If you have pets and are now expecting your first child, you may be concerned how your animals will react to a new tiny human in the family. Pets tend to be creatures of habit, and each reacts to drastic disruptions in its routine differently. Also, cats and dogs may react to stressors in ways that may seem puzzling—these can include increased dependence, soiling carpets, vomiting, barking, nervousness, and even aggression.
Dealing with these animal behaviors while caring for a newborn can stress you out as well, so it’s a good idea to have a transition plan in place before the new baby arrives. Here I’ll review some items to include in your plan—both for dogs and for cats.
Preparing your Dog for a New Baby
1. Start early. If your dog isn’t used to being around infants and toddlers, acclimate them slowly, with limited exposure to children in an environment that’s safe for both the pet and the child.
2. See your vet.A checkup for your pup is a good idea, especially to be sure all vaccinations are current. Your vet can also suggest an animal behaviorist if anxiety or aggression seem severe.
3. Refresh basic commands. Now’s a good time to ensure that your pup knows the rules and listens to your commands. Take some time to go over the training basics and boundaries. Be clear where your dog is (and is not) allowed and discourage behaviors such as jumping, begging, or attention seeking.
4. Accustom your pet to less attention. Before your new baby arrives, acclimate your dog to the idea that her/she will no longer be getting as much attention. Teaching your dog to entertain itself now can reduce stress when the new baby arrives.
5. Prepare a “boarding bag.” You may find you need to board your dog unexpectedly around the birth time. Have a bag ready and a boarding destination (either a friend or a facility) in mind.
6. Acclimate your dog to baby’s things.Even before your child arrives, let your pup become familiar with the baby’s crib, car seat, clothes, powders, and creams that will now be a part of daily life.
7. When baby arrives, make slow calm introductions between pet and infant. Dogs take their emotional cues from you, so if you’re calm and centered, chances are greater that your pet will be too. Let the dog sniff the baby, but do not force them together. And be aware of your dog’s body language.
Preparing your Cat for a New Baby
1. Alter your cat’s environment slowly. Cats tend to dislike abrupt change. When preparing a room for the new baby, pace the changes out over a period of months so the cat has time to process each addition to its environment.
2. Keep the crib off-limits.A screen, toddler gate, or even a hook-and-eye door closure to the baby’s room can help teach your cat that the crib is off limits and that the cat may only be in the baby’s room when supervised by you.
3. Prepare the cat for baby noises.To the sensitive ears of your cat, baby sounds are noise, and can be stress-inducing. By playing baby sounds on your computer or smartphone, you can acclimate your cat to the idea that these sounds will soon be normal parts of daily life. It’s best to start at a low volume and gradually increase the sound level.
4. Prepare the cat for baby smells. As with dogs, cats get much of their information from their noses. So you may want to accustom your cat to the various powders, lotions, and other aromas that will soon be part of daily living. When your new baby comes home, let the cat check out the baby’s smells by letting your pet explore the baby’s blanket. This will help to reinforce the idea that the new baby is now part of the family.
5. Provide a hiding place.Cats tend to retreat when stressed. So be sure your feline has a safe place to escape the hustle and bustle when it feels overwhelmed.
6. Retain as much of your cat’s schedule as possible.Cats, perhaps even more than dogs, anchor their moods to routine. So when possible, keep as much of your cat’s routine unaltered.
7. Supervise, supervise, supervise.Cats are unpredictable and moody. A cat unaccustomed to being around infants can easily become stressed and may even become aggressive. So be sure that any close interactions between cat and baby are supervised by you. This not only reassures your child about the cat, it reassures the cat about your child.
We hope these simple tips will smooth the transition and help your pet to be as welcoming of your new baby as you are.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.