Bringing home your new baby is one of the most exciting moments for parents. For months, you may have prepared older siblings for the arrival of their baby brother or sister, but what about your first “babies”? Dogs, cats, and other pets also need to get used to the idea of another little person coming into their home and taking attention away that was once reserved for them. Luckily, there are ways to prepare pets beforehand and to help them cope once your baby arrives.
The Humane Society of the United States makes these suggestions to gradually ease the transition for your pets:
- Take your pet to the veterinarian for a routine health exam and any necessary vaccinations.
- Spay or neuter your pet. Not only do sterilized pets typically have fewer health problems associated with their reproductive systems, but they are also calmer and less likely to bite.
- Consult with a veterinarian and pediatrician if the thought of your newborn interacting with the family pet makes you uncomfortable. By working with these experts before your baby is born, you can resolve problems early and put your mind at ease.
- Address any pet training and behavioral problems. If your pet exhibits fear and anxiety, now is the time to get help from an animal behavior specialist. 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 calmly on the floor beside you until you invite him onto your lap, which will soon cradle a newborn.
- Consider enrolling in a training class with your dog, and practice training techniques. Training allows you to safely and humanely control your dog's behavior and enhances the bond between you and your pet.
- Encourage friends with infants to visit your home to accustom your pet to babies. Supervise all pet and infant interactions.
- Accustom your pet to baby-related noises months before the baby is expected. For example, play recordings of a baby crying, turn on the mechanical infant swing, and use the rocking chair. Make these positive experiences for your pet by offering a treat or playtime.
- If the baby’ room will be off-limits to your pet, install a sturdy barrier such as a removable gate or, for jumpers, even a screen door. Because these barriers still allow your pet to see and hear what's happening in the room, s/he will feel less isolated from the family and more comfortable with the new baby noises.
- Use a baby doll to help your pet get used to the real thing. Carry around a swaddled baby doll, take the doll in the stroller when you walk your dog, and use the doll to get your pet used to routine baby activities, such as bathing and diaper changing.
- Talk to your pet about the baby, using the baby's name if you've selected one.
- Put baby lotion or oil on your skin so your pet becomes familiar with the new smells.
- Finally, plan ahead to make sure your pet gets proper care while you are delivering your baby.
Will I be able to keep my cat?
Pregnant women who have cats often are concerned with toxoplasmosis, a parasite found in the feces of cats that eat raw meat, birds, mice, or contaminated soil. It can be the cause of serious birth defects. Fortunately, toxoplasmosis is rare in the United States and is found more often in undercooked meat, a concern that can easily be avoided. To ease your mind, following are tips to further protect yourself from this rare disease and to ensure that you can keep your cat during pregnancy and after your baby arrives:
- Avoid undercooked meat.
- Wash all uncooked vegetables thoroughly.
- Wash all cutting boards and utensils that might have come in contact with meat before using them.
- Wear gloves when gardening or working in soil for other reasons. Wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
- Ask your spouse, friends, or neighbors to help out with litter box duties while you are pregnant.
- If you don't have help to keep the litter box clean, wear rubber gloves when changing the litter and thoroughly wash your hands afterward.
- Have your cat's litter changed on a daily basis.
- Keep your cat indoors.
When the Baby is Born
After the baby is born, it may be helpful to have someone take a blanket or piece of clothing with the baby’s scent on it so that your pet can get used to the smell before he or she arrives home. On the day you come home, have someone else hold the baby for a few moments so that you can calmly greet your pet and give them a few treats. From there, invite him/her to sit next to you and meet the new baby, rewarding good behavior with more treats.
Believe it or not, it is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. Maintaining as much of your pet’s routine as possible will help him/her adjust to your new addition and ease the transition from being the center of your attention to sharing attention with your growing family.
If you need help adjusting to life with a new baby, our pediatrician Lauren Good, DO, is available. To schedule an appointment, please call the office at (540) 772-3580 or book an appointment online below.Book An Appointment Online with Dr. Lauren Good