By Lindi de Beer
You’ve just found out you are expecting your first child and you are naturally elated. But once things calm down, you start to wonder – what about my pets? Do I have to get rid of them now that there is a baby on the way? Well, we are here to tell you that there are steps you can take to prepare your pet for your new arrival. With adequate preparation, all you have to do then is enjoy your newborn.
Some of the preparation begins months before baby’s arrival. So as soon as you get the happy news, you can start with these steps:
If you haven’t yet taken Fido for some basic obedience classes, now is the ideal time. Basics like sit, down and stay are vital. Also make sure to get advice from your ThinkingPets instructor about how to discourage your dog from jumping up, as this is potentially dangerous to you and baby.
Some experts suggest that the most upsetting thing to the cat about a new baby is the new sounds and smells. You can start to prepare Snowball by wearing small amounts of baby lotion and powder on your skin. You can also invest in a tape with recorded baby sounds that you can play at very low volume in the background – this is also good preparation for your canine companions.
Once your dog has had some obedience training and his reactions are fairly reliable, visit the park or friends that have children of their own. This helps to familiarize your dog with the sounds and smells of children. Start slow with this process – the first time you can simply walk your dog by some children playing in the park and reward him with treats for staying calm. Later you can progress this by asking parents to walk over their children and having the child hand-feed your dog a treat. PLEASE NOTE: this should only be done with the parent’s consent and supervision, and only if your dog has been taught to take treats gently and not grab.
If you haven’t yet, start to crate train your dog so that he has a special hiding place where he can go to get away from all the hubbub once baby has arrived.
Get baby’s room ready as soon as possible. Moving in new furniture – not to mention the new smells! – can be stressful for a pet, especially cats. Give your pets time to investigate the new room and accept the new additions. Remember those treats!
The first few months after your baby is born there will be less time to spend with your pets than usual. This is a natural thing, but your pets won’t take kindly to a sudden change in their routine. For this reason you should start to gradually reduce the time spent with your pets before baby’s arrival. Invest in some brain toys and KONGS so that your pets have things to keep them occupied while you are busy. All this being said, it is important to still give your pet the attention he deserves once baby arrives. This can be as simple as letting Fido lie at your feet while feeding the baby. Work to include your pet where you can, rather than just ignoring him – this can cause a lot of stress for him.
So now you’ve done all the necessary preparation with Fido or Snowball, and the big day has arrived: baby is here! Let’s take a look at that all important first meeting and how to introduce your pets to the new addition.
Before you come home
If at all possible, have your spouse / partner bring home a blanket or an item of clothing from the hospital that has baby’s scent on it. If you are staying in the hospital longer than one night, your spouse / partner can even bring a clean item with them every day for you to wrap your baby in that can be taken back home after visiting hours. As scent is very important to animals, this is excellent preparation for the arrival of the living, breathing originator of the strange, new smell!
On the day
Once the doctor has given you the all clear and you are on your way home, there are some things to keep in mind for the very first meeting:
If possible, have a friend take the dogs for a romp in the park before you get home so that they are tired out.
When you arrive home, have your partner / spouse hold the baby while you go in first and greet your pets. Remember that you’ve been away for at least 24 hours and they will have missed you.
Your partner / spouse can then take the baby to her crib while you keep your pet distracted with some treats.
Once the baby is safely ensconced in the crib, bring your pet into the nursery (dogs can be kept on-lead for the first meeting). Let him investigate the room and the source of the new smell at his leisure. The crib will help keep your baby safe from an over-enthusiastic greeting, while still allowing your pet to sniff her. Remember to reward calm interest with plenty of treats. If your pet becomes overly excited or stressed, calmly walk him out of the room and try again later or even the next day. Never force or hurry along an introduction.
Remember that pets do well with routine. Whatever your routine was in the months leading up to this day, it is advisable to keep that routine. That is why it is so important to scale down gradually before baby arrives so your pets acclimatize to the new schedule without associating it directly with the arrival of the newborn.
If first introductions went well, you can let your pet in the room when it’s time to feed or change baby and remember to keep praising and rewarding for any calm interest. The idea is to help your pet associate the sight, smell and sound of the baby with lots of good things and not with being scolded or ignored. For nursing times, you can even give your dog a special chew toy or stuffed toy like a KONG to enjoy next to you while you feed the baby.
As your pet learns that the baby means good things and shows a calm, positive interest you can let him sniff the baby’s feet while you are holding the baby. Keep these interactions short and positive in the beginning, rewarding calm behaviour as always.
Some Important Notes
NEVER leave your baby alone unsupervised with any pet. Accidents do happen!
If your pet shows continual negative or aggressive behaviour towards the baby, consider enlisting the help of a COAPE qualified animal behaviourist. You can find one here: http://capbtsa.com/
Keep all interactions positive as far as possible and do not punish your pet for hissing / growling at the baby – this will only worsen their dislike of the new arrival.
Remember to keep your pets’ routine and to still give attention to them. If they are ignored once baby arrives home, they might associate it with the baby and react in an unwanted fashion.