7 Ways to Prep Pets for Their Worst Nightmare -- a New Baby

baby and pets
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The arrival of a new baby means big changes for everybody in your house, and that includes your pet. Not only will your dog or cat have to get used to not being the center of attention anymore, but he'll also be forced to adjust to a variety of new sights, sounds, and even smells -- all of which can be extremely stressful for animals. (Yep, even pets get stressed!)

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That doesn't mean your pet and your baby won't be the best of friends someday; it just means you'll have to put a little effort into getting the fur baby ready for the regular baby's big debut. 

Dana Ebbecke, a behavior counselor for the ASPCA Adoption Center, told us what's important for parents-to-be to do to prepare their pets for the impending expansion of their families.

1. Invite kids over -- and make it fun.

In an ideal world, says Ebbecke, your pet would already be comfortable around babies before you get pregnant -- but if that's not the case, it's not too late to do something about it. "It's important to have the pet have positive experiences in the presence of children and babies," she says.

Ebbecke suggests pairing kids with something your pet likes, such as toys. So, for example, introduce a new squeaky ball when your cousin's toddler comes over to visit.

"Start at a distance so that the dog doesn't become overwhelmed if it's the first time they are in the presence of babies," she says. And if at any point your pet seems to be getting agitated, have the child back away.

2. Play some recorded baby noises.

Because pets often have a hard time adjusting to the sounds of a new baby, you might also want to try playing recordings of realistic baby noises on a regular basis, particularly while your pet is doing something enjoyable like eating or playing. (Play some YouTube videos of babies!) Give your animal lots of attention during these sessions -- then, when you shut the recording off, ignore her for a period of time. The idea is to get your pet to look forward to hearing these noises.

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3. Make changes to your home slowly. 

Pets are very sensitive to changes in their environment, and that includes the addition of items like cribs and changing tables. "Changes to the home are very stressful for a dog," says Ebbecke (and the same goes for cats).

Bring baby gear into your home gradually, and allow your pet to investigate these items under your supervision -- but always redirect his attention to his own playthings. And if you have a cat, teach her that baby-specific surfaces are off-limits by covering them with pieces of cardboard affixed with double-sided tape, since cats don't like walking on sticky things. After a month or so, your cat should start avoiding the baby's furniture (and you can take the tape away).

4. Introduce baby smells before the arrival.

Unfamiliar smells can also be unsettling to pets, so start using the lotions and washes you plan to use on your infant on yourself in the months leading up to your due date. If you have a friend with a baby, you can even borrow a newborn-scented blanket for your pet to sniff.

5. Put new rules in place ahead of time.

If you don't mind when your pet jumps up to greet you or curls up on the couch, you might feel differently about a few things after the baby comes home. 

"Parents should prepare ways to supervise and manage the pet and the baby as well," says Ebbecke.

Start your behavior modification efforts well in advance so your pet doesn't associate these changes with the new baby. And because there will likely be times when you'll need your pet out of the way ASAP, "Teaching a 'go to your bed' or 'go to your crate' cue is also very useful," says Ebbecke.

6. Adjust the amount of attention you give your pet.

Sure, your pet will always be your first "baby" -- but it won't feel that way to her after your actual offspring arrives.

"Once the baby comes home, not only is there a new element in the environment, but the dog is perhaps getting less attention than she's used to now that Mom and Dad have a little person to care for," says Ebbecke. 

You might think that the best way to prepare your pet for the upcoming attention deficit would be to give her more cuddles and playtime than ever, but that's actually setting her up for disappointment. Instead, start scheduling shorter play and snuggle sessions with your pet at random times throughout the day so she gets used to the fact that she won't be able to be by your side 24/7 anymore. We know it's hard to do, but it can really help.

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7. Watch for red flags.

Despite your best efforts, your pet still might have a hard time coping with your new addition. And that's not something you can ignore: Even small dogs and seemingly gentle cats are capable of doing serious physical harm to a baby. So after bringing your infant home, be on the lookout for signs of trouble. If your pet is growling or hissing at the baby, for example, separate them immediately and try to figure out what made your animal uncomfortable: Was the baby crying? Riding in a stroller for the first time? Then you can find ways to avoid tense situations in the future.

No matter what, you should never leave your baby and your pet alone.

"Supervision is absolutely key, and it should not be distracted supervision," says Ebbecke. "Parents should be actively watching the baby and be within an arm's length."

And if you can't be within an arm's length, there should be a physical barrier between your pet and your baby such as a baby gate or a crate. 

With this preparation -- and a little luck -- in no time, you'll be posing your pet and your baby for adorable Instagram-ready pics (like the one above)!

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