Many expectant parents come to me worried about having their dog or cat around their new baby. We had ‘fur babies’ long before the real deal, and I have to admit, I too was worried how our cats and dog would react to the arrival of a new family member, but with a little preparation - everything went beautifully and our little ones had a wonderful relationship with our pets.
With the excitement of a new baby comes the preparation of the family home. Buying new furniture, decorating the nursery, buying all kinds of baby paraphernalia, so many parents-to-be forget an incredibly important part of the new baby preparation - the family pet!
Animals are pretty smart creatures - dogs especially can ‘tune in’ to their owners, and it’s likely, during pregnancy, they will sense something is different, so it’s important to prepare your pets as soon as possible.
Tips for preparing your pet for the new arrival
- The less than perfect pooch: The last thing you need with a new baby on the scene, is an unruly pet. If your pooch is less than perfect, or your feline is fearsome, use your nine months of pregnancy to get some training in place to ensure your pet is pretty near-perfect when baby arrives.
- Excited, jumpy dogs may be cute when greeting you on your return home, but even a little dog can accidentally cause an injury by sharing too much excitement around a baby. Start a new routine with your bouncy pup by rewarding calm behaviour with love and fuss, and ignore any excited jumping. They’ll soon get used to the idea.
- If things are particularly troublesome, and there are anxiety or aggression issues, enlist the help of a professional to ensure your pet is ready for the new arrival.
- Set ‘new baby’ boundaries: Are you guilty of treating your fur baby like a real baby? Now is the time to up the discipline a little. Is your four legged friend used to sleeping on your bed? Jumping up on the sofa whenever he fancies? Think of areas where your baby will be sleeping, lying or eventually crawling - do you really want your pet jumping all over your new baby? Now is the time to set the new safety rules, and start putting them slowly and efficiently in place.
- Ensure you move any of your pets things out of the baby’s room or where your baby will be sleeping. This sends a message to your pet that these areas are ‘out of bounds.’
- It goes without saying that your baby will be your number one priority. It doesn’t mean that little fluffy legs is going to be ignored and unloved once baby arrives, he just needs to know clear boundaries, know his pecking order, and get used to a new routine before baby joins the family, so start as soon as possible to implement the new boundaries.
- Preparation is key! Babies are wonderful, interesting things to pets - they come with new smells and new sounds, some of which can be quite unsettling to your pet. By preparing your pet for this new family member in every way possible, you’ll be preventing problems and helping the transition go smoothly.
- Before your baby arrives, get your pets used to baby noise, by playing ‘baby crying’ sounds in the background every now and again at home. Reassure your pet when those sounds are playing, and look out for any behaviours when the noise is playing that may need attention.
- If it’s possible (and safe to do so,) get your pets used to babies and children before your new bundle arrives. If friends or family have little ones, ask if they can visit you to let Fido or Felix become accustomed to the noise and smells that little ones create!
- Set your pet a safe space: Unlike dogs, cats can leave home via the cat flap if the noise is too much, returning later when peace has resumed, so make sure your dog has a ‘safe place’ where he can go if he needs to. A covered dog crate is ideal and can offer reassurance to an unsure pet.
Bringing baby home
It can be worrying bringing your precious little one home to meet your pets, but the calmer you are and the more prepared you are - the better it will be for all of you.
Don’t forget your pet! With a new baby comes little time to do the things you did before. It can take time settling into a new ‘parenting routine’ so prepare for this by ensuring your pet can still stick to his routine. Dogs will still need walking and all pets need feeding, so in the run up to your baby’s arrival, ensure you have enough food in stock, you have care for your pets while you are in hospital, and that you have someone to walk your dog in those early days when baby comes home.
By sticking to your pet’s normal routine as much as possible in those early days, you’ll help the new family unit get along smoothly and create as little disruption to your pets normal life.
- Baby smell: If it’s possible, before you come home from the hospital, let your pet smell something that has your new baby’s scent on. This will introduce your baby’s scent and prepare them for the actual meeting. Don’t let your pet have the item to keep - ensure you or your partner keep hold of it and make it a really positive experience.
- Walk the dog! Probably the last thing on your mind after just having had a baby, but if you can get someone to walk your dog to get rid of any energy and bounce before you arrive home with your new baby - it will make the meeting much calmer and easier!
- It’s important to only introduce your pet if they are calm and always introduce at a safe distance to begin with. Remember animals have strong senses, so they’ll immediately notice the new smell when you arrive home and will be curious.
- Stay in control: Keep your baby out of reach, ensure you have complete control over your pet, and don't let them lick your new baby no matter how cute you think it might be.
- Gradually let your pet get closer and closer over time, but never leave your baby unattended with them. Not even for a second. Animals, no matter how well behaved or good natured can also be unpredictable and it is never worth taking a chance.
- Finally, never force your pet to come close to your baby - let them get closer in their own time and always with supervision and full control. With larger pets such as large dogs - have help to hand so you can manage both baby and pet at the same time. Look out for any signs that your pet is stressed such as panting or tense body language. If your pet shows signs of stress, remove them from the area where your little one is.
By preparing in advance and taking time, your pet will learn to accept and grow to love your new family member for many years to come.