.

Setting up your baby’s nursery is a great way to ease pets into what’s to come. Some people even like teaching their pets that this part of the house is off-limits. It is important to make changes early so your pet can get used to them before bringing home your new bundle of joy.

Mix up Your Routine

When you welcome a new member of your family into your home, everything changes, not for just you but your pet as well. Your furry friend’s morning walk might turn into naptime while you feed your newborn.

Consider switching up your pet’s schedule before you bring home the baby. That way, they can adjust without the added stress of a new, potentially noisy family member. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® ASPCA recommends introducing common sounds and smells associated with babies before your due date. 

Manage Your Emotions

Pets tend to pick up on our anxiety and fear. Stress and anxiety may rise during pregnancy as you are preparing your home for the new baby. Make time to rest, relax and snuggle with your pet. The calmer you are, the more likely they are to be calm as well.

Your Pet’s and Baby’s First Meeting

When you get home with the new baby, ASPCA recommends greeting your pet as you always do. After your pet calms down, make sure someone can restrain them if needed (such as putting your dog on a leash). Then, slowly carry in your baby.

Choose a calm, quiet room in your house to sit and hold your baby. Have someone else bring your pet in on a leash. Talk to your pet calmly to help convince them this is fun, not stressful. If your pet seems friendly, the person holding the leash can bring your pet closer to investigate and maybe even sniff their baby sibling. Remember to praise good behavior!

If your pet appears irritated or anxious, give them time in their kennel or safe spot and try introducing them again in a few days. All interactions between your infant and pet should be under direct supervision, regardless of their personality prior to baby.

If your pet seems aggressive towards your baby, it might be because they find them frightening or foreign. It is best, in this case, to keep the two separated and call in a pet obedience professional. The safety of your newborn and pet is more important than them becoming best friends on day-one.

Remember, everyone is learning and adjusting to their new life, which will take time. Start early and follow through with your plan once you bring home your newborn baby. And, don’t forget lots of treats for the proud big sibling!

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Categories: Women's Health