by Dr. Michelle Arnold
Whether it’s your first or your fourth child, bringing home a new baby is an exciting time. Sometimes pets, or as we like to call them, your four-legged children, do not adjust well to new additions to the household. Here are a few tips for a smooth transition for your new baby and your pets.
Animals are intelligent creatures, and your pet will know a change is coming as you prepare for your new baby to arrive. Allow your pet to be part of the preparation process by letting him/her come into the nursery as you set up and decorate the newly appointed space. Start to prepare your pet through daily routines. Even though you can’t fully predict your daily schedule once the new baby is there, try to come up with a feeding, walking, and play routine for your pet that will mimic your future routine. Pets are creatures of habit, and the more regular their daily routine, the less stressed both you and your pet will be.
While you are still in the hospital, have someone take an item of clothing or a blanket with the new baby’s smell on it to your pet at home. Let your pet become familiar with the new scent before the baby arrives at home. It will be easier for your pet to adjust to all the new smells, sights, sounds, and emotions if he/she is introduced to these slowly and individually rather than all at once.
The day you bring your baby home, keep your pet and new baby separated for a day or two. This will allow your pet to become accustomed to the sounds of the new baby. You can separate them by keeping your pet in a separate room with a door shut or by putting up a gate. Remember to spend some time with your pet so that he/she does not feel abandoned or shut out.
After the first couple of days, let your pet see your new baby. You can choose when to allow physical contact between them, as this will be dependent on how your pet interacts with new people and children. Some people choose to allow immediate contact between their pets and new baby, and even allow the pet to snuggle with the child. Keep in mind that this can be dangerous if your pet has never met a squalling baby before and because your baby can not get away from your pet on its own. We suggest “snuggle time” be highly supervised to prevent any accidents such as scratched body parts or your pet laying on top of the new baby. Cats are very good at climbing into cribs while you’re not watching, so you will need to make plans to keep the cat out of the baby’s room unless supervised.
Should your pet show any fear or aggression toward your new baby, you have several options to consider. The first would be to bring in a personal trainer to work with you and your pet and encourage positive experiences with the new baby. The second would be to separate your pet from the baby for an extended period of time and you can try reintroducing them at a later date. The last option is finding a new home for your pet. Some animals do not do well with children and would do well in a home with an older person/couple, and this may be a better option than keeping the pet separated from the family for the rest of its life.
Bringing home a new baby should be a stress-free experience for you and your four-legged family members. If you need any other tips or ideas please call your family veterinarian. Congratulations on the new addition to your family!