Introducing your new baby to your pet

A new baby is a significant upheaval in any home. Parents must adjust to little sleep and the seemingly unending demands of a fragile being they barely understand. Naturally, parents will instinctively focus all of their energies on the new baby and ensuring he/she thrives.

But there is another occupant of the home that still needs your attention too, your pet. The best way to manage both relationships is to encourage pets and children to bond from the start. That way both feel loved and have your attention.

Here are some tips to help make sure the whole household gets along.

Preparing for a new baby

It is as important to prepare your pet for the baby’s arrival as it is for you to prepare for the baby.

  1. Let you pet sniff and explore the new furniture, toys and other baby paraphernalia you’ve brought  into the home for baby.
  2. Some dogs are anxious about things that roll or may try to bite at wheels of a pram. If you plan on taking family walks with your dog, it is a good idea to expose him to walking with the pram before baby arrives.  If he seems afraid of the pram or chases the wheels, start by walking him very slowly on-leash next to the pram. Reward him with a favourite treat if he walks without reacting. If this doesn’t help, ask your vet for advice.
  3. If your pet is extremely sensitive to unfamiliar or loud sounds, you can work on desensitizing it to baby sounds by playing recordings of baby sounds. Start by playing the sounds at a low volume and while the sounds play, use positive reinforcement like treats, playing with toys or petting. Over several sessions, gradually increase the volume until your pet has no reaction to the sounds at normal volume.
  4. If you don’t want your pet sharing your baby’s bed then teach him to sleep away from the bed before bringing the baby home. Pets can be taught to sleep elsewhere by blocking their access to the bedroom with a baby gate (dogs) or by closing the bedroom door (cats). Another method is to confine them in a new sleeping location, such as a different bedroom or a comfortable kennel.

No jumping!

One of the most important things to teach all dogs is not to jump up onto people, especially when they’re holding a baby. Teach your dog to sit on command, using reinforcing treats. It requires effort from you but it can, and will, work.

New baby and cats

Babies eventually crawl and walk and love nothing better than getting their hands on a cat’s food bowl or litter tray. Before the happens, move these items in a place your child can’t reach. You could create a child-free room by installing a pet door. It is best to make any litter box or feeding changes well before the baby is born because if problems develop (housesoiling, weight loss), you will be able to more easily identify the cause and make appropriate adjustments.

To stop cats sleeping with or on the baby, put up a crib net or  install a screen door on the nursery so you can hear the baby but the cat can’t get in.

Make sure you also prepare comfortable areas, such as cat trees, window seats, or even folded towels on top of cabinets or on bookshelves, where your cat can get away from an eager toddler.

Coming home with a new baby

When a new mother first comes home from the hospital and greets her pet, she should be empty-handed. Find a time when you are not busy with the baby and devote all your attention to the pet, especially a dog, before introducing it to the baby.

When a pet is first introduced to a baby, make sure at least two adults are present—one to supervise the baby and the other to supervise the pet. Don’t force an introduction, just let the pet be around the baby.

Allow your pet to politely sniff at the baby, but if a pet seems interested in lots of sniffing or licking, draw its attention away with another activity such as playing with toys.

Less commonly, dogs will be aroused and focused on the baby. This can be a serious situation. If you are seeing this sort of behaviour from your dog, or less commonly from your cat, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Once your pet adjusts to your new focus on the baby, it usually ignores this other creature in the house. Most of the problems seen between pets and babies involve crawling children (e.g. 6 months and older) and toddlers, not immobile infants. So it’s a good idea to look ahead to things that may change (e.g. the addition of baby gates) as the baby begins to crawl and walk. You should also provide resting areas that allow your pets to get away from curious children.

If serious behaviour problems arise between your pets and your children, contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help identify the problem’s source and work with you to find an appropriate solution.

extracted from an article in DVM