It will soon be time to introduce your furry, scaly, or feathered "baby" to your new human baby!
As you've probably guessed, it's likely to be a big adjustment for Mittens or Rocco. They've had most of your attention for a long time. How can you help them adjust and learn to love the new addition, while keeping your baby safe?
There are a number of things you can do to make the transition easier.
- Get your pet ready for the sights, sounds, and smells of a new baby. Before the baby is born, play sounds of baby noises in the house periodically, and introduce a realistic-looking baby doll that you "take care of" for the animal to see. You may feel a bit strange, but pretend to change the baby, put it in the new crib and the stroller. After the baby is born, send a blanket that's been used to wrap your baby home from the hospital with a family member or friend. They can allow your pet to sniff it and get used to the baby's scent. But never let them mouth the doll or the blanket.
- Teach your pet manners. If you haven't taken your dog to obedience training, for example, early in pregnancy is the time to do so. One of the most important rules they need to learn: no jumping! You might not mind their eager, slobbery leaps, but even a loving jump can injure a newborn.
- If you allow your pets on the furniture, time to set a new rule keeping them off. Putting a pet at eye level with a baby increases the chance of injury.
- Relocate beds and litter boxes well in advance. If your pet's bed or litter box needs to be moved based on where the baby will be sleeping or playing, do it well before the baby is due home, so your pet will have time to adjust and won't associate the baby with being displaced.
- Set aside "quality time." It's a fact of life that you won't have as much time for your pet once the baby comes home. So plan ahead and allot specific times of the day when you will spend focused time playing with and paying attention to your pet(s).
- Make time for exercise. If you think you won't be able to give your pet the exercise they need, especially in those exhausted early weeks, consider hiring a pet sitter or dog walker temporarily.
- Address problems early. If you see any problem behaviors from your pet -- even small signs of aggression, like growling; rude behavior or rough play; or ignoring commands -- it's time to intervene early before it becomes a danger. If you work with them now, and perhaps enlist the help of an obedience trainer, you should be able to eliminate problems before your baby arrives.
- Manage introductions carefully. Ideally, you should greet your pet first when you walk in the door after having the baby, and have a friend or other family member carry the baby in. Then you can let your pet, or pets, "meet" the baby (one at a time if there's more than one animal). If there are any signs of a problem, separate them by taking the baby out of the room. Don't punish your pet, but if you see any aggression at all, contact a professional.
- Keep a stressed pet away from the baby. If your animal shows signs of stress, like rapid breathing, pacing, snapping, or fluffed-up fur or feathers, it's time to isolate them from baby. Get to know your pet's particular "trouble signals" and maintain a safe separation if you see those signs.
- Give your pet a kid-free space. As much as your pet and child may grow up to love each other, just like humans, pets need their space.
- Never, never, never (did we say never? NEVER!) leave an infant or child alone with your pet. No matter how gentle, sweet, well-trained, small, or flat-out lazy your pet is, it's still an animal. Animals are unpredictable and can injure or even kill newborns, babies, and children in just a split second. It's not worth the risk.
If you take all these precautions, you're well on your way to building a happy relationship between your baby and your pets.