Preparing for the arrival of a new baby is a thrilling occasion for any family. But if your household already includes pets, bringing home baby may be met with some unexpected complications. To keep your pet happy and your baby safe, here are some tips to help the new baby transition go as smoothly as possible.
Preparing a pet for a new baby: Guidelines for both cats and dogs
Schedule a veterinarian checkup
You’ll want to ensure your dog or cat is up to date on all their vaccinations and in good health. Also consider getting your animal spayed or neutered if they aren’t already. According to the Humane Society, this can make them calmer and less likely to bite.
Play make-believe to prepare your pet
When you have some free time around your house, play make-believe to get your pet accustomed to the new roles you will soon have. Borrow or buy a realistic looking baby doll, and at times carry it around the house with you. This also provides a perfect way to start training your pet. When you sit down on the couch with the doll and your dog tries to jump in your lap, you can discipline him and redirect your pooch towards appropriate behavior. If you plan on taking walks with both dog and baby, you should also practice this. Put a doll into the stroller and get your dog used to the proper pace. See our Dog Training Tips for Families for additional information.
- Start making changes ahead of time
If you don’t want your pet jumping up on your lap, climbing on the furniture or sleeping in your bed once the new baby arrives, you need to start reinforcing these boundaries IMMEDIATELY. If you wait to suddenly change the rules when the baby comes home, not only will it be harder and more hectic, but your pet is more likely to form a negative interpretation of the new baby, and may misbehave.
Organize your baby’s space
Set up things for your baby ahead of time, such as the crib or baby swings. It will let your pet become accustomed to the new items and the different sounds they make.
Designate a pet area
When the new baby arrives, you may have times when you want your pet to disappear on their own for a little while. Find an appropriate area for your pet to be alone, whether it’s the laundry room, bathroom or backyard, and have your pet practice spending time there. Equip the space with your pet’s favorite toys, a water bowl, and a place to rest.
Declaw your pet
If your cat or dog has not been declawed, it might be a good time to consider it. We would recommend declawing all indoor cats, as well as some dogs, depending on their temperament.
Prepare your pet with baby sounds
You can purchase/download CD’s of baby sounds to play in the house to get your pet accustomed to the upcoming arrival. Just Google “Baby sounds for pets” to find one. Play it periodically for 10 to 20 minutes at a time at a moderate level so that your pet grows accustomed to the noise. Cats especially have particularly sensitive hearing, so this is a good exercise for them.
Getting your cat accustomed to a new baby
Cats and Crib Dangers
Start excluding the cat from the room where the crib will be, at least for certain times of the day. Cats are notorious climbers, but crib climbing is a big danger to infants. Add things like a colorful moving mobile to the top, and it’s like waving a piece of string in front of the cat, making the crib an alluring play space for kitty. Not only could a cat injure a baby by stepping on her, but since young infants don’t have the muscular ability to move their head, a cat can easily suffocate an infant by sitting on a baby’s face or even cuddling up next to her. Always keep your cat out of the room when baby is in the crib, and it’s a good idea to start excluding your cat ahead of time so they get used to the restriction.
Move the kitty litter
It may be 6 months before your baby starts to gain mobility, but when he does, you won’t want him digging in the kitty litter for treasures to taste. Thus, it’s a good idea to find a safe, largely inaccessible space for your cat’s litter ahead of time. But since cats are creatures of habit and don’t like sudden change, you may have to move it there slowly, in two or three foot increments every couple of weeks.
Helping your dog get ready for a new baby
If you want your pooch to be gentle with baby, you should start to lay off the roughhousing with them now. Games like wrestling, tug of war, or anything that gets your dog riled up may provoke unruly behavior around the infant. If you can’t bear the thought of not playing physically with your dog, be sure to do it at the park or other designated spaces, not in the house, so that you start reinforcing a calm temperament indoors.
Confront jumping and other obnoxious behavior
One of the most dangerous things dogs do around a new baby is jump. They can jump on their owner and cause a fall while they are carrying their infant, and they can jump onto the couch or their owner’s lap and injure a baby by stepping on it. If your dog is rather undisciplined in this regard, you may need to send your pooch to obedience school or consider hiring a trainer to eliminate this behavior.
Do not reward begging
Begging tends to lead to jumping and other undesirable behaviors, so one of the best ways to eliminate this type of behavior is to instill a no-begging policy. Don’t play games with food or encourage your dog to beg for scraps, and take food away immediately if your dog tries to steal it. Reward them with a treat when they are calm and patient and wait to be fed.
When you actually bring home baby for the first time: Tips for introducing your pet to the baby:
- Prepare your pet ahead of time by giving them a whiff of your baby’s scent. Bring home the receiving blanket or another baby item from the hospital that has your baby’s scent on it, and show it to your pet briefly so that they get familiar with the new member of the household.
- When you walk in the door, be sure to greet your pet first. You’re likely to have been away at the hospital for some time, and your pet has missed you. So take a moment to greet your pet and calm them down before bringing the baby inside, When you do introduce the baby, be sure to have your partner or another adult helper present who can restrain the animal if necessary.
- Break them in gradually. You may want to keep baby and pet separate for several hours or longer while the pet gets used to a baby in the house and the newness of it all starts to ware off. If the animal is calm and quiet, go ahead and let them start becoming acquainted.
- Continue to give your pet plenty of attention. Animal behavior experts say one of the most common problems they see is that a pet starts acting up because he or she isn’t getting the same attention they had grown accustomed to before the baby arrived. So as much as possible, try to stick with the routines your pet is accustomed to (for example, still take your dog for walks), and try to include the pet as much as possible when you’re around your child. When holding your baby, try to free up a hand to caress your pet or talk soothingly to them at the same time. This simultaneous attention lets your pet know they are still part of the family. Just like children, pets crave your love and want to know they aren’t being replaced.
- Provide your pet a little one on one time whenever possible.