Bringing home a new baby is one of the most exciting moments in a person’s life. And watching babies and animal companions interact can be one of life’s greatest pleasures. But this is a busy time, and care should be taken to make sure that animal companions who were once the center of attention don’t suddenly become neglected.
We have all unfortunately heard of people who drop their animals off at the animal shelter after beginning to have babies. This is tragic and can be quite traumatic to any dog or cat, especially older ones. So don’t let it happen in your family. Read on to learn how to make the transition smooth and enjoyable for every member of the family.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
The most important thing to remember is that dogs and cats are very sensitive to changes in their routine and the environment. It’s important to keep their needs in mind and to commit to continuing to give them quality time with you, such as going on walks, playing with their favorite toys, being groomed, etc., even after the baby comes home. So take some time to think about how this can be accomplished.
Before Baby Arrives
Set up a nursery area, play nursery songs or even recordings of baby sounds, and allow your dog or cat to sniff and explore the new furniture and baby accessories.
Place a baby doll in the crib, and occasionally hold it close to your chest while in the company of your dog or cat.
Help your dog become familiar with the stroller ahead of time so that he or she isn’t afraid of it when it’s time for family walks. Try giving treats or meals near the stroller before the baby is born. You can also take your dog for a walk with the empty stroller before its passenger comes home to occupy it.
Make sure you are equipped with a good approach to handling stress. Whatever works for you—meditation, herbal tea, soothing music, exercise, a chat with your sister—don’t skimp in this area, because you need to be at your best in order to take good care of both your baby and your furry ones.
After the baby is born, have someone take a baby item home from the hospital to your animal companions so that they can get to know the new baby’s smell and will recognize it later, when he or she is brought home for the first time.
After Baby Arrives
Once the new baby is home, allow your dog or cat to “investigate” under close supervision.
Maintaining a consistent schedule is key—this includes meals, walks, and playtime, as dogs and cats thrive on a predictable schedule.
Set aside time for each animal, whether it’s playing, walking, or cuddling. If you feel overwhelmed by all of life’s changes, consider making a checklist for each member of the family, so that you can stay focused and on track.
If you have a dog who loves to be in the car, let him or her ride along if you decide to take your baby for a ride to soothe him or her to sleep.
As the baby gets a bit older, don’t allow him or her to hit your dog or cat or pull their tails. Teach the baby to love and respect his or her furry siblings!
Remember: Our animals can pick up on our stress, so if you begin to feel stressed out, reach for one of your tried-and-true stress-busting remedies (see above, under “Before Baby Arrives”). Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many people enjoy helping with babies!
Never leave the baby unsupervised with your dog or cat. All interactions should be closely monitored.
If you notice tension or stress in your animals, try using a synthetic calming pheromone. This will make them feel more relaxed and secure. Ask your veterinarian about other supplements and other options for relieving your animal companion’s anxiety.
If your dog barks or growls, or if your cat hisses, or if either raises his or her hackles, don’t correct this behavior, because it’s a useful warning sign that your animal companion is uncomfortable. Instead, understand that more time may be needed to introduce your animal to your baby, and take it slowly.
If alarming behavior persists or if you see signs of depression or anxiety in your furry friends, seek professional help right away. Don’t wait. And if you consult a professional trainer, be sure to select one who uses a positive approach.
Be patient with yourself and your animals. Such an enormous lifestyle change is sure to cause some temporary stress, but by staying optimistic, asking for help when you need it, and focusing on the many positive aspects of your life, you’ll be able to find balance with your whole family.
Happily Ever After
Most babies get along famously with dogs and cats, and there is no reason to anticipate otherwise. Maintain a positive outlook, require respect from all parties, and expect a good outcome. You’re sure to get one!
Here are some words of wisdom from one PETA mom who has introduced multiple babies to a diverse group of animal companions:
I let the dogs have a good sniff of everything as we brought it in―cribs, clothes, etc.―so they knew something was up. I never had any problem at all―and I introduced three babies to many different dogs and cats. When we first brought each baby home, we let the dogs sniff them as we held them. The dogs were very curious but immediately took to all the babies. Very gentle always and sweet, too. And by the time baby begins flinging food from the high chair, it’s a full-fledged love affair! I think a lot of it has to do with the attitude of the parents. It was all very low-key, and we completely expected acceptance from the dogs—which we then got. They never showed signs of jealousy or territoriality in any way.