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Preparing Your Pet for the Arrival of Your Baby

What happens when your 4-legged friend becomes an “older sibling” to a human child?  How do you prepare your pet for the arrival of baby? 

DOGS AND CATS:

Consistency is key.  Your pet may sense that a lot of things are changing in his/her world.  For example, the guest room is painted and furnished with baby things.  This can cause apprehension.  Try to maintain consistency as much as possible in your pet’s world.   Where changes are made, try to make changes as gradually as possible.

While you are expecting, have friends or family members with infants visit your house.  Let your pet interact with those infants.  Is your pet gentle and loving?  Indifferent?  Observe and shape those interactions as this is your pet’s opportunity to get accustomed to relating to a human baby.  Additionally, you may wish to play tapes of a baby crying, wear baby lotion, walk with a stroller or swaddled doll, or do other things that gradually introduce the sights, sounds, and smells of baby to him/her.

Take your pet to a pet trainer if you think s/he needs to learn significantly new boundaries.

If your pet is used to a lot of daily interaction with you, gradually reduce the amount of time you spend with him/her when you are pregnant; this is easier for him/her than a dramatic, sudden reduction once the baby comes home.  You can have a member of your family or perhaps a pet sitter step up and spend additional time with your pet.  After you bring baby home, make sure to spend at least a half hour playing with or cuddling your pet every day.  Make sure your pet’s needs (food, water, walks or fresh litter) are met daily. 

Dogs are pack animals.  Dogs typically protect and defend their pack, so a new baby would be a new person to love and protect.  Cats are typically more solitary individuals.  So, a new baby would be either a fascination or intrusion.  Either way, introduce your two children by letting your pet smell clothing of baby (this should be done while baby is still in the hospital).  When baby comes home, let a family member carry baby in as your pet will likely be eager for immediate attention from you since you were away from home for the birth.  Then, when the eager greeting is done, let your pet smell baby.  Observe how your pet acts.  Some pets are gentle while some are unintentionally rough.  Take any protective steps necessary.  For example, if your pet wants to play with baby, it’s best to limit unrestricted access between your two children until your baby is old enough to engage in play safely.  Some pets are drawn to snuggling, and they may cuddle baby and smother or harm baby inadvertently . . . so it’s best to install a mesh barrier to baby’s room until you can assess the risk of this behavior.  (A mesh barrier can be quickly and easily installed, protects baby, and still allows your pet to see and smell baby and not feel excluded from baby-related happenings.)

As baby becomes interactive, s/he can be seen as a pest by your pet.  Tails get pulled.  Heads get bonked.  Things happen.  Some pets are very understanding and tolerant.  Some aren’t.  If you have a pet who insists on being treated gently, it’s best to keep a watchful eye on interactions between your two children and ensure that your growing baby knows the boundaries on how to relate successfully with his/her older sibling . . . and that your pet knows the boundaries on how to handle perceived violations and indignities.

Most pets readily and lovingly . . . or at least indifferently . . . to the new baby in the household.  With proper preparation, your pet can be outstanding to your new baby.

*This article assumes that the pet is not aggressive, does not have a health concern that may adversely affect a human baby, has been spayed or neutered, and whose claws are well maintained.

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