You know when you talk with someone who’s pregnant who also has a dog and they’re all, “He’s a family member, not a pet! He was our first little baby!” Then, when you drop by two months after their baby has arrived and instead of walking Fido to the Dog Barkery (these places do exist) for a frozen pupsicle (again, see what they’ve done there?), the dog is now being fed with whatever kibble was picked up at the late night pharmacy run while they grabbed an infant nasal aspirator? My, how the mighty and furry fall when a baby arrives. Luckily, most pets usually just roll with it, but that transition can be tough! With some basic steps and planning, you can help ensure that your furry friends have a smooth and safe adjustment when your little one arrives.
What Can You Do Before Baby Arrives?
Pets are often pampered before baby comes home. And well, their worlds are ‘bouts to be rocked when their owners roll in one day with a wriggly, crying, (albeit adorable) ball of demands. Even the best of pet owners won’t be able to focus the same amount of attention on their fur babies as they did before baby came home. But there are things you can do ahead of time to ease the transition for your pet.
Break bad habits
Try to get rid of any unwanted habits that your pets have before the baby arrives. Let’s say your dog jumps to greet you. Your cat likes to stick her nose in whatever food you’re preparing. Or your puppy barks every time he sees a rabbit in the backyard. All behaviors that might have seemed like cute idiosyncrasies will become major nuisances or even safety issues once you have a baby. You don’t want your dog to jump on you while you carry the baby, you’ll want your cat’s nose out of the bottle you’re mixing, and heaven help the puppy whose bark just woke a colicky babe.
Make sure your fur babies are in tiptop health
Some parasites that cats harbor can be dangerous to humans so you’ll want to have vet appointments completed to make sure your animals have no underlying health conditions. Baby could not only be negatively affected by something a pet carries, but you also don’t want to deal with a pet health crisis when there’s a newborn at home or have the place you planned to board your pets while you gave birth turn them away because their vaccines aren’t up to date. While you’re getting everything shipshape, it’s also a good plan to have your pets groomed and get their nails trimmed right before baby comes home.
Desensitize your pet
Animals are sensitive to changes in environment. So yeah, adding a new person (who doesn’t even really look like a person to your pet), a bunch of new and weird furniture, and strange smells and noises can stress a pet out. Take steps to gradually accustom your pet to those changes before the baby arrives. Unpack and assemble furniture like the crib, any baby gates, the high chair, and the car seat ahead of time. Play sounds of baby noises (coos, grunts, and cries), and bring in baby smells (any lotions or other products you plan to use). You may even think about carrying around a baby doll and talking to it. Yeah, you’ll feel like a weirdo talking to a doll, but we often use the same singsong voice to speak to our pets as we do with our babies. Talking to a doll can help your animal understand that you’re not always speaking to him. It’s also a good idea to do a little research on animal body language as well so you can recognize signs of a stressed pet and intervene as needed.
Set spatial boundaries
So no matter how much you love your pet, you’re not going to want the cat to hop in the crib or the dog to lounge on the play mat once you’ve brought your baby home. I mean, aside from the possibility of unintentionally hurting your baby, think of the hair and germs from pet paws that you most likely do NOT want your baby laying in. Train your pets to understand that these areas are off-limits to them before baby arrives. (For example, use a spray bottle of water or a canister of air to teach the cat to steer clear of the crib.) Conversely, your pets need to have a safe space they can escape to - a comfy crate, a cat hide-away bed, etc - where baby will not be allowed once he’s older. Make the safe space desirable for your pet with treats, toys, blankets and all their favorite stuff.
Adjust the schedule
No matter how much you love your pet, you’re not going to be able to walk your dog every morning and evening with an extended Saturday afternoon at the dog park after you bring home a new baby. And again (here comes the bearer of bad news), you are also not going to want to do that. You’ll be exhausted and hoping to grab a quick nap or wash a few bottles or just stare in awe at your sleeping baby instead of finding your umbrella and putting on your doggie’s raincoat and paw slippers to walk him around the neighborhood. Someday, you may get back to your pre-baby pet life, but it’s definitely not going to happen in the first six months or so. You should gradually adjust your pet to a new schedule before the baby comes home. Taper the walks, if you have the resources maybe hire a dog walker to take over some of your previous duties, get your pet used to spending some time alone and away from you, and perhaps get him used to a little more time around the house instead of out exploring as much as he used to.
Make a labor plan
Yeah, you’ve got the plan in place for you, your birthing partner, and your doula…but how does furry little Gizmo fit into all of this? (Imagine a quizzical cat face here.) Make plans for your animals for when you go into labor. Are you going to have a reservation at the pet daycare? (Make sure you have those immunizations up to date!) Do you have friends or neighbors you can call in the middle of the night who will be able to feed, water, walk, and love on your pets while you’re in labor? The last thing you’ll want to be worrying about between contractions is who’s going to let the dog out!
Once Baby is Home
Let mom greet the pet first
When bringing baby home for the first time, let momma greet the dog or cat before the baby meets the pet. And when they first meet, both parties should be supervised closely. Don’t just lay your infant down and let the cat wander up. If you’re introducing your dog to baby, make sure the baby is being held and the dog is on a leash. The environment needs to be controlled initially so that all parties feel and indeed are safe.
Have pets keep kisses to themselves
Pets mouths have a different set of bacteria in them than a baby’s does and while sure, it’s adorable to watch Chester the Golden Retriever give all sorts of kisses to his baby’s face, it can also introduce a multitude of germs and bacteria to the baby’s mucus membranes. And baby’s immune system isn’t fully developed yet to handle all that.
Keep baby away from the pet’s space
When babies begin crawling and exploring, make sure they learn to steer clear of your pet’s food and water bowls, litter boxes (gross), and their crates and beds. Animals can be possessive of food and guard their resources. Additionally, food and water bowls can house germs and bacteria not healthy for your baby as well as present a drowning risk. Litter boxes…I don’t really have to spell it out, right? I mean, it’s poop, you get it. Additionally, your pets should have learned to steer clear of your baby’s safe area and they need to know that they have a safe area free from baby as well.
Never leave them together unsupervised
Always be in the same room with your baby and your pet. This was the one major piece of information I gleaned way back when from the class I attended about baby and pet safety. I took this nugget deeply to heart because this information was coming from the mouth of a self-proclaimed crazy dog lady. (I mean, she luuuurved dogs.) But she also made it abundantly clear that pets are still animals and can be unpredictable. And babies can make all sorts of jerky movements and sudden noises that can startle animals. So never leave your baby and pet alone with each other. Even if you don’t have any concerns about negative behavior, many pets also love to cuddle and if you aren’t in the room, there’s a possibility that they could snuggle up next to your baby and make it difficult for the baby to breathe.
Hopefully that helps give you some advice about how to prepare for a smooth, safe transition with baby and pets. Naturally, we stuck with the most common pets here - dogs and cats. Be sure to check at your local hospital, public health department, or birthing center for classes specific to introducing babies and pets - they can be a great resource. Now, if you’ve got something a little more out of the box for a pet (I don’t know, a ferret? A ball python? A potbellied pig?), well, you should probably seek advice from an expert on that animal. And if you’ve got a tank full of goldfish? I think you’re covered!