Many pet owners treasure the relationships they have with their “fur babies” and look forward to introducing them to their newly born human loved ones. But before you race to take that adorable photo of your tiny baby snuggled up against your giant German shepherd, read these tips. Despite what the internet might have you think, perching your newborn atop your (usually) sweet and loving pets is not exactly a safe practice. Here are some guidelines for introducing your baby to your cats and dogs.
Prepare Your Pets
Your pet may be used to having free rein in your home, so it’s time to get some rules in place before you bring home Baby. If your pet adjusts to the rules before the baby arrives, he or she won’t be as resentful. Will you want the dog or cat on the couch while you’re breastfeeding? What about in your bed at night? If not, set the stage now. You don’t have to ban your pet from the bedroom or sofa entirely, but teach him or her that it’s only okay to climb up if he or she is invited. If the nursery is going to be off-limits, don’t wait until you bring the baby home. Ban your furry friend now so he or she knows the rules up front.
About a month before your due date, schedule a checkup with your veterinarian. Make sure your pet is up to date on all shots and vaccinations, and talk to the vet about any concerns you might have. Don’t forget to ask about flea and tick prevention and heartworm meds – should you keep your baby away from your pet after you apply it? Consider getting your pet’s nails trimmed, as well. It certainly couldn’t hurt!
Invite your friends and their children over to help your pet get acclimated to being around children. Spend time holding the babies, and let your pets observe. You can even play sounds of newborns crying, turn on the swing, and use some baby products to familiarize your pet with the sound, sight, and smell of newborns.
Although it’s tempting to lavish love on your pet in preparation of spending less time with him or her once the baby arrives, this strategy can backfire and make your pet more dependent on you. Instead, slowly cut back on the amount of time you spend loving up your fur baby. It seems harsh now, but can be a good preventive measure against future sibling rivalry.
Bring Baby Home
Before you bring the baby home from the birth center or hospital, let your pets sniff an unwashed item of clothing that the baby has worn. Give your pet some treats, so he or she associates the scent with happy memories. When you bring your baby home, let your pet sniff the baby if he or she seems interested, but maintain a watchful eye.
Your cat or dog should have a “safe space” in the house that is off-limits to your children. This is where you should keep your pet’s food, since even the sweetest, gentlest animals can become aggressive if they feel their food is threatened. You will want to separate pet toys from baby toys, which can be difficult because they often look similar. Keep each of your “children’s” toys in its own place, and enforce strict rules about who can gum and chew on what.
Incorporate your pet into your activities as much as possible. Take the dog for long walks with the baby. Ask your husband to pet the cat while you’re breastfeeding. This will help prevent your pet from feeling resentful of his or her new sibling.
Do not leave your child alone on the floor with your pet, no matter how gentle your pet seems. Dogs and cats can react in bizarre ways when they are put in new situations, and even if your pet has never behaved aggressively, it’s not worth taking a chance. Supervise any interaction between your pets and your children until you are confident that they are used to each other. If your pet (or child) ever shows signs of aggression, cut off contact immediately and wait a few weeks before slowly reintroducing them to each other.
You, your fur babies, and your human babies can all live together in harmony (and you might even be able to snap one of those darling pet/baby photos) if you prepare properly. Safety is, of course, the top priority, but if you start before the baby arrives, your pets and children can have a wonderful sibling relationship!