BY BEVERLY BURMEIER JUL 2016
You’re pregnant and preparing for baby’s homecoming. You’ve painted the nursery, decorated in your favorite theme, purchased diapers and onesies, chosen the baby’s name—even packed a bag for the trip to the hospital.
Along with all those arrangements, have you remembered to prepare the baby you already have at home? If you have a dog or cat that has been a pampered part of your family, it’s important to consider the impending changes in its lifestyle, too. While each pet has a distinct personality and ability to adjust, you can help it cope with the inevitable shift in your attention.
Lisa McGaugh was concerned that her canine baby, a yellow lab named Sammy, be well-adjusted when her son was born. “Sammy responded positively to our maintaining a structured routine throughout the pregnancy and after bringing the baby home,” McGaugh says.
Just as you would help older children understand that a new brother or sister will soon join the family, you can ease the pet’s stress and help her welcome your new baby. “The responsibility for pets is the same as for a one-year-old child and rests on us, as adults,” says veterinarian Merry Crimi of Milwaukee, Oregon, past president of the American Animal Hospital Association.
Here are some tips to help ensure the health and safety of your growing family.
Before baby arrives
•Visit the vet for a routine exam, vaccinations, and spaying or neutering. Sterilized pets are generally healthier and calmer.
•Resolve any behavior problems with appropriate training before baby arrives. Seek advice from a specialist in animal behavior if you have concerns about aggression.
•Redirect playful nibbling, pouncing, or swatting behaviors. Be prepared to accept any risk that your dog may cause, cautions the Humane Society of the United States.
•Phase in changes gradually. If you need to adjust when or where the dog eats and sleeps, the amount of time devoted to it, or what rooms it may enter, do so early.
•Train your pet to stay calmly on the floor until you invite him closer. Teach obedience to basic commands such as “sit,” “stay,” or “come,” so you can safely and humanely control your pet’s behavior.
•Introduce your pet to baby behavior and sounds before the event. For example, introduce gentle stroking and pulling of the ears, tail, or paws—as a child might do.
•Play recordings of a baby crying, turn on the infant swing, and use the rocking chair. Offer a reward for accepting these experiences positively.
•Carry around a baby doll wrapped in blankets you’ll use later. Put the doll in the stroller or bathtub, talk to the doll using the new baby’s name, sprinkle baby powder or other new-smelling items on your skin.
•Many new parents feel discipline is simpler if the baby’s room is off-limits. McGaugh and her husband Mike chose not to make the baby’s room off-limits for Sammy, although they did impose restrictions.
•Install a gate or other sturdy barrier (even a screen door if the dog jumps a lot). He can still see inside the room and hear sounds, so he won’t feel left out.
•Paint the door to match baby décor; it will make a great conversation piece for visitors.
•After baby is born, bring clothing or blankets home from the hospital to let him get used to your particular baby’s scent.
•Decrease your four-footed baby’s stress level by arranging for him to be cared for in your home while you are away having your human baby.
After baby comes home
•When you first arrive home, have a friend carry the new baby into another room while you greet your pet with lots of attention. Give him a warm, calm welcome—and have treats handy for a quick distraction, if needed.
•Introduce your pet to the baby when he is calm and after you have greeted him fondly. A leash may be helpful if he tends to be over-exuberant in new situations. Praise him for keeping a safe distance from the baby. Closely supervise him until you are sure he won’t be surprised or agitated by baby activities.
•Reward him with praise or treats for relaxed behavior in the baby’s presence. Punish the slightest signs of aggression or excitement with the baby.
•Interact with the dog or cat when baby is awake as well as asleep. One-on-one time with your pet may be relaxing for you, also, during this adjustment period. Scheduling a 5-10 minute period daily to attend to the pet’s needs will convey that the dog is still important.
•Never leave your pet alone with an infant at any time. A baby cannot push the dog or cat away if it cuddles too closely.
•Always keep the baby higher than the pet’s head. A baby lying on the ground is vulnerable to an attack.
•Allow your pet to explore baby’s sleeping and diapering areas to become familiar with sights and smells, but don’t let him sleep on the baby’s furniture or even in the same room as an untended infant or young child. Close the door, and use a monitor. Double-stick tape may discourage climbing.
•Provide toys that do not resemble baby toys. Stuffed or squeaky toys may confuse both as baby gets older. If your toddler drags away the dog’s toy, the dog may unintentionally injure the baby. Repeat “No” until he knows the dog’s toys are not his. And vice versa.
If you don’t already have a pet, wait until the child is older to adopt one. Puppies and kittens demand a lot of attention, and your newborn will likely consume all the time and energy you can muster.