In the U.S., we really love our pets. According to data from Statista, 89.7 million dogs and 94.2 million cats live in American households. Pet owners spend an average of $126.19 per month on food, toys and even costumes and birthday gifts for their furry babies.
As any pet parent knows, your pets quickly become part of your family. But when you add a new human family member to the mix, your dog or cat might not handle it well. And the last thing you want is for Fido or Fluffy to react unpredictably to having a new baby boy or baby girl in the house. Fortunately, there are many proactive things you can do before your baby is born to prepare your pet and lay the groundwork for a smooth transition.
Preparing Your Dog for Your Baby Girl or Boy
If your pampered pooch has never met a baby before, you have no way to tell what will happen when you make the first introduction. Even a mild-mannered dog who has previously gotten along well with older children may not have any basis for understanding how to behave around a newborn. Here are some tips to get you started.
- Put your dog through an obedience training course – even if you already did this in puppyhood, your adult dog could use a refresher on how to behave properly.
- Once your dog has mastered basic commands, practice them while you do baby-related activities. For example, tell your dog to stay while you simulate soothing or burping a baby doll. Practice positive reinforcement by giving your dog a favorite treat for remaining in position.
- If possible, begin to allow your dog to spend time around a real infant. Don’t let your dog go up to the baby; rather, give treats for good behavior. If your dog displays any aggressive behavior such as growling or barking, don’t discipline him, as that punishment will cause him to form a negative association with babies. Calmly lead him away from the room, and repeat the exposure later, at a greater distance from the baby.
- Begin playing recorded baby sounds such as crying at an extremely low volume while feeding your dog treats. Increase the volume slightly with each session. Your goal is for your dog to remain calm, even around loud crying. If you think having a screaming baby in the house will be chaotic, imagine adding a barking dog to the mix.
Introducing Your Dog to Your Infant
Once you’ve given your dog a solid foundation for how to behave around an infant, you’re ready for him to meet your new family member for the first time.
- If your new baby girl or baby boy is born at the hospital, bring home blankets or onesies she or he has worn to familiarize your dog with the new scent.
- After your newborn comes home, give your dog a few days to adjust to the smell, sight and sound of the baby from a distance before introducing them.
- After a few days, let the dog sniff the baby while remaining on a leash. Pet and praise him while he sniffs. Ideally, you will have given your dog the tools to adapt easily, but always take precautions, especially in the first few weeks. Always allow your dog the choice to approach you and the infant, rather than forcing interactions.
- Once you’ve gotten your dog used to the baby’s smell, allow him the chance to sniff the baby with the leash off. Make sure to supervise every interaction between the dog and your child to prevent unpredictable behavior if the baby suddenly screams, cries or kicks.
- Give your dog plenty of love and attention when the baby is around. You don’t want him to form an association between the presence of an infant and a lack of affection.
Preparing Your Cat for Your Baby
Though cats may behave very differently from dogs, you should still take steps to get your cat ready for a new family member – especially if your cat doesn’t tolerate change well. Cats crave consistency, and even minor changes to their surroundings can make them stressed and unhappy.
- Prepare your cat for baby sounds and smells. Play a recording of baby sounds at increasingly high volumes while your cat is doing normal activities. You may also want to expose your cat to any infant toys that make sounds before your baby is born. Begin to put baby powder or diaper cream on your skin to get your cat used to the new smells.
- Change your cat’s environment gradually.Whether painting a nursery or bringing home new baby furniture, do so one step at a time to give your cat time to adjust. At each stage, play with your cat in the baby’s nursery to help her build positive associations with the room.
- If you’ve been keeping your cat’s litter box in the room that will become your nursery, begin moving it to its new location a few inches a day over the course of several months. If you try to rush into the transition, your cat may return to make messes in her old spot. Covering that area with furniture will discourage this behavior.
Introducing Your Cat to Your Infant
Now that you’ve spent several months getting your feline friend ready to meet your new baby boy or baby girl, the big day is finally here. Here’s how to handle it.
- When you first get home from the hospital, greet your cat in a quiet room without interruptions. Don’t let anyone else in until you’ve had a few moments to reconnect.
- Wherever possible, keep your cat’s routine the same as it was before your baby came home, and don’t neglect her. For example, your partner can play with the cat while you feed the baby, or vice versa. If your cat is showing any signs of stress, confine her to a safe room.
- Don’t allow your cat to enter the nursery unattended. Newborn infants cannot roll over or even lift their heads, so an affectionate cat who cuddles up close to your baby’s face could make it hard to breathe. Always keep the nursery door closed when the baby is napping. This precaution will also keep the cat from urinating in the crib – something she might try if she is overly stressed.
- Supervise your cat and infant anytime they’re together. No matter how young the baby or docile the cat, there are too many variables that can go wrong, ending in potential injury. Whenever supervision isn’t possible, keep your child and cat separate.
Your Family Is Worth It
It is entirely possible for you to preserve family harmony after the birth of a new baby boy or baby girl, once you’ve taken the necessary steps to get your pets acclimated to the idea of having an infant in the house. Maintain a positive attitude, and you’ll keep both your human baby and your fur-babies happy and healthy.