Pets and Newborns
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How to Get Your Pet Acclimated to Your New Addition
You never know how your pet will react to a new baby in your home. Some animals don't even seem to notice the new addition to the family while others regard the introduction of a small, crying creature as a threat or annoyance. Fortunately, taking a few steps before your baby arrives can make the transition much easier for your pets.
Your dog or cat will be bewildered if the household routine changes abruptly one day. Make changes slowly and gradually to help your furry friend adjust. For example, if you fill food and water bowls at precisely 6:15 every morning, vary your usual routine. With the unpredictable sleep schedule of a newborn, it may no longer be possible to follow your current schedule every day.
You may also want to gradually decrease the amount of one-on-one time you spend with your pet. No matter how much you love your pet, you'll definitely have less free time once your baby arrives.
Although you certainly don't want to ignore your pet, it's a good idea to prepare him or her by reducing play sessions by a few minutes every day for several weeks. The ASPCA recommends offering play sessions randomly to accustom your pet to the variable schedule you'll soon be following.
Curb Undesirable Behaviors
Are you worried that your dog will jump on you while you're carrying your newborn or that your cat will want to sleep in the bassinet or crib? Whether you enroll you and your dog in obedience classes or handle training yourself, it's important to teach your pet a few commands, such as sit, stay, sit-stay, down, and leave it.
As soon as you set up the crib in your baby's room, your cat may claim it as the ideal napping spot. Discourage the behavior by covering the mattress with aluminum foil or double-sided tape, or add a crib tent to the top of the crib. The mesh tent zippers open for easy access to your infant. When it's closed, your cat can't jump into the crib. (A crib tent will also prevent your baby from climbing out of the crib when he or she gets a little older.)
If you don't want to buy a crib tent, you may want to keep the bedroom door closed constantly or install a screen door in the doorway. A screen door allows you to see and hear the baby but prevents the cat from entering the room.
Although cats won't suck the breath from your baby, despite the old wives' tale, it's not a good idea to let them sleep with infants. Newborns can't turn their heads and can suffocate if the cat sleeps next to their noses or mouths.
Try a Little Role Playing
Buy a doll and carry it around with you a few weeks before your baby arrives to help your pet gradually adjust to the new infant-centered routines in your home. As you walk or sit with the doll, practice the sit, stay and down commands with your dog. Don't ignore your pet completely while you're holding the doll but don't pay quite as much attention to him or her as usual. You may also want to play a recording of common baby sounds while you hold the doll.
New babies mean new smells. Apply a little baby lotion and powder to your doll or your skin so that your pet will be used to the new odors before your baby arrives. If your baby is born in a hospital, you may want to bring home a piece of clothing with the newborn's scent before your little one comes home. Your newborn won't seem quite so strange if his or her scent is familiar.
Control the Introduction
Choose a quiet room for the introduction. It's a good idea to put a leash on medium or large dogs or a harness on cats and smaller dogs since you don't know how your pet will respond to the new family member. If your pet seems frightened or becomes aggressive, another person can quickly remove your dog or cat from the room.
Allow the pet to sniff the baby while you're holding him or her. Offering treats during the introduction may help your pet decide that having a baby in the house might not be such a bad thing. Once the baby is napping or being cared for by another family member, be sure to spend a little quality time with your pet.
ASPCA: Cats and Babies
ASPCA: Dogs and Babies
Parents: How a Baby Changes Your Pet’s Life: Frequently Asked Questions