Preparing Our Pets for the Arrival of a Baby
March 2, 2017
There is a lot of anticipation and preparation in having a baby. It is such a joyous time yet there is a lot of work to be done and it is natural to have some anxiety for what is to come. You may be making changes to the physical space within your home, you will be acquiring baby equipment and toys, you may be having more houseguests, and you will be adapting to a new way of life once the baby arrives. So how do we also prepare our pets for these changes?
It is very natural to have some concern about how your dog or cat will adapt to the arrival of the baby. I would like you to know that in the majority of cases, everything turns out just fine. We of course need to have realistic expectations. We are not aiming for our pets to “love” our babies and to want to be around them all of the time. We are just hoping for everyone to co-exist in the home with as much harmony as possible. To achieve this takes some forethought and planning. Allowing our pets some time to adjust works better than making abrupt changes. So here are some ideas for you to hopefully make this transition as seamless as possible for you and your pets.
Temperament of Pet: The temperament of your pet will help gauge how much preparation will need to be done. If your pet is very mellow and easy-going, the changes with the baby will likely be less stressful for them compared to a dog or cat who is already anxious or fearful.
Current Health of pet: It is important to have your pet examined by your veterinarian prior to the arrival of the baby. Item to be addressed would be immunizations, deworming, and the general health status of your pet. If your pet is currently feeling unwell or in pain, they may be less tolerable of changes within their home.
Change in routine: It is inevitable that your daily routine will change when the baby arrives. You will be up at odd hours in the night, you may be sleeping more during the day or trying to catch up on housework, and you may be home more than usual but still have less time to spend with your pet. If your dog or cat is most bonded with you, have someone else (like your partner or a family member) step in and spend more time with your pet. They can take over on walks and play time when you are busy with the baby.
Nursery: Cats in particular can be very sensitive to changes in the physical space within your home. Think about where your baby will sleep (either in a nursery or in your room) and try to make these changes in stages. Allow your pet time to acclimate to new or moved furniture, the presence of boxes, and painting.
Baby equipment and toys: Think about all of the items that you will obtain to either contain or entertain your baby – bouncy seats, exer-saucers, swings, etc. Most of these have a strange physical presence, lights, sounds, and music which could be scary to your cat or dog. Set these items up and let your pet explore them at their own pace.
Sounds: The sound in particular to get your pet accustomed to would be a crying baby. You can find videos or audio online. Start with the sound very soft and associate the sound with something your pet will find appealing, such as a tasty treat or some one-on-one attention. Gradually make the sound louder, all the while maintaining the positive association. If your dog or cat becomes agitated with the sound, stop it altogether and try again another time.
Smells: Cats and dogs have a very keen sense of smell and use this sense quite often to “feel out” other creatures. A common tactic is to bring home a hat or blanket that your baby was wrapped in at the hospital. You can have your pet smell this item to become familiar with the smell of your new baby. Once the baby is home, do not be alarmed if your pet wants to smell the baby directly. This is a very natural instinct for them.
Have a baby over: If you know people who have babies, invite them over so that your pet can have some controlled exposure prior to your baby being born. It is important to never force your dog or cat to interact with a baby or a child. Let them go at their own pace, investigating the situation. If they choose to walk away or be reclusive, let them be.
Coming home from hospital: When you arrive home, your pet will likely be curious about where you have been and excited to see you back at home. Try to allow some one-on-one interaction with them before having them meet the baby.
Keep Calm: Our pets can be highly sensitive to our own mood and stress levels. As best you can, exude an air of calmness when introducing your pet to your new baby. They may be curious and want to investigate the baby or they may choose to keep their space. Once again, do not force any interactions.
Stress relievers: There are proactive measures to lessen stress and anxiety for our pets in preparation for a baby. Pheromone products have calming properties and are very safe and easy to use. Feliway (for cats) and Adaptil (for Dogs) comes in a number of forms such as collars, sprays, and diffusers. There are supplements such as Solliquin and Anxitane that have natural ingredients to promote calmness and relaxation. And for some dogs and cats, if we anticipate a more difficult time adapting to these changes, we will proactively put them on anti-anxiety medication. These can be discussed in more detail with your veterinarian.
Please know that we are here to guide you through this process if you have additional concerns or questions.
Dr. Jen Seidl
Grand Avenue Veterinary Center