Many family pets are the “babies” of the family and are used to being the center of attention. If you are expecting a baby, it is important to prepare all the members of your household, including your pet, for the baby’s arrival.
Understanding your pet’s behavior and addressing training and behavior issues prior to the baby's arrival will help make the transition less stressful—and safer—for everyone.
Before the Baby’s Arrival
- You may want to gradually alter your schedule to reflect a realistic post-baby routine. This is helpful when the pet is especially attached to the mother-to-be. Have another family member develop a close relationship with the pet so that it won’t feel neglected.
- Use a doll to get your pet accustomed to baby-related activities, such as feeding, diapering, and walks.
- Play with the baby’s toys, swing, or other items that make noise so that they won’t be unfamiliar to your pet.
- If your pet will not be allowed in the baby’s room, install a baby gate or screen door ahead of time to allow the pet to get used to this new off-limits area without directly associating it with the baby’s arrival. Also, barriers that allow the pet to see and hear the baby will make it feel less separated from the family.
- To discourage the pet from jumping into the crib or onto the changing table, use double-sided sticky tape or motion-activated sound alarms.
- Use baby powder or lotion to get the pet accustomed to baby-related smells.
- Talk to your pet about the baby, using the baby’s name if you have selected one.
- Invite friends with infants over to socialize with your pet. Closely supervise all interaction.
- Make sure your pet will be cared for while you are at the hospital.
- Have your veterinarian perform a health exam and make sure the pet is up to date on its vaccinations.
- Get your pet accustomed to regular nail trims.
When the Baby Comes Home
- Prior to coming home with the baby, send a relative or friend home with a blanket or other object that has the baby’s scent on it to get your pet used to it.
- When the baby arrives home, have someone on hand to hold the baby so that the adults can greet the pets.
- Introduce the pet to the baby in a calm, quiet environment. Never force your pet to go to the baby.
- Give your pet treats and praise to reward its good behavior around the baby. Making the baby/pet interactions positive will benefit both and your pet will feel less threatened. Always supervise any interaction between a baby and a pet and never leave them alone together.
- When your pet approaches the baby, don’t jerk or pull the baby away. This may send the message that the baby is something to be feared. Again, supervision is key; if your pet shows any inappropriate behavior, interrupt it, but don’t punish, and be sure to address any behavior problems quickly before they become unmanageable. Always consult your veterinarian with any concerns you may have.
- Try to maintain the pet’s regular daily routine, including exercise. Spending some quality one-on-one time with your pet each day will help the pet from becoming stressed about the noisy new addition to the family.
Dogs & Baby: What to Watch For
A baby is a new member of the pack, which a dog may see as being lower in the order than it. A dog may display dominant behaviors or fear-related aggression toward a baby. Watch for signs of aggression such as growling, ears down or laid back, and crouching. Always separate the dog from the baby if it displays these behaviors. Over time the dog should become accustomed to the child. However, some dogs never do, and their interactions will need to be closely supervised even as the child gets older. Dogs are highly social animals that are also prone to depression due to reduced attention from their owners. Socialization activities can improve your dog's behavior around your child.
Cats & Baby: What to Watch For
As cats have different social structures than dogs and don’t run in packs, most will ignore a baby altogether, although some cats are highly attached to their owners and may become depressed or anxious about the new addition. If your cat starts scratching or spraying or behaving differently, consult with your veterinarian to rule out medical causes first; he or she can also suggest behavior modification tools to address these issues.