Pets and Babies

The moment when parents bring a baby home is one of the great joys in a family’s life. But it can be a tricky time for the family pet. Introducing a new permanent fixture into a pet’s life — one who has an unfamiliar smell, makes erratic movements and emits squawking sounds — can make four-legged family members anxious. Parents can find themselves caught between their pets and their human babies. When I brought my youngest home I had a dog and a cat so it was really important to me that they would be accepting of our new addition so I made sure that I followed these guidelines and we have been without incident!

Plan Ahead

Even the most well trained dog can find a new baby in the house stressful.  A family can lay a strong foundation for pet-baby harmony during the prenatal period. Vaccines should be up to date and the pet’s nails trimmed before the baby comes home.

Parents should start working with pets well before the due date on behaviour issues — how far in advance depends on the severity of your pet’s problematic behaviour and its general temperament.  Make sure that things such as jumping are controlled before baby comes home.

If they are anxious about possible aggression toward children, pet owners should enlist the help of a trainer from a reputable organisation (for details please ask).

Tip 1: Teach your dog to “go away.” Several weeks to months prior to baby’s arrival, teach your dog this command by simply throwing cookies away from him while saying “Go away!” Progress to giving the command and waiting for the dog to go away before tossing a treat. This will help them learn that to ‘go away,’ is a positive command.

Give your pet time to adjust to the new environmental changes by unpacking new furniture and baby gear as early as you can. This helps them get used to the smell and new things in their environment.  

Teaching pets which zones will be off-limits is imperative. If you don’t want them in the baby’s room then keep the door shut or use a water spray to deter them.  It is natural for animals to sniff and explore and it is ok for them to do that.  

Model new behaviours

To get your pet used to the sounds that a baby makes then you can start to play baby noises, or playing with noisy toys.  These will be new sounds for your pet and it can help them get used to them.

Tip 2: if once the baby arrives you will not be able to walk the dog for a hour every day then start that before the baby arrives.  Your dog may struggle if these walks suddenly stop because of the new baby so start to shorten them before birth.

Plan that first introduction

Conventional wisdom suggests bringing home the baby’s blanket or another article of clothing for the pet to sniff before the pet meets the new family member. Providing a treat and some friendly, relaxed interaction along with a sniff of fabric can reinforce positive feelings.  Allow the pet to greet the mother before meeting the baby – remember they won’t have seen you for a while so will be excited. Then with the dog on a lead introduce them to the baby – allow them to sniff and use positive encouragements to show them the new member is a positive addition to their life.

Always supervise your animals 

Dogs and cats in particular like to cuddle and may inadvertently cozy up to a newborn or infant’s face while the baby is sleeping. Just as babies are not supposed to sleep with any stuffed animals, blankets or bumpers then please don’t let them sleep with your animals.  Don’t let your baby sleep a blanket on the floor unsupervised with a dog and make sure that you do not shut the cat in their room.

Parents should also discourage pets from licking babies.

Coming back to the establishing a safe area for your pet to relax in then please never assume that your child will not go there so as you have to train your animal, then you should also ‘train,’ your children to respect their pets space.

You should be aware that household pets can communicate viruses, bacteria, and parasites. The common belief that a pet’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s is just a myth; the reality is that a dog or cat bite can become infected quickly. Even minor nips or cat scratches need to be thoroughly cleansed with soap and water and possibly treated. Check with your pediatrician if your baby is bitten or scratched.

Your baby will probably be delighted by doggy and kitty kisses, but don’t make that a habit. Cats and dogs often sniff or lick other animals, tasty tidbits in the neighbor’s trash, and feces. It’s also important to keep your pets free of fleas and ticks.

Make time for your pet

Even though you will be exhausted, carving out some special time with your pet can pay off in the long run. A pet ignored can become resentful: Signs to watch for include a dog’s urinating inside the home and a cat’s failing to use the litterbox, as well as overgrooming.

Reading your dog

There are signs that your dog is getting stressed so please watch out for them.  It pays to keep these in mind so you can be aware of what is going on with your animals.

  • The tongue flick: When dogs are stressed, they often flick their tongues quickly in and out, like a lizard. This habit is so subtle that it often goes unnoticed. The problem? To a child, it can look like a kiss! While you’re standing back filming all those sweet smooches, your dog is desperately trying to get your child to move away from its face.
  • Averting eye contact: Dogs will often sharply turn their faces away from a person or another dog when under stress. Other dogs interpret this as a request for distance, but toddlers are hardwired to seek eye contact. When a dog turns his head away, many kids will actually move closer or even circle around him to restore that connection, which can feel threatening. 
  • Moving away: Dogs are very precise with their body language. If a dog moves away from a baby, it’s because it wants distance from the baby. The challenge is that toddlers and crawling babies are fast. They relentlessly follow the dog from room to room, even trying to hug the dog as a way to keep it close.