Bringing Home Baby
Pets and kids can do more than co-exist; they can be best friends, siblings and confidants! It takes a bit of preparation, patience, and training on your part. But remember, no matter how well your pet behaves, young children and animals should never be unsupervised.
Expecting a baby is all about preparation – your birth plan, the baby’s room, childcare – make sure to prepare the family pets. If your dog has not been obedience trained, make sure to complete training before baby comes!
Before the baby arrives: Make sure your pets get to smell the babies’ blankets, diapers, diaper cream, and other items. Animals rely on scent to help them identify home and family. After the baby is born, but before he comes home: Ask your partner to bring a blanket or other item with the baby’s scent home, and let your pet smell the item. Be sure to talk softly and praise your pet as he smells the baby items!
Record a baby crying (or purchase a recording) and play it in the baby’s room often. The repeated exposure to crying will help reduce your pet’s anxiety when he hears the real thing.
Practice your baby’s routine with a doll – walking with the stroller, bathing, rocking, carrying the car seat – and include your pet in these sessions. Praise him when he acts appropriately. Slowly change your pet’s routine. After the baby comes, you will have less time to play with, train and exercise your pet. An abrupt shift in the amount of attention your pet receives after the baby comes can cause trouble. Don’t let your pet sleep in the baby’s room, or allow him to make the baby’s crib, playpen or changing table his territory.
If possible, expose your pet to kids before your baby arrives. Supervise your pet at all times and observe his reactions to children. Call a private trainer if you observe behaviors that concern you (like jumping, hissing, growling, or barking).
- VETERINARY CARE
Spay or neuter your pets (unaltered animals are more territorial), and make sure they are current on all vaccinations. Microchip your pets and make sure they wear collars with ID tags at all times (even indoors). Even with the best preparation, your pet may get anxious and try to escape after the baby comes home. Trim your cat’s nails, or ask your veterinarian to apply SoftPaws® (vinyl covering for cat nails). Do not declaw – it is painful, unnecessary, and can lead to other negative behaviors (e.g. biting & litter box issues).
WALKING THROUGH THE DOOR
If you’re bringing baby home from the hospital, chances are your pet really missed mom! When you first bring baby home, give the baby to your partner and let mom greet your pet. Your pet can welcome mom and then settle down to meet the baby. (Too often, mom comes in with the baby, the pet jumps on mom, and then the pet gets scolded. This reinforces to the pet that the baby brings negative things – instead, let the baby bring joy!)
- DOG’S FIRST MEETING
Keep your dog on-leash the first time he meets baby. Let him be close enough to see, but not touch the baby. Do this several more times throughout the first day, letting your dog get a little closer each time. If your dog responds well, you can take him off leash while the baby is held.
- DOG’S FIRST MEETING
CAT’S FIRST MEETING
Your cat will likely investigate the new baby in her own time. Make sure kitty doesn’t feel boxed in during the first meeting, and hold the baby, not the cat. Your cat may want to take a nap on the soft, warm baby blanket, seat, or playpen. Your cat isn’t trying to harm the baby, but it’s a good idea to keep the baby’s areas off-limits. Be patient and remember to praise your pets for good behavior!
AS BABY GROWS
Kids and pets can be great friends! Kids often involve their pets in creative play, and training can help to boost the self-esteem of both your pet and your children. But, just remember, you are responsible for the health and safety of your kids and your pets. Never leave young children and pets unsupervised.
- Give your kids age-appropriate pet care tasks. Preschoolers love to help clean up the bathroom after a bath! And, older kids make great helpers for measuring and pouring pet food and water.
- Involve your kids in your pet’s veterinary care. Ask your vet if she can set aside time at your pet’s next appointment to answer your kids questions about pet care.
- A pet can help your kids show empathy. Ask your kids to only treat your pets the way they would want to be treated, and remind them that your pet can feel things, just like kids do.
- Get everyone involved in training. Seeing the joy in your child’s eyes the first time he says “sit” and your dog listens is priceless! Plus, training will help your pet respect and bond with your children.
- Teach your kids how to safely interact with all animals. Do your kids know what to do if approached by a stray animal, or how to ask to pet the neighbor’s dog?
- Develop house rules for pet care, and post them. Rules should include the following:
- Never bother a pet who’s sleeping or eating.
- Pets are family members, not toys.
- Everyone has a safe place. Make the dog’s crate or the cat’s bed off-limits for kids, and the kid’s room or special area off-limits for pets.
- Never yell-at, throw things, hit or otherwise hurt an animal.
- No roughhousing with pets (i.e. riding on, wrestling with, or other violent games).
No matter how responsible (or old) your children are, remember that pets are ultimately the responsibility of the adults in the household. Always make sure that pets are properly fed and given clean water, and their sanity needs are met (i.e. they are walked; litter boxes are cleaned; they are bathed and groomed appropriately).