Pets and the New Baby
Just as siblings need to be prepared for the new baby’s arrival, so do pets. To many couples, their pet is their “first baby,” and they are concerned about how the pet will adapt to the new baby and even about whether the pet will endanger him. Most pets adapt very well and grow to accept and love the new addition. Some pets, though, show signs that they need more attention or even become aggressive. It is very important to remember that close supervision of all pets is required. Because a dog is a pack animal, he sees the people in his home as the members of his pack. His view of his place in the pack and of this “new” pack member will affect his response to the baby. If he believes this new addition threatens his position, he may not adapt as well.
Your pet’s personality will also help to determine how he reacts to the baby. Is he good with other children? How does he react when a baby cries? Is he tolerant of being handled, or does he snap if certain areas of his body are touched or possibly grabbed? Does he become aggressive if his food bowl is touched or if you try to take something from his mouth? Is he easily excited or nippy? Is he protective of his territory, or does he welcome strangers into his home? If your dog shows aggressive behavior, it is important to invest in specialized training to alter this behavior. Teach your dog the commands sit, stay, down, no, and come.
Begin to prepare your pet for the baby during the last weeks of pregnancy. A dog uses his senses of smell and sound to learn about his environment. Allow him to investigate the nursery and sniff the new scents. Cradle a blanket that has been sprinkled with powder, lotion, or even diaper cream. Speak to him in a pleasant, soothing tone of voice, pet him, and offer him a treat so he has a positive association with these smells. Never play tug of war with a baby blanket or baby toy. Reinforce calm interest, and discourage jumping or aggressive behavior. Play a tape of a baby crying to see how he reacts. If you have friends or family members with babies or young children, ask them to visit, especially if your dog has not been around many children.
If your pet has not had a physical recently or is not on monthly heartworm/parasite medication, it may be a good idea to take him to the veterinarian to have a complete physical, including a stool examination for parasites. Make sure he is current on all vaccinations. This would also provide an opportunity to discuss the subject of the new baby with a veterinarian who knows your pet.
While you are still in the hospital, have your husband wrap the baby in a blanket, then take the blanket home so the dog can become familiar with the smell of the baby. When you arrive home, you may want to have your husband carry the baby and place him directly in the crib. You can then greet your pet, who will be excited to see you after your absence. A little later, you can gradually introduce the pet and the baby. He can look at the baby first in the crib, then in your arms. Allow him to be curious and observe you feeding, changing, and holding the baby. Do not act overly frightened or react angrily if your pet approaches or licks the baby. This would reinforce that the baby is something negative. If your pet becomes upset when the baby cries, reassure and stroke him just as you would if he were frightened by thunder or other loud noises.
If your pet is territorial, it may be best to bring him outside (a neutral location) for his first view of the baby. Then you can all enter the house together. If he becomes overly excited with lots of company, do not have extra people present for the first meeting.
Occasionally, a pet will react to this new addition by having accidents, chewing, refusing to eat, or other signs that he is feeling abandoned. Make sure his routine is not altered drastically and that he is given the attention he is used to having. Continue taking him for his daily walk. Take time to play with him, and offer him lots of pats and kind words. Do not hit your dog for bad deeds. Reward positive behavior, rather than accentuating the negatives. A dog who becomes aggressive is instinctively protecting his territory from an invader. This can have very serious consequences. If the behavior is not altered, you may have to find another home for the dog.
To avoid a possible tragedy, do not leave your pet alone with the baby until you are absolutely sure you can trust the dog. When your baby starts to crawl, you need to be equally alert, as a dog can be an attractive plaything. Even the best animal may not take kindly to being grabbed or pinched. Teach your child to stroke and pet the dog; never allow hair pulling or ear tugging.
Cats are more independent than dogs and need to be handled a little differently. In general, follow the suggestions for introducing a dog to a new baby. Knowing your cat’s personality and how he responds to people and new situations is your best guide to how he will act with the baby. An older cat who is used to lots of attention may act jealous or misbehave. Extra attention, especially when the baby is awake, should solve the problem.
Contrary to popular myth, cats cannot suck the air out of a baby’s mouth. Occasionally, a cat may cuddle up with or sleep on top of an infant and may accidentally smother the baby. Because they can easily jump onto dressers or into cribs, cats should not be allowed into the baby’s room unless you are there. Securely fasten netting over the crib to discourage jumping. Clip your cat’s nails to prevent accidental scratches. If you have a mature male cat, he may spray to mark his territory. You may want to have him neutered prior to the arrival of the new baby. Neutering may also diminish aggressive behavior.
Most pets learn to love the new addition to the family, with the pet and child becoming close companions. Avoid problems by preparing your pet, identifying possible problems and remedying them before they become worse. Some couples plan to get a puppy during their first weeks at home with a new baby, thinking that they will have lots of time to spend training the puppy. But most parents are already overwhelmed by the lack of sleep and the responsibility of the new baby. It would be best to delay getting a puppy until the baby is older and sleeping better, and you are able to give a new puppy the attention he deserves.