For many people, a cat or dog is their first “baby.”
The thought of bringing your little one home from the hospital for the big introduction is something that a lot of new parents find stressful or worrisome. If you are, I don’t blame you!
It’s impossible to know exactly how your pet is going to react to the strange new creature in the home. Some cats or dogs have absolutely no trouble adjusting to it, but in most cases, you’ll have to do a little bit of work to make things go as smoothly as possible.
This guide should make introducing your pet to the new baby as easy as possible.
The difficulties for the pet.
No matter how hard we try, the way we interact with our pets changes when we bring a new baby into the home. What makes things hard for pets is the decrease in the amount of time and attention we give them, even if we don’t notice it.
For example, you might give you dog a nice pat or talk to them unconsciously while you do the dishes, and with all the responsibilities you have with a new baby, you might stop doing these things.
While it’s something you probably won’t even notice, your pet definitely will! Try to be conscious of these things and give them the attention they need.
Set aside quality time for your pet. The best thing you can do is to try to schedule 10 or 15 minutes of good, quality one-on-one time with your pet. Better yet, start doing this ahead of time, before you bring your child home from the hospital.
The real goal here is to spend more quality time with your pet, instead of just increasing the number of interactions you have with them over the day.
Since your pet is going to be getting much less attention, change up your routine to reflect what it will be like when the baby is home. Gradually cut back on the time you spend with your pet, so it won’t be such a shock when the time comes.
Keep them busy. Pets get bored. A bored pet might engage in destructive behavior; for example, you might find your previously well-behaved dog shredding couches or your favorite shoes, or your cat might start pooping all over the place when they used to always use their litter box.
Any of these behaviors could be your pet trying to communicate that they’re bored, or miss you!
You might consider enrolling dogs in agility classes or doggy day care, both of which are great ways to keep them active and keep the boredom at bay. If this isn’t possible, you could also enlist the help of family or friends.
Moving their living space. It’s likely that you’re going to have to move your pets living area when making room for the new baby. It’s very important to put some thought into this before you do it, in order to minimize the amount of shock and adjusting your pet has to do.
The best thing you can do is to make these changes early instead of waiting too long. One of the worst mistakes new parents do is to try to change things up for their pet at the last minute, and this rarely ends well. It’s not uncommon for new parents to have to find new homes for their pets because the new living situation just isn’t working out.
Choose a location that’s convenient, like the laundry room or off in a corner of the kitchen. Fill it with their things, like toys, water and food bowls, treats and a comfy place to sleep. This will give them an area to escape from what can sometimes be a pretty stressful situation for pets!
It all starts before your baby comes home.
The best way to get your pet ready for the new baby is to start preparing them for the new addition to the family well in advance.
Introduce your pet to the new sights and sounds.
Take the time to introduce your pet to the various baby toys and swings around the home. Strange noises and flashing lights can be terrifying to cats and dogs, and showing them that they’re nothing to be afraid of gets things off to a good start.
This also includes baby gear. You might be surprised at what upsets animals! I’ve heard of dogs having hard times with strollers of all things, so take the time to introduce them to everything you can think of.
Some people even suggest playing a recording of a crying baby to your pet to get them used to the sound.
If you do this, begin at a very low volume. If your pet seems curious or calm, but not afraid, agitated or otherwise reacting negatively, you can slowly begin to increase the volume.
Prep your home.
You might also consider putting baby gates up anywhere that you don’t want your pet to get into. Make sure that they’re tall enough that they can’t jump over them, and secure enough that cats or small dogs can’t jump through them.
Trim their nails.
Make sure your pets nails are trimmed regularly, so they can’t scratch them, even mistakenly. It’s not hard for a spooked cat or dog to cause damage even when they don’t mean to.
It’s raining cats & dogs
While most advice here works for both cats and dogs, there is some that is more specific to each.
If you have a cat:
Protect the crib. For some reason, cats just LOVE to jump into cribs, and needless to say, that’s the last place we want them. My favorite solution to this is to cover the crib with mosquito netting, which is a cheap and easy way to deter them.
Move the box. Once your baby gets mobile, it’s important to keep the litter box out of reach. In order to minimize the amount of adjusting your cat needs to do, move it just a little bit at a time, and start long before baby comes home.
If you do it suddenly, your cat is going to be confused; expect to find unwelcome “surprises” where the box used to be, or elsewhere.
It might sound like a pain, but if you don’t do it this way, you’re in for a lot more frustration when your cat no longer uses the box at all.
Some litter box tips:
- Don’t place it near any noisy or heat-radiating appliances
- Don’t use any deodorizers near the box. They’re questionably safe, and can deter pets from using the box.
- Don’t place the box near their food or water bowls. Cats actually don’t like the litter box smell either!
- If your home has multiple floors, have one little box on each floor.
- Place it in a location that is as private as possible and also easy to access. An older cat might just refuse to use a box that’s hard to get to.
If you have a dog:
Claim the scent. Cesar Milan, a noteworthy dog trainer and television personality, recommends claiming your baby’s scent – this means taking an object that has their scent, like a blanket home from the hospital before you bring baby home and using it to help your dog adjust.
When you do this, it’s time to set some clear boundaries. Challenge your dog to sniff from a distance; this communicates that you’re in possession of the object, and that you’re in charge. Milan says that this is a crucial step in establishing a respect for the baby.
Keep them off of baby’s furniture. You’ll want to avoid letting your dog on the baby’s furniture for a few reasons. First of all, letting them be at eye level with the baby triggers the dog’s instincts to perceive them as a competitor. It also makes them more likely to jump (even playfully) on an infant, which is a recipe for danger.
Some dogs even perceive furniture to be their possession.
To make this as easy as possible you really should keep them off of all furniture from the get go, long before your little one comes home. If you have difficulty in training them this way, your best bet is to work with a professional.
You could also consider having friends and family bring over their little ones ahead of time, to give your pet a visual example of what they’re in for. Every little bit helps.
Dealing with negative behavior.
If your pet shows any type of negative behavior, such as hissing or growling, or being aggressive in any way, don’t punish them. This is their way of showing that they’re uncomfortable in the situation.
Yelling or scolding them is not the proper way to deal with this, and it’s not going to deter them at all. In fact, you might be instilling in them that showing these warning signs is the wrong thing to do, and in the future they might just skip them and go straight to aggressive behavior mode.
Your best bet is to slowly try to get your pet used to the new baby in the house by following the rest of the information in this guide. But DO separate your child and the stressed pet in the meantime.
Your stressed-out pet.
Cats and dogs get stressed too, and when this happens, they might do things that you perceive as dangerous and unacceptable.
Signs that your pet is stressed might include:
- Large, dilated pupils
- Rapid breathing
- Frantic and rapid movement
- Fluffed fur, making noises, charging
- Freezing up/backing away
The big day: making the introduction.
It’s the big day! Time to introduce your pet to the new baby!
First things first: you should have someone who the pet is comfortable with come to the house before you arrive. They should greet and give them their favorite treats, and maybe take them for a walk outside to burn off some excess energy.
Since you’ve probably been away from home from a few days, your pet is going to be eager to see you! Let them approach you and sniff you; you’re probably going to have a different (and interesting!) smell to your pet.
Once the excitement has worn off, it’s time to let the pet meet the newest addition to the family.
If you have a dog, you’ll want to leash them up just to make sure everything stays safe. Happy or positive reactions from the pet should be greeted with approval, but unwelcome behavior should be corrected gently with a verbal warning.
If your pet shows aggressive behavior you should separate your child and the pet immediately. Remove your child from the situation (not the pet – you don’t want to punish them) immediately and try to make the introduction later. It’s possible that all the excitement caused them to get overwhelmed, and it might work better later.
Wrapping it up.
First and foremost, give your dog (or cat) a brutally honest evaluation. If your pet exhibits aggressive, territorial or otherwise-concerning behavior and rehabilitation, contact a professional. If this isn’t feasible for you, consider finding them another home.
I hate the idea of tossing a pet aside when it becomes inconvenient, but if you truly believe the situation isn’t safe for your new baby, sometimes it’s the only option.
Also, never leave your pet alone with your child. Even if they seem to get along perfectly fine, even the calmest dog or cat can turn hostile or snap.
Safety is the number one priority!
Do you have any suggestions or comments on the subject of introducing your new baby to your pet? Let us know in the comments below!