Introducing pets to newborns: Transition goes most smoothly when you prepare early for success
Recently after having newborn twins, my human additions to the family brought an interesting dynamic into the lives of my pets. I have been having the “bringing home your newborn” talk to many clients over the years, and I thought it would be a piece of cake. The truth is it takes a lot of time and energy to prepare your first loved ones to cope with all the changes that occur when a baby enters the picture.
The most important thing when instituting change for your dog or even cat is to start early. During the first trimester of your pregnancy, begin to think of how things will affect your furry friends.
Bring your animals into the veterinarian for a general health checkup. Be sure that they are in good health, and have a stool sample checked for parasites that could be transmitted to your little one.
If your dog doesn’t know basic commands, such as “sit”, “down”, “stay”, or doesn’t allow the face, feet, tail, or other parts to be touched, it would be beneficial to meet with a trainer or a behaviorist to work through problem areas.
If you feel that your dog or cat will not be able to tolerate all the changes, you can try to provide your pet with a completely separate and safe environment. If this is not possible in your home, try to find a new home for your pet with a friend or family member before any safety concerns arise.
During your second trimester, start thinking about changes to your pet’s environment. If feeding areas or sleeping arrangements are going to be moved, now is the time to do so. If certain rooms will now be off limits, such as the nursery, get your dog retrained now. During this process, remember to still allow the dog or cat to have his or her own space away from areas where the baby spends a lot of time.
Once the third trimester begins look to a friend for help. If you know someone that recently had a baby or has a toddler, have them pay a visit to your home. Even a short time of your animals listening to new squeals and crying and watching the child’s movements can be helpful during the adjustment process.
Other ways to acclimate your dog or cat to things is by playing sounds of a baby crying. You can also turn on the baby swing, run the humidifier, and play with the noisy toys.
Take the dog for a walk while you are pushing the empty stroller. You can also use a doll or stuffed animal to pretend to take care of the baby and talk in higher tones to get the dog used to attention being directed elsewhere. This upset my dog the first couple of times it occurred. He eventually got used to my new activities and ignored the tasks with the “baby”.
The arrival of your bundle of joy will bring with it many emotional swings for everyone in the home. Be sure that in the first few weeks you are able to spend some quality one on one time with you pets, even if it is for a few short minutes.
There was a definite change in my dog’s demeanor in the beginning. He just didn’t have his normal spunk.
A tool that can be helpful with both dogs and cats is a pheromone collar to help keep the animal calm and content. These collars are best used when you place them on about one to two weeks prior to the baby’s arrival.
You can also be sure to have environmental enrichment items available to your pets, including toys filled with frozen treats, or treats placed in a dog oriented puzzle to keep their attention. Be sure your dog is not one that guards food and strongly consider putting the dog in an area away from the baby when giving food related treats or toys.
The day you arrive home with the baby, there are a few things to remember. Try to have someone bring home an object that has your baby’s scent like a hat or a blanket. Allow the animals to sniff the object but don’t allow them to directly touch the item. Some behaviorists believe if they touch the object, they will lay claim to that smell.
Another tip is to try to exercise the dog prior to the arrival to release some energy. Your furry babies will be very excited to see you since you have likely been away for a few days. Have the new mom greet the pets first without the baby if possible. Bring the baby into the mix, but again, try to avoid having the dog actually touch the baby when sniffing out the new little being.
Do not force your pets to greet the baby. Try not to scold, ignore, or isolate the pets once they are in the baby’s presence unless absolutely necessary. The golden rule in my book is to never leave your pets alone with the baby, even if you believe your dog would never hurt the baby. Accidents happen, and they often happen so quickly you would not be able to respond in time.
For many people, their animals were their first babies. They can continue to be a part of the family just as they were before, with a few changes. Preparation is key; remember to start early for success.
As a busy working mom with six month old twins, it has been difficult to give our dog and cat their much needed attention. I continue to try very hard to show them they are still important members in our family with as much positive reinforcement as possible.
Heather Jarrett has been in practice since 2006 and has worked at the Ann Arbor Animal Hospital for more than four years. Her areas of interest include surgery and internal medicine.