Best Friends Furever: Introducing Your Baby and Your Pets
For lots of people, pets are like their children. It’s easy to lavish them with attention and love – after all, they’re just so darn cute! But as any parent knows, once real offspring are involved, the amount of attention you pay your pet shifts dramatically. To avoid stressing out your pet and inspiring “sibling” jealousy between your human baby and your fur baby, check out these tips.
Start preparing early
Preparations for the new addition to the family should begin months in advance – as soon as you know the new baby is coming. Ignoring bad behavior or simply being unprepared can lead to big-time headaches once the baby arrives.
As you’re preparing, start acclimating your pet to the sights, sounds and routines of the family.
- Establish day and night routines for your pet that will stay the same once baby comes home.
- Correct any bad behavior immediately so you’re not attempting to train your pet while caring for a newborn.
- Desensitize your pets to the baby’s things early. Let pets explore the baby’s items once they are brought into the house. Start using your baby’s lotions, shampoos, creams or powders on yourself to help your pet become accustomed to new smells.
After the baby arrives
To avoid unnecessary stress or fear for your pets, it is important to approach this step carefully. When introducing any animal to a new baby, choosing a quiet, familiar location is key.
If you are introducing a cat to a new baby, allow the cat to approach the baby on their own terms. Hold the baby in your arms and allow your cat to approach. Do not force the cat and baby to interact – if kitty doesn’t want to meet baby today, that’s ok. This will allow your cat the opportunity to reconnect with you and see the new addition to the family.
When introducing a dog to a new baby, have a leash on your dog and bring them into the room. During the introduction, speak in a calm, happy voice, which will show your dog that this is a fun event, not a stressful one.
Throughout the exchange, read the body language of your pet. If you see your pet becoming stressed or anxious, stop the interaction and try again at another time. By repeating this sequence multiple times, the stress levels will decrease for your pet.
After a successful introduction, it is easy to feel confident that your pet can handle being alone with your baby. Unfortunately, even the gentlest of pets can become too excited or aggressive with an infant. It is highly recommended never to leave pets alone with babies or when baby is sleeping. Since babies are unable to move away or turn their heads, it can become a serious problem if pets try to cuddle with them.
How to identify signs of stress
When animals have had limited exposure to kids, it can be difficult to predict how they will respond to the new baby. While many animals will quickly become familiar with the new addition, some may find babies frightening or unpleasant.
Anxiety can most easily be identified in pets as behavioral changes. The most commonly identified signs include:
- Decrease in appetite
- Diarrhea, constipation or other digestive issues
- Aggression toward people or other animals
- Increased sleeping
Additionally, cats may also exhibit:
- Excessive scratching
- Excessive grooming
- Excessive vocalization
- Urination outside of the litter box
If you suspect that your pet is stressed out and your baby is the cause, create a safe zone for your pet and play or exercise with your pet regularly.
To establish a safe zone, designate an area in your home for your pet to escape to in times of high tension. Providing your pet with a favorite treat or toy, and visiting your pet often, helps to successfully create a safe zone.
While finding the time and energy to play or exercise with a pet may be difficult during this demanding stage of parenthood, ensuring that your pet has a short one-on-one period with you will help alleviate stress. As you are working this into your schedule, avoid establishing a specific time for your one-on-one period. While doing so may make it easier for your schedule, it may cause more anxiety for your pet if this playtime is skipped for any reason.
Remember, introducing your pets and babies to each other does not have to be a difficult or stressful process. Through early preparation and by following these easy tips, your baby and pets will be fast friends for life.