Preparing Pets

Bringing a baby home with pets in the house is a change that can affect the pet and the baby. A plan for coping with this change is in order, and must be prepared so there is an easy transition for both. In this section there are many tips and suggestions,and your vet may have some additional suggestions from knowing your pet.

Be sure to begin implementing these changes months before Baby's arrival, in order to make introducing Pet and Baby safer and easier for all.

  • Take your pet to the veterinarian for a routine health exam and necessary vaccinations.
  • Spay or neuter your pet. Not only do sterilized pets typically have fewer health problems associated with their reproductive systems, but they are also calmer and less likely to bite.
  • Consult with a veterinarian and pediatrician if the thought of your newborn interacting with the family pet makes you uncomfortable.
  • Address any pet training and behavior problems. If your pet exhibits fear and anxiety, now is the time to get help from an animal behavior specialist.
  • Get your pet accustomed to nail trims.
  • Train your pet to remain calmly on the floor beside you until you invite him on to your lap, which will soon cradle a newborn.
  • Consider enrolling in a training class, and practice training techniques. Training allows you to safely and humanely control behavior and enhances the bond between you and your pet.
  • Encourage friends with infants to visit your home to accustom your pet to babies. Supervise all pet and infant interactions. Have the pet smell blankets and hands after handling the baby.
  • Accustom your pet to baby-related noises months before the baby is expected. For example, play recordings of a baby crying, turn on the mechanical infant swing, and use the rocking chair. Make these positive experiences for your pet by offering a treat or playtime.
  • To discourage your pet from jumping on the baby's crib and changing table, apply double-sided carpet tape or aluminum foil to the furniture. Animals generally don't like to walk on these materials, and begin to avoid them.
  • If the baby's room will be off-limits to your pet, install a sturdy barrier such as a removable gate (available at pet or baby supply stores) or, if the pet jumps, a screen door.
  • Because these barriers still allow your pet to see and hear what's happening in the room, pet will feel less isolated from the family and more comfortable with the new baby noises.
  • Carry around a swaddled baby-doll, take the doll in the stroller when you walk your dog, and use the doll to get your pet accustomed to routine baby activities, such as bathing and diaper changing.
  • Use baby products such as baby powder or baby oil on your skin so your pet becomes familiar with the new smells.
  • Make plans and be sure your pet gets proper care while you're at the birthing center.

What Do We Do After Our Baby Is Born?

Helping your pet adjust to the arrival of a new baby is much like preparing a young child for the same event. Handling your pet's curiosity, anxiety and increased insistence for attention may seem like an overwhelming task, in addition to preparing yourself and your household for the baby's arrival. You can, however, help your pet adjust to the big changes ahead with minimal time and effort by making gradual adjustments to your lifestyle before the baby arrives.

Make certain to have your partner or friend take home something with the baby's scent (such as a blanket) for your pet to investigate before you bring your baby home from the hospital. When you walk in the door, your pet may be eager to greet you and receive your attention. Have someone else take the baby into another room while you give your pet a warm, but calm, welcome. Keep some treats handy so you can distract your pet. After the initial greeting, you can bring your pet with you to sit next to the baby; reward your pet with treats for appropriate behavior. Remember, you want your pet to view associating with the baby as a positive experience.

Life will undoubtedly be hectic while caring for your new baby, but try to maintain regular routines as much as possible to help your pet adjust. Be sure to spend one-on-one quality time with your pet each day. This it may help relax you, too. With proper training, supervision, and adjustments, you, your new baby, and your pet should be able to live together safely and happily as one (now larger) family.

Sounds and Smells

Your pet is very sensitive to sounds and smells and uses these special abilities to gather information. From your pet's point of view, you and your home have specific identifying smells that are uniquely yours- and theirs. There are also certain sounds that your pet considers "normal" for your household. Even the different tones of voice you use send important signals. Your baby won't actually change those scents and sounds that are part of your identity, but the baby's arrival will certainly add some new and very different ones. It's important that you introduce these new smells and sounds to your pet gradually in a calm and pleasant atmosphere.

Each time you introduce something new to your pet, make the experience positive. Stroke him, give him treats and praise him for his good behavior when he's faced with a strange new sound or smell. Relax! If you act anxious, your pet will be anxious too.

Pets tend to feel alarmed and defensive when faced with unexpected sounds. Take a little time to become familiar with the "normal" sounds of your household. Is your home normally quiet, with little background noise? If so, how does your pet react to "extra" sounds like a vacuum cleaner, a ringing telephone or a microwave? If your home is normally noisy, your pet may simply sleep through the usual sounds, but how does he react when something unusual occurs? The more strongly your pet reacts to unexpected sounds, the more important it is for you to help him adjust to the "baby sounds" which will become a regular part of your home environment.

Try to recognize what smells are prominent in your home, including your own personal scent such as perfume, and lotions. Your home has its own mixture of smells that makes it feel familiar and safe - cleaning products, kitchen odors, even dust. Any new smells should be added gradually, layered on over a period of weeks. Be aware of the effect these changes have on your pet. While you do this, try to keep one part of your home smelling the same for your pet.

In order to prepare your pet for the new baby, borrow some baby sounds and smells. Handle a baby and absorb some of the smells of baby lotion, powder and food. Go directly home and spend some positive, relaxed time with your pet.

For a few weeks, use baby lotion and powder to familiarize your pet with those smells. This is an excellent "dress rehearsal" for the extra visitors and attention you and your baby will receive during the first few weeks after delivery.

After you bring your baby home, be aware of the ways you use your voice. Do you only speak to your pet with negative tones when the baby's in the room ("no," "off," "don't," "stop")? If so, your pet will certainly connect unhappy feelings with the baby's presence. While you hold your baby, smile at your pet and use his name. Give your pet a small treat when the baby is fed to distract your pet from the smell of the baby's food. Make time with the baby a pleasant time for your pet as well.

Can I Keep My Cat?

If you're pregnant, you've probably heard of toxoplasmosis because it can cause serious birth defects. However, toxoplasmosis is a rare disease in the United States and one that can easily be avoided. While the disease causing parasite can be found in the feces of cats who ingest raw meat, birds, mice, or contaminated soil, toxoplasmosis is more commonly found in uncooked or undercooked meat.

If you're concerned about possible exposure, ask your obstetrician to perform a simple blood test. If the result shows you were exposed to toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, you may be given medication, and your baby may be tested and treated soon after birth. Keep in mind that the odds of contracting toxoplasmosis during pregnancy are extremely low, and even lower for your baby. Being pregnant does not mean you have to give up living with and caring for your beloved cat. Toxoplasmosis is easily avoided by practicing good hygiene and responsible pet care.

Just follow these simple steps to reduce the risk:

  • Avoid handling or eating uncooked meat. Keep your cat safely indoors and away from wildlife.
  • Have someone else clean the litter box daily.
  • If you must clean the litter box, wear rubber gloves and thoroughly wash your hands afterward.
  • Feed cats only commercially prepared cat food.

How Will My Pet React?

No matter how much you plan ahead, the addition of a new family member may be difficult for your pet.

Remember, your dog or cat was your first "baby" and is used to being the center of your attention. So it's understandable that she may experience something akin to sibling rivalry when you introduce a new human baby into your household. You can minimize this feeling by working with her before you bring home your baby. For example, because your new baby will demand a lot of your time and energy, gradually accustom your pet to spending less time with you. Drastically decreasing attention and frequently scolding, ignoring, or isolating your pet after the baby comes home will likely make your pet feel stressed. If your pet is particularly attached to the mother-to-be, another family member should develop a closer relationship with the animal. That way, your pet can still feel loved and provided for while mom is busy with the baby.