Plants are the new pets. Pets are the new kids. You've heard the narrative - Millennials and now Gen Z'ers, have been increasingly opting away from parenthood in favor of raising kids of the non-human variety.
It's easy to tease these new generations of pet parents who toe the line of anthropomorphizing their companions. You might find it ridiculous that they're sweating over a hot stove, baking homemade carob cake for their dog, or crafting hand-made "catios" for their cats. But in many cases, pets are the first foray into parenthood, and just like parents of human children, enthusiastic owners just want to do right by their pets.
Inevitably, many dog moms and dads will make the transition and become parents to little ones of their own. With Mother's Day upon us, I wondered - does your relationship with your pets change when you have a baby? I spoke with two Figo team members and prowled the internet to get a consensus on how this complex relationship can evolve when children are added to the mix.
While lurking on Reddit for insightful takes on this subject, one sentiment continually surfaced. Many pet parents struggle with a sense of guilt once kids enter their life. In a way, they mourn the previously inseparable bond shared with their pets.
One Reddit user observed, "After the birth of our daughter, we suddenly started feeling that we [were] parting ways with our cats. We still love them, but we just don't have the same energy to devote to them as we once did."
Another laments, "This so much. Our dogs were our babies for 6 years. They slept on our bed, we cuddled with them at every opportunity. Now they sleep on their own beds... and we definitely don't get to cuddle as much."
Children are undoubtedly time-consuming, so it's no surprise that new parents in particular may find themselves with less time to have the 1:1 bonding sessions they once shared with their pets.
Prepare for change
If you're feeling the strain, it can be helpful to put some precautions in place before growing your family. In order to combat any anxiety you or your pet may experience from these attention shifts, the ASPCA recommends that pet owners:
- Refrain from showering pets with extra attention in the weeks before a baby’s due date
- Scheduling short play and cuddle sessions with your dog at random variables
- Gradually decrease the attention your pets receive at other times of day
- Hire a dog walker or send them to doggy daycare for physical and mental stimulation
If you're still struggling to spend some quality time with your dog or cat, Megan Williams - Figo's Competitive Analyst - recommends using time with your pet to recharge. "After my daughter's bedtime is when I get to spend the best quality time with my dog Ripley when it is quiet and just us. And having a moment to take Ripley on a walk by myself is so restorative!"
Pictured - Myra and Ripley. Photo by Logan Square Photo
One of the most heartwarming aspects of being a parent to both human and animal children may not even involve the parent directly. It is the special bond forged between pet and child. Many mothers have observed their pets taking a liking to their children and protecting them - behaving as if they know these little ones are members of the family.
One Reddit user writes, "I am fortunate to have a big, patient dog and an 8-month-old. The dog is fantastic and often serves as a baby monitor to let me know she's awake before she starts crying".
Susan Zohner, former vet tech of 18 years turned Figo Claims Adjuster, can attest to a similar experience. "One of the biggest shifts I have felt since having kids would be the additional level of love for your pets because of the relationship they have with your children. My 10-year-old is medically fragile (she had a heart transplant at 5 months old), and the instant bond she formed with one of our cats when we were finally able to bring her home from the hospital at 6 months old was truly incredible. Anywhere she was as a baby, her cat was almost never out of reach. Fast forward now ten years and he is 16 with renal disease and in remission for GI lymphoma, but their bond is still the same." She continues, "I love that cat more than I ever felt possible, largely due to the joy he brings my younger daughter."
Similarly, Williams notes, "It is so heartwarming to see my daughter and dog 'play'. Ripley is truly like an older sister - getting annoyed with my daughter, needing her own space, and competing for our attention, but also looking out for and being patient with Myra."
Is this perceived bond supported by science, or is it merely a personification of our own parental feelings? According to the AKC, dogs in fact can pick up on cues and understand that babies are vulnerable, which in turn may result in a protective instinct within your pet. Still, it's best to prepare your pet for any incoming children to minimize anxiety and aggression. The ASPCA recommends:
- Introduce your dog or cat to the sights, sounds, and smells that come with a new baby. Whether that's the noise of a crying infant or the smell of their blankets and lotion, you want your pet to get used to any sensory changes.
- Practice carrying around a baby doll and reward your pet for calm behavior while it's out.
- Gently increase your pet's tolerance for pulls, pokes, and prods by replicating this behavior on them yourself and giving treats as they tolerate it. Be mindful to never harm your pet, or put them over their threshold of discomfort. The goal is to make them accustomed and associate any inevitable handling by toddlers with rewards.
- If you have toddlers in the house, teach them gentle pet handling behavior. Praise them for nice pets and pats.
- Reward your pet for any calm behavior around your child.
- When in doubt, if aggression does arise, always consult professionals. You will likely want to work with a veterinary professional, behaviorist, and trainer.
We're not trying to drop too much insurance talk on you, but the truth is that kids get attached to our pets just like we do. In chats with Figo's own policyholders, we spoke with many a pet parent who chose to get insurance if only to save their little ones the heartbreak of losing a pet too early.
Even when that's not explicitly the reason, some parents use insurance as a safety net, knowing childcare-related costs are increasing just as much as vet costs are. According to Williams, "The plan we customized for Ripley (taking into consideration her age and preexisting conditions) means that we don't have to sacrifice anything for either of our "kids". Human kids are expensive, having a plan to cover the big things means we don't have to de-prioritize Ripley's care. It gives us room in the budget to take care of both of them."
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.
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