If you already have a pet and are expecting your first baby, or if you already have a child, or other children, the information below is quite extensive and very informational. The information takes you from the time you learn that you are pregnant through introducing your new baby to your pet.
Expectant Parents Who Currently Own a Pet
Expectant parents who are current pet owners can’t hide what’s happening from their pets. Mom’s body gets larger, and animals cue in on these differences. Dogs can sense change because of alterations to the home—preparing a baby room, showers and celebrations that precede a baby’s arrival and extra guests in the home. All these things can make pets uneasy, or at least aware that change is occurring.
Animals are adaptable, but they have to be weaned. You can’t have a relationship with your pet and then say, “The relationship has changed, too bad for you.” Animals will get jealous and show it through destructive behavior. Devoted pets can develop physiological problems from lack of love. However, there are several things you can do to prepare your pet and ensure a happy homecoming with your new baby.
Once you learn that you’re pregnant
Introducing your pet to a new baby is a gradual process. When you first learn that you are expecting, begin reviewing basic obedience skills daily with your dog so that he will reliably and consistently obey you. Sit/stay and down/stay are essential to control your dog and give direction for desirable behavior.
If a dog sleeps in the same bed as the expectant parents, they must decide if this will change once the infant comes home. Newborns disrupt normal sleeping schedules. With one or both parents waking in the night, you might want to begin encouraging the dog to sleep on the floor a few months before the baby is expected to arrive.
There are several simple things you can do several months before the baby’s arrival that will ensure your pet’s preparedness:
- Take your pet to the vet for a routine health exam and vaccinations.
- Spay or neuter your pet. Sterilized pets typically have fewer health problems and are calmer and less likely to bite.
- Address any pet training or behavior problems. If your pet exhibits fear and anxiety, now is the time to consult an animal behaviorist.
- If your pet’s behavior includes gentle nibbling, pouncing or swatting at you and others, redirect that behavior to appropriate objects.
- Get your pet used to nail trims.
- Train your pet to remain calm on the floor beside you until you invite him on your lap, which will soon cradle a newborn.
- Consider enrolling in a training class with your dog. Training allows you to safely and humanely control your dog’s behavior and enhances the bond between you and your pet.
- Encourage your friends with infants to visit your home to accustom your pet to the sounds and smells of a baby.
- Play recordings of a baby crying, turn on the mechanical swing and use the rocking chair—anything to accustom your pet to baby-related noises. Make these positive experiences by offering your pet a treat or playtime.
If your pet has a history of guarding its food, hunting for small prey, escaping to roam free, resisting obedience training, undisciplined or wild behavior toward people, excessive fear in new situations or with strangers or aggression toward you or anyone else, proceed with extreme caution in planning to introduce him to the new baby. If your pet has any type of behavior problem, resolve it now while your life is still relatively uncomplicated. If you have any reason to suspect that your dog might attack the baby, a muzzle is a wise precaution to take during training and introduction.
Beginning to plan for the baby’s arrival
Don’t put the baby’s room together a week before the baby comes home and then shut the door. That is a stress and not something that an involved pet will understand if it has free reign of the house. Set up the baby’s space well in advance. Before the infant comes home, you need to consider what will change in the space. You have a crib, baby toys and all things that come with an infant that will be different for your pet. Pets need stable and consistent worlds. Change things slowly.
Once you have the nursery set up, allow your pet to inspect it. Install a sturdy, removable gate that your pet can see through. Allowing the pet to see and hear what’s happening in the room will make him feel less isolated from the family. Close the nursery door when you aren’t around so your pet doesn’t have free access to the nursery. This helps establish boundaries before the baby arrives.
As your due date approaches
By now you have already made steps to prepare your pet for an infant’s arrival. You’ve set up the crib, put up the baby gate and been reviewing obedience commands with your pet. Now it’s time to pretend there is a baby in the home so you can see how the dog will respond to you holding the baby.
Purchase a realistic baby doll, wrap it in a blanket and have mom and dad carry it in their arms. Diaper the baby doll, rock it and put it to bed. Make it very clear that the doll is real and not a play thing. Teach your pet to sit/stay in the presence of the doll. Allow your pet to investigate the doll only if the animal remains calm and controlled. Reward your pet with gentle words and caresses so that he forms a positive association with the baby, even before they are introduced.
Before the new baby arrives, allow your pet to sniff around the nursery. Turn on the mechanical swing and sit in the rocking chair to get your pet used to these new pieces of baby apparatus. Show them baby toys and clothing. Begin introducing scents such as baby powder and baby lotion by putting these products on yourself or the baby doll.
Talk to your pet about the baby—even before it arrives—using the child’s name.
By now, it’s also time to pre-arrange feeding and walking for your dog while you are at the hospital. Keeping the same routine for your dog while you are away will help with the new arrival.
Arriving home with the baby
Introduce infants to pets with garments. Before bringing home the baby, have a spouse or close relative take a piece of baby clothing or a baby blanket that carries the infant’s scent home for your pet to smell. Allow the pet to sniff the item so he can familiarize himself with the baby before mom brings home the newborn. Let the pet explore this new odor under positive circumstances. If your pet has a special place to sleep, place the baby’s blanket there.
Keep the homecoming quiet. Lots of guests will only make your pet more nervous and excitable. Have dad or a familiar relative carry the baby in so that mom can greet the pet. Your pet will be eager to see you return from the hospital. Have someone else take the baby into another room while you give your pet a calm, warm welcome. Even something as simple as arriving home with a new squeaky toy for your pet will work wonders for the anxious dog. Anything you can do to make the baby’s arrival a positive one for your dog will benefit everyone.
Keep the first meeting brief and supervised. It may help to have someone familiar hold your pet while mom holds the baby. Holding the pet provides a means of positive attention and safety.
After you settle in, allow your pet to sit next to you and the baby. Never force the pet to get close to the newborn and always supervise their interaction. Reward your pet with treats for appropriate behavior.
After your baby and pet have been introduced
When you bring a newborn into the home, the dog has to share that attention. Many dogs will respect this and might even lay by the nursery door. Other dogs become protective, especially if strangers visit the baby. Some dogs will become destructive to seek attention.
The key is to associate the baby with a positive experience. If you wait until the baby is napping to play with your pet, he will associate the baby’s absence with good times and his presence with loneliness. You want your pet to think, “Hey bring that kid back, we have a good time together.” By making the baby and pet a team, you build a strong bond between them. Keep the baby and dog’s interaction as natural as possible. One easy way to do this is to teach your dog to walk beside the stroller.
Even after a pleasant pet-baby introduction, your baby’s safety is never 100% guaranteed with a pet in the household. Never leave the baby and pet together unsupervised under any circumstances. Here are some other tips to ensure your infant’s safety and security
- Keep your baby higher than the dog. Dogs see the world in hierarchy—you are either a leader or a littermate. The smaller you are, the more likely you are a littermate. Littermates get bossed around by being jumped on, pushed over, growled at, snapped at and finally bitten. Keep small children up off the floor when the dog is in the same room.
- Keep your pet’s nails well trimmed. A child may be accidentally scratched or even dropped when a friendly dog jumps on you to investigate.
- Keep dirty diapers in a pet-proof hamper. Dogs may be tempted to investigate and even eat dirty diapers. This is normal parental behavior in adult dogs and is directed toward keeping their den area clean.
After the baby has come home and things have seemingly settled down, your dog may urinate or defecate on baby blankets and baby clothes or on your bed. These are not acts of malice or jealousy. Territorial marking relieves a pet’s anxiety, covering the baby’s scent (or yours) with its own. Do not scold your pet for this behavior, as this will only increase its stress during adjustment to new circumstances. Instead, prevent access to its targets and spend more time with your pet.