How to Introduce new baby and pet
After several years of trying, a very dear friend of mine finally had gotten pregnant and for her baby shower, the guests were to arrive with a helpful note/tip/suggestions for the parents-to-be. I was not only her friend, but her pet-sitter as well. It was no problem for me to figure out what that note should be about… how to create a harmonious growing family with pets and a new baby. This blog will carry on the tradition of how to help parents-to-be that have dogs and cats already in the home.
Even before becoming pregnant, your pet should have general manners and basic commands. I don’t mean just dogs either! Cats should learn that it is never okay to use their claws or teeth on a person. My cats have also been trained to never jump up on the table, counters or bureaus. Dogs should learn commands such as sit, stay and leave it (drop it). When you have good verbal control over your dog, it can become very helpful when the time comes to juggle dog and baby needs. Your dog should have already learned that it is not appropriate to jump up on you or any other person. If they haven’t learned this, then you need to start this training immediately! You do not want a dog – no matter what its size is – to be jumping up against you or a loved one while the baby is being held. Even if you are sitting down, you’ll want to train your dog not to sit on your lap.
I know you can’t always control when you are going to have a baby, but it is not the best idea to have a child and puppy or kitten “grow up” together. Each little bundle of joy requires a lot of time, money and patience. It really becomes like caring for twins. If possible, it is better to wait until your pet is at least a year old before having a baby. Again, this will give you enough time to properly train the pet.
If you are aware of any resource guarding that your dog does – before the baby is even born you need to work on correcting the behavior. Resource guarding can be anything from food aggression to “not sharing” toys. Train with an animal behaviorist to safely correct resource guarding.
Now, I’m going to break down the suggestions into two categories: Before baby is born and after baby is born.
PRIOR TO BABY’S ARRIVAL
As stated in many of my previous blogs, dogs and cats love schedules. A brand new baby can really mix up any kind of schedule. Cats may not tolerate change well. You can use the entire pregnancy to slowly prepare them for the new baby. For cats and dogs, playing sounds of baby noises (crying, cooing, etc.) can help acclimate them to the sounds they will be hearing. Start off with the volume low for five to ten minutes at a time then gradually increase the volume over the next couple of months. While the recording is playing, give your pet attention and when the recording is off stop the attention for about a half hour or so. By doing this several times a day, you condition your pet to look forward to the sounds instead of being upset by them.
Rub baby lotion on your hands before engaging in pleasant activities to create a positive association with baby odors. Set up nursery furniture as soon as possible and allow your pet to investigate before you declare certain areas off limits – like the crib and changing table. By gradually introducing your pet to the new experiences, sights, sounds and smells that they will encounter when you bring your baby home, they will associate these new things with rewards (positive reinforcement). This will help your pet learn to love life with a baby.
Bringing home a new baby will drastically alter your daily routine. In return, this will also change your pet’s schedule. They will get less of your time and attention and it may be a difficult time for your pet if they have been the only child for a while. It may help to prepare your pet for a less consistent daily schedule. Try varying the time you feed your pet. For example, if your pet gets fed at 7 am sharp, start random feed times between 6am and 9am. Some dogs can have “acidy” bellies if they don’t stay on a scheduled feeding plan, so getting an automatic feeder will help keep your dog on the schedule they are used to. Automatic feeders work well for cats too!
Other responsibilities / routines (grooming, play sessions, even sleeping locations) may be shifted after the baby arrives. If the mother to be is having to give up some of these responsibilities of pet care, slowly transition the responsibilities to the new person beforehand.
Teaching your dog “please go away” when you ask will enable you to control their movements and interactions with your baby. For example, you can use this cue to tell your dog to move away from the baby if he is crawling towards her and she seems uncomfortable. Many dogs don’t realize that moving away is an option. Show her a treat and say “go away” and toss the treat four or five feet away from you. Repeat this sequence many times. Next step is to refrain from tossing the treat until your dog starts to move away. Say “go away” and move your arm as though you’re tossing the treat. When your dog moves in the direction of your gesture, even if she takes only one step, say ‘yes’ and then immediately toss the treat. After a while wait to toss the treat after she moves further away.
If you have a dog like mine, she is part of the neighborhood watch system. She is aware of every little thing in her community. Luckily, I have trained her not to bark at all of these changes. But I know there are other dogs out there like her, who are super vigilant and must vocalize the changes they have seen. A dog barking at leaves falling, the rabbit in the yard or the person walking down the street isn’t as helpful when you have a napping baby. Start training your dog to not bark at every little thing. The VCA hospital has a great article on calm/settle training.
Decide if you are going to have the nursery be off-limits to your pets because now is the time to take action if that is going to be the case. Teach your dog to sit and stay or lay down and stay outside by the door. Make sure the crib and other baby sleeping locations are off-limits to the cat. A cat loves sleeping close to heat sources and your new baby cannot turn over or move their head. Preventing the cat from sleeping in the baby-sleep area with either a closed door or a crib tent, can decrease the chances of accidental suffocation. This can also prevent the cat from urinating in the crib, which may be something that can happen if they are extremely stressed. If your dog will be allowed in the nursery, put a dog bed or mat in an out of the way spot in the room and train them to come in and lay down on that spot while you are in the room caring for the baby. By training your dog to sit on a particular spot will help not only in your home but at the vet hospital as well.
Unwrap new baby supplies from their packaging and allow your pet to investigate them one or two at a time. Remember, your pet will not be able to distinguish their stuff and the baby’s stuff, so it is up to the parents-to-be to teach them what is acceptable to play with / sleep on.
This may seem silly but practice common activities you will be doing with the baby, such as feeding, carrying and rocking the baby with a realistic babydoll. By doing this, you can see your pet’s initial reactions to these new behaviors – especially your dog’s reactions and how much verbal training is still needed. You will also be able to plan on what you will do if this happens when you have your actual baby. Praise your pet for any kind of gentle contact with the doll.
Keep your cats indoors. Toxoplasmosis can be caused by a cat eating small mammals or birds. By keeping your cat inside, you can decrease the chances of exposing the pregnant woman to this parasite that can cause birth defects.
Resist the temptation to lavish extra attention to your pet in the weeks before the baby’s due date. This will only increase anxiety and stress once you are not able to provide the same amount of attention after the baby is born. Schedule your attention times randomly so your pet doesn’t expect attention at any particular time.
AFTER THE BABY IS BORN
Arriving home with the baby: when you first arrive home from the hospital, peacefully greet your cat in a quiet room without interruptions. Once you’ve had a few minutes to reconnect, let everyone else in the room. For your dog, send others into the home first to allow the dog to express their normal excitement to meet people. After the dog calms down some, allow the mother to come into the home. If you have to leash the dog to make sure it doesn’t jump up on the mom then do that before she comes in the door. I’ve seen some suggestions that state the new mother shouldn’t be the one that walks into the home with the baby – let another family member carry the baby in and, if possible, have treats on-hand to reward appropriate behaviors. It is crucial everyone stay relaxed as the new mom and baby enters the home. Any nervousness a person is feeling will be received by your pet and can make the initial baby meeting a fearful one. Delay the introduction of the baby and dog until the dog is calm. Again, choose a quiet room and sit down with the baby. Have a loved one have your dog leashed and bring the dog into the room. In a calm, happy voice invite your dog to approach you and the baby. Let your dog see that meeting and interacting with their new friend is fun and not frightening. If your pet still seems nervous around the new baby, place a used blanket or infant clothing in a quiet area where your pet can investigate it on their own.
Give your pet attention when the baby is present. Teach them that when the baby is around they will still receive things they like (treats, attention, etc.). Your pet will learn to love it when the baby is awake and active because that is when good things happen for them as well.
Training won’t stop once the baby is home, you will need to prepare your pet for the inevitable types of touching the child will do. Grabbing, poking, pushing or pulling. If you train your pet that good things will happen when she gets poked and prodded, they will be able to better tolerate potentially uncomfortable interactions with the baby. Poke them or grab skin/ ear/ tail and immediately give them a treat. In a happy voice, ask “What’s that?” Practice these handling exercises four to eight times a day with extra exciting treats (ones they are not used to but love) and they will start to anticipate tasty treats once the child starts these behaviors. Once the child is old enough, you will need to teach them it is not okay to do that. Teach by example because children typically mimic their parents’ behaviors.
Some pets have never seen a human crawl or be down at their level. It can be very intimidating to have a person at their eye level. Start making it a game – give attention, treats, favorite toy – while on the ground. By the time your baby starts crawling, your pet should be completely comfortable with this new game.
Minimize the amount of furniture in rooms so that your pet doesn’t feel cornered when the baby starts to crawl/ walk. Pull furniture a couple of feet away from the walls to create convenient escape routes. Animals can attack from fear after being cornered.
Provide “safe zones” for your pet. Note the layout of your home and designate these zones for your pet to go to if they are feeling stressed out from the baby. Some of these areas need to be in an area where you spend most of your time. You shouldn’t make your pet feel shunned because they are feeling stressed about the child. Cats will appreciate elevated areas out of the child’s reach. You can teach your dog the “Go to your spot.” command to help them remember their “safety zone”.
OTHER ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS
- Never force your pet to interact with the baby. Let them approach on their own. Praise them for bravely investigating if your dog seems nervous.
- Older and disabled pets will have a harder time adjusting to life with a child. Discuss with your veterinarian how to help your special needs pet adjust through the life stages of living with a child.
- Consider hiring a dog walker to take over the responsibility of exercising your dog for the first few weeks after the baby arrives. Interviewing dog walkers before the baby comes and having the dog walker take them out of the house while you are still home can get the dog used to leaving without you.
- If you are ambitious, you can practice getting up in the middle of the night with your dog. Teach her to settle quietly in an area where you plan to nurse the baby.
- If the litterbox has been kept in the soon-to-be nursery, begin several months ahead of time to move it a few inches a day to its new location. If the transition is made too quickly, you cat may return to soil in his old spot. Covering the area with a solid object like a diaper pail or dresser may deter your cat.
- Even if your pet loves your new child, make sure their nails are kept short. Baby’s skin is very delicate and can be accidently scratched.
- Car rides! If your dog is used to car rides and is used to running throughout the vehicle, consider installing a car barrier, purchase a dog seatbelt or teach them to relax in a crate so that your dog doesn’t accidently hurt the baby in the car seat.
- If your pet shows any aggression or other behavior issues around the baby in any situation – keep the baby away from the pet and immediately contact your veterinarian or an animal behavior expert. The veterinarian can evaluate if there are any medical reason for the behavior and can even provide a list of behaviorists to help.My friend was happy to follow these instructions and now she has a beautiful little girl who loves growing up with two kitty “siblings”.