Odds are a family pet has been the trusty fur baby for some time now. Sometimes they were the first company mom or dad had when they moved out into the real world and took on that whole “adulting” thing. They were at their side, and sometimes on their lap, through illnesses, Netflix binge watching, nasty break-ups, and was still ready to greet them when they come home with a wagging tail (or disdainful glare for cat owners).
Whether the family pet was a sort of practice round for dipping those toes into the waters of responsibility just a couple of years ago or has been a trusty BFF for years and years, mom or dad is their human. As special as that role is, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but things are going to change when the baby arrives.
For some people it changes the moment they get that positive pee stick and can no longer change the kitty litter, but more on that later.
For any expecting woman, first of all congratulations, that’s amazing news! Maybe they’re worried about how their pet is going to react to the “new normal” when a baby arrives, or perhaps they’ve already entered the world of jealous behavior from a pet who was oh so well behaved before baby arrived.
Either way, here is some solid, expert researched advice on what to do when the “sibling” rivalry gets to be too much. We also have some tips on coping with a curious toddler and boundaries surrounding pets. Let’s get ready to create a space where pets and babies can co-exist harmoniously.
15Get Educated In Animal Psychology
By understanding the motivations of your pet, and how their behavior is related to their animal nature you’ll be better prepared for what to do (and what not to do) in terms of training, correction, and praise. All pets care about territory, particularly their home base. This space has its own smell associated with you and whatever other humans they’ve grown accustomed to.
A good example of respecting this territorial nature is avoiding having baby directly infringe on their space. So, if they have a sunny spot where they like to lie down every afternoon, do yourself a favor and pick somewhere else to park the pack-and-play.
Animals like predictability and routine, so if you plan on rearranging furniture or rooms to make space for baby, do it well before your due date. This gives your pet a chance to check out the baby’s room and get used to the new set up one change at a time.
14Give The Pet A Preview Into The New Normal
While we’re not suggesting you sacrifice the babes of your friends to an unattended pet who has never been exposed to a cooing, crying infant; it is a good idea to begin to expose your pet to babies as soon as possible. Play host to people with children and babies for short visits (experts recommend about an hour or two).
This will give you a sneak preview as to how Patches responds to the noises, mess, and pandemonium caused by babies and children. If there are no kids around, consider playing some recordings of babies cooing, and crying for a few weeks.
These practice runs will give you a chance to correct any behavior that is unacceptable before you’re bleary eyed and sleep deprived. If you have a dog who likes to jump, or cat who likes to climb up onto everything now is the perfect time to practice saying 'no' firmly.
13Get The Pet To Associate The Baby With Good Things
When baby arrives home a good bet is to get your pet to associate baby with things that they love. If you can, get a couple of used baby blankets and place one, temporarily, where your pet eats and another where they sleep, but remember not to take over their space.
Since these are two things that both cats and dogs love, they’ll connect them subconsciously with the scent of your little one which is exactly what you’re looking for. Another good idea is to invite one of your pet’s favorite people (that niece who always lavishes them with attention or your dog loving neighbor) to come over for the purpose of showering attention on Fido.
It may make you nervous, but do allow your curious pet to sniff the baby, it’s a part of the way they’ll get to know them.
12Let Whiskers Get Bored Of Baby’s Stuff
Most people report that their cats have adjusted better to the arrival of their babies than dogs. Some believe this is because cats don’t form as strong a social connection to their humans as dogs do. When stressed out cats are more likely to hide than to get spiteful.
This all being said, there are a number of common cat issues we need to talk about. First things first, positive pregnant test? You have one less chore on your plate, delegate litter box duty to your partner since cat litter can carry bacteria that causes toxoplasmosis, a danger to a developing fetus.
Remember to set up baby’s bed early so the cat can sniff and check things out before it’s filled with an infant. If your cat tries to climb into or nap in the crib you can discourage them by making it an inhospitable environment. We filled ours with balloons and a layer of tin foil until our cat learned to stay clear.
11Make The First Introduction A Positive One
First impressions don’t just count for humans, they also count for pets. Experts recommend taking your dog for a nice long walk before meeting baby for the first time to make sure they don’t have an excess of energy to burn off. When you enter your house with your dog make sure they are calm.
Your pup will immediately note a new scent in the house, and if you’ve been able to bring a few items of baby’s home it should be at least a little familiar. In order to keep pup calm, make sure you are calm as well, again your animal is going to mirror your emotions. In the first meeting, let your pet sniff baby, but not get too close.
Even if your pet seems really excited to see your baby, be careful. Even a tiny dog can accidentally hurt baby by getting worked up. Ignore and don’t encourage hyperactive behavior, and reward calm.
10Be Aware That Pets Will Mirror Their Owners Emotions
Pets are more intuitive than we give them credit for. When I was newly pregnant and stressed out about health symptoms that were mirroring the early stages of a miscarriage (it was really twin implantation) I was beyond a mess. My cat sensed it.
Our routines changed. I was put on modified bed rest and all of a sudden my husband was on litter duty. He didn’t like it. As a result, when I was just about to fall asleep at night my cat would climb up onto me, curl up, and then urinate all over me. This in turn made pregnant me, who was actively trying to avoid cat pee because of the health risks, freak out.
It was a disgusting and vicious cycle. Thankfully it stopped after a month or so. Dogs and cats will often mirror our emotions, so keep note of yours and how they relate to your pet’s behavior.
9Rules For Pet Are Rules For Baby
Fair is fair. Don’t mix baby toys with doggy toys. You don’t want to let Max chomp on Sophie the Giraffe, so don’t let your baby play with Max’s trusty kong. Redirection is the key for both your pet and a curious infant or toddler. If either grabs onto something that doesn’t belong to them, simply redirect them towards one of their own toys.
When a dog begins to play with his own toys, reward him for this. Some pet owners find it helps to rub almond oil onto your dog’s toys since they’ll associate the good smell with their own things and baby’s items will smell boring.
If your pet keeps on grabbing at baby’s toys, spend a little extra time tidying up, or invest in some toy bins with lids to keep puppy paws out.
8Look For Root Causes Of Acting Out
Your pet might want to show you they’re unhappy with the current situation, and when they do, don’t stress out about it too much, it’s completely normal. Your dog might pee all over that pile of baby clothes that you just pulled out of the dryer, a cat might leave an unfortunate “present” on your living room couch.
This is all about them marking their territory and asserting themselves and their space. Yes they are acting out; try and think of this as a practice round for when baby gets older. Acting out can include whining, pawing at people, or increased protectiveness over the original pack members.
Look at what is happening and your role in this when your pup displays this needy behavior so you can begin your plans for training. Have walks taken a back seat? Maybe it’s time to get a dog walker, even if it’s only for a few weeks. Or perhaps the cat litter isn’t as sparkling clean as it usually is, and this is simply your cat’s way of reminding you to get back onto your chores.
7What About When Things Get Aggressive?
No one wants to think about this, but sometimes a pet might literally lash out at baby. Usually this won’t happen until a child is a toddler and not playing quite right with them, but sometimes a pet will growl, nip or hiss.
All of these actions are signs of aggression. But what can you do beyond constant supervision (which when baby and your pet aren’t separated by a closed door is best)? In order to discipline your pet give a firm, "No" and take them out of the room for 15 seconds (probably better for dogs than cats).
It’s also very important to provide some positive attention. Remember to reward them with a pat, treat, or favorite toy. If this aggressive behavior doesn’t stop, you aren’t out of options, but it will require more work.
6It Might Be Time For Some Obedience School
Sometimes your pet will really have a tough time adapting to life with their new roommate. When you feel like you’re at your wits end, it might be time to call in “the big dogs” – that is the professionals. When a pet becomes a lesser priority they’re likely to get confused, and this confused pet is more likely to have negative associations with the baby.
If you haven’t had your pet professionally trained already, or if it’s time for a refresher, contact a highly recommended obedience school. If you don’t know where to start looking, connect with friends and family who have pets and kids to see if they have any suggestions.
Your dog walker or vet could also be a big resource here, as can online testimony and review services like Yelp to connect you to a trainer who will be convenient and effective for your family.
5Teach The Pet That There's No Positive Response To Jealous Behavior
Much like in parenting, a reaction is still a reaction from you, even if it is a negative one. You know the expression “you’ll catch more flies with honey”, it applies here. Focusing on the positive by giving treats when they behave and not giving your pet negative attention when they slip up is a great way to combat jealousy.
For example, when your dog shows their trademark signs of jealousy, simply turn your back and leave the room. This will reinforce that their jealous response to a particular situation will provide absolutely no positive outcome. When your pup (or cat) stops their jealous behavior, or remains calm, cool, and collected around baby give them a treat and give them lots of attention.
This will reinforce that good pups and kitties get lots of pats and attention.
4Boundaries For A Gentle Sniff
Many like to condition their dogs to understand that there is an imaginary line that they may not cross without their human giving pup the green light. As the leader of the pack you are also in charge of when it’s time for your pet to leave the room. This can be practiced with letting them into the nursery or even with baby’s items.
If you are able to bring items with baby’s scent home before the baby, you can use this as an opportunity to teach your pet to sniff a little, all while respecting the boundaries you’re setting. Let them know that you are in charge and that you are granting them permission to sniff. This will begin the trend of your pet developing a respect for baby.
3Teach Toddlers To Respect Animals
Respect is a two way street (all lessons to share with your baby when they become a teen). When baby grows from an infant to a crawling, toddling, explorative stage this is a good time to teach them about how to interact with their dog or cat. Teach them about gentle pets, not to startle or surprise a dog, and that pulling on a pet’s tail, ear, or trying to ride them is unacceptable.
A lot of children accidentally provoke a dog or cat when they haven’t been taught how to interact with them. Avoid nips, bites and scratches by teaching your child respect for your pet. While all pets should be trained to remain calm when their food is moved while they are eating, remember to teach your child not to bug kitty or doggy when they are eating or napping.
2Don’t Forget About Puppy Or Kitty
Priorities change when you have children. Your life is going to be different, and that’s okay. At the same time you need to set aside time and attention to the people and creatures in your life. Make it a priority to keep your pet feeling like an important part of your family.
For the most part this means keeping the routine consistent, giving walks, treats, leadership, and ample cuddle time. The time you spend focusing on your pet will allow your trusted sidekick to gain security and relax a little, especially since monumental changes like this can feel like the sky is falling for your pet, who honestly adores you.
If you can’t manage some of this routine consider outsourcing some companionship for your pet. If you can, work this into the routine for at least a few weeks before the baby arrives. This way your pet isn’t coping with yet another change.
1Remember Baby’s Safety Comes First
At the end of the day your duty as a parent is to keep your child safe. If you’ve sought out professional help and your pet is acting aggressively and you have a terrible gut feeling about your pet and your child, it might be time to find your companion another home.
This is a terrible decision to have to make, however it’s not just the well-being of your child to consider here. It’s also the happiness of your pet who is clearly very unhappy about their new roommate.
For those who don’t want a permanent change, or foresee the issue resolving itself when you settle past the first few weeks with baby, you can see if a family member or boarding service can help, but for the most part go with your gut.
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