As you begin your journey to parenthood and prepare to have a little one in the house, you may be wondering, or even overlooking, the idea of preparing your four-legged family members for a new baby. Even if your pet loves you, it is not uncommon that they may struggle to adjust to having a child in the house. A good introduction, however, can often times ensure that your pets live happily with your baby.
The addition of a new family member can sometimes have unexpected effects in a household with a pet. Most animals tend to be territorial and wary of strangers, so having a new baby ready to be near a pet is not necessarily the safest circumstance right off the bat, even with the friendliest pet. During pregnancy it is not unheard of that pets, especially cats, may begin to feel threatened or jealous. During pregnancy you may notice slight behavioral changes in your pet. During this time a little extra attention may be necessary. After the birth is when the big step comes, as you will need to carefully introduce your baby to your pet and exercise caution for a while.
Steps for Introducing Your Baby to Pets
Animals in cages typically do not require an elaborate introduction. As long as your new baby does not have any allergies, they are normally safe around a bird, snake, hamster, or other small, well-contained animal. For larger animals that roam freely around the home, more work may be needed, and your steps for a proper introduction may vary a little depending on if you have a dog or a cat.
Introducing Dogs to Babies
1. Prepare your dog in advance.
Dogs tend to react badly to sudden changes in routine or surrounding, and this can be problematic if the dog blames the baby for the changes, especially if they are no longer the center of affection. Change the dog’s routine and level of attention received gradually in the months before your baby arrives, to what you foresee the dog can expect once the baby is home. This can include breaking bad habits of jumping up, excessive barking or simple modifications of the amount of affection it receives or adjusting eating times for families with non-traditional schedules.
2. Have a gradual introduction.
Before they officially meet, let your dog get used to the smell of your baby on a towel or piece of clothing. After this, give your dog a few hours, or days depending on the personality and energy levels of the dog, to get used to the sounds, smells, and sight of the baby without actually letting it get close to the baby.
3. Let your leashed dog meet the baby officially.
Keep the dog on a leash upon first meeting, especially if your dog is likely to jump or get overly excited, and let it approach the baby slowly. Let the dog sniff the baby, and give the dog plenty of praise when it is responds gently.
4. Allow supervised off-the-leash interactions.
Once the dog can be calm around the baby while leashed, let them interact while unleashed under close supervision. Always hold the baby elevated and make sure that an adult is between the baby and the dog.
Introducing Cats to Babies
1. Pick a quiet time.
Cats can get distressed if the baby is crying or even babbling because high pitched infant noises sound very similar to an upset kitten. Choose an introduction time when the baby is calm.
2. Let the cat smell the baby while you hold it.
Cats use smell as a form of introduction, so do not be surprised if the cat wants to get close to the baby. Since cats are smaller than dogs, you normally do not need to have them on a leash during introductions, however if your cat is typically aggressive, allowing it to smell one of the baby’s clothes may be a smart initial move. Upon the first few interactions, hold your baby and let the cat sniff the baby’s foot.
3. Provide positive reinforcement.
Cats, like dogs, learn through positive reinforcement, so praise the cat and provide treats or affection when it is calm and kind to the baby.
What Happens After Introductions?
Once introductions are done, in the perfect scenario, it is time to enjoy your new family that cohesively includes your pets and your baby, however a bad introduction or bad interaction may also occur and is something new parents must be ready to handle.
Dealing with a Bad Introduction
Of course the ideal outcome of a baby-pet introduction is that your pet immediately gets along with your baby, but keep in mind that this may not always be possible. In a situation where the pet reacts negatively, you have a few potential options. You may be able to keep the pet and the baby apart for an extended amount of time, and over time the pet may become used to the baby’s presence. Some pet owners find that simply limiting interactions in the household help pets adjust while others find it helpful to have a friend keep the pet for a few weeks. The important part is that your baby’s safety comes first, so in bad situations you may end up needing to rehome the pet. This is common with cats and dogs who are territorial. Signs that your pet is this type of personality may include chewing the baby’s toys or clothes or having bowel movements in the baby’s room or on their items.
Living with a Baby and a Pet
To keep a happy home, make sure you provide your pet with plenty of attention and praise around the baby and give the pet a safe space where they can go to get away from the noise and activity surrounding the infant. Keep in mind that you should never leave animals alone with your baby, no matter how well the first introductions go. Once your baby is older, teach them how to interact with the animal in a safe way that is enjoyable for the pet and the toddler.