Pets can become a child's best friendWhen we bought our first house, we IMMEDIATELY adopted a rescue dog. We were beginning to build our nest and our beloved Shadow was our "baby." What we didn't anticipate, however, was finding out we were expecting A MONTH LATER. As in, thirty days. And it was the same day I received my teacher's cert in the mail. Perfect timing, wouldn't you say?
Of course, once our veterinarian found out we had a baby on the way, he counseled us to prepare our dog for baby's arrival. And we thought, "Prepare dog? Oooohhhhkaaaaay." But once we started reading about it and realized how many pets end up in shelters every year because of new babies, we knew it had to be taken seriously.
There is a small chance that your pet will have no transitional issues. We were lucky and pretty much the only thing that happened was our dog chewed up the baby's hospital hat within five minutes of coming home with the baby for the first time (that might have been bad). We were nervous it was an ominous sign, but we were pleasantly surprised to see how protective and loving our dog was towards the baby. She curled up around the baby's cradle, slept next to baby's crib, sat with baby whenever he cried. When he learned to crawl at FIVE MONTHS (more on that later) she put herself across the steps to block him. She was a regular nanny dog.
Supervise interactions between pets and babiesNot all dogs are like that, however. What we read is disturbing: Dogs who bit their owners, growled at the baby, and attempted to bite. And they immediately ended up leaving their homes. Who could blame the owners?
Of course, the first rule of dog ownership is that adopting pets when expecting a new baby may not be the best idea. New dogs, cats, kittens, and puppies need TONS of attention (as do babies) and pets can and will get jealous of attention bestowed upon your newborn. So what can you do to prepare them? What steps should you take to ensure your family and pet's safety and a smooth transition?
According to the Humane Society of the United States, taking a few simple steps can ease your pet's stress and help keep your pet with your family:
- Take your pet to the vet for a checkup and get any needed vaccinations. Talking to your vet may produce some suggestions for preparing for the baby, too.
- Spay or neuter your pet. Sterilized pets can be calmer and less likely to bite.
- Address training and behavior issues. If your pet is anxious or fearful, now is the time to redirect behaviors. Also, it's a good time to make sure you teach your pet that your bed, your baby's crib and furniture is off limits. Unless you'd prefer to find your 80-pound dog in bed with your baby.
- Encourage friends with infants and young children to visit your home. You MUST supervise your pet during this interaction. Wanna hear about the time my nephew poured grape flavored medicine on our dog during a family visit? Yeah, that was bad.
- Consider baby gates to restrict your pet from certain areas of your home, like the nursery or your bedroom. Or the bathroom, since our dog insisted on taking baths with the baby.
- Start carrying around a doll or putting a doll in baby's crib. We did this and one morning we woke up to find the dog curled up with the baby in the dog bed. Ooops.
- Set up equipment and organize the house before the baby is born. Our dog had issues with transitions (read: high maintenance) and setting up everything weeks ahead of time helped her cope with the changes.
- Pet proof your house while babyproofing. Baby toys and dog toys look VERY similar to your pet. Make sure you put baby toys away or keep them out of your pet's reach when baby isn't using them. Conversely, your baby will want to play with your pet's toys. Be prepared in case your pet gets upset.
The other awesome suggestion I received from my vet was to have my husband bring a blanket (or other item with the baby's smell on it) home from the hospital before you arrive home with the baby. This way the pet can get used to baby's smell. Bringing home the hat they put on your baby immediately after birth is a bad idea, because apparently dogs eat afterbirth when they have puppies and they might eat the hat (AHEM) which is a tad disturbing. To say the least.
When I did arrive home with the baby, the vet instructed me to go in the house without the baby and husband and spend time greeting and loving the dog. Then we brought the baby in, still in the car carrier, and allowed the dog to sniff around and get used to the smell. Over the course of several days we made sure that we gave the dog a toy or bone while we fed the baby to lessen the dog's anxiety. She loved feeding times because our baby had massive reflux and she got plenty of snacks that way (go ahead and say it, EWWWWW!). That's what worked for us.
This probably goes without saying, but you should never, EVER leave your pet alone with your baby. Not for five seconds or five minutes. No matter how well behaved your fur baby is, if a pet is jealous and territorial with the arrival of your new baby they could do something unexpected.
Finally, maintain your usual routines with your pet as much as possible. Try to keep the same times for meals and daily walks and play times. Give them some one-on-one time. With some training and supervision, the transition for your pet will be smooth. Congratulations on your new family!
Do you have pets and a baby on the way? What are you most worried about?