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Health & Pregnancy

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You & Your Pet: Pets & The New Baby

WebMD Feature from "Country Living" Magazine

By Toni Gardener

Country Living Magazine An infant in the family can mean a time of transition for everyone.

Having a baby, a friend once told me, was the biggest shock of her life: Everything was turned upside down by the arrival of the delightful bundle. And while hers is an accurate description of what happens, all too often the arrival of the new brings the neglect of the familiar, including formerly doted upon pets.

Pets are sensitive to any change in their routine, and a drop in human attention can be devastating. They may begin to seek attention however they can, even through negative behavior, including chewing, house soiling, and nipping. Sadly, this is a time that pets are typically surrendered—unnecessarily—to animal shelters. But with simple preparation, pets can come to view the new family member as an addition to the group instead of a threat to their previously happy existence.

When preparing the baby’s room, allow the pet to inspect everything. My cat slept in the new stroller until the baby arrived. I never forbade her from returning there, but apparently she found the scent or sound of the baby a deterrent and never used it afterward. Wind up the baby swing, rattle toys, and invite friends with new babies over to familiarize your pet with them. And talking about the baby’s arrival in positive and inclusive terms to the pet seems to help—the animal already senses change.

Most important, adjust and establish your pet’s routine of feeding, walking, and special attention before the baby arrives so that it can be maintained after the baby is home. That way, changes in the comfortable pattern will not be associated with the baby.

Introduce the pet to the new baby early by bringing home a blanket with the baby’s scent, and when the baby gets home, praise the pet while the baby is in the room. Giving extra attention to the pet in the presence of the baby, and being more matter-of-fact when the baby is asleep or in another room, reinforces a pet’s positive association with the baby. One friend used to keep a bowl of dog biscuits by the front door. As guests came in to see her new baby, they offered a treat to the family’s dog before moving on to admire the infant.

Infancy is a rollicking time for new parents and already-ensconced pet “siblings” alike. Take into account your pet’s feelings of curiosity and insecurity—even jealousy—and remember to include him or her in this exciting time. Your baby will be a toddler in a few short months, when you’ll have a whole new set of considerations to work through with your pet. But there’s no better way for children to learn compassion, consistency, and love than with a pet, especially one that has been in the family from their earliest memories.

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