Preparing for the birth of my second child has me remembering the anxiety I felt when I brought my first baby home from the hospital to meet our pet. My beloved Labrador mix, Katie, had long been my four-legged baby, getting my undivided attention for 12 years. How would she adapt to not being the center of attention anymore?
In fact, she fared better than us during the first few months, and now, almost two years later, she couldn’t care less about the current child or the one on the way. I’m lucky that way – some dogs really have a hard time adapting to a life with a baby. And why shouldn’t they? Just as babies change our lives, they change our pets’ lives, too.
There are lots of new things in the house (like scary swings and loud toys), new (and sometimes terrible) smells, and most importantly, new rules. Dogs and cats who are used to being the center of attention may bristle at the cooing cutie stealing all of their thunder.
To make the transition to “life with baby” a little easier, be sure to start initiating the major changes well before your bundle of joy comes home. That way, your pet will be able to learn the new rules without the added stress of the baby. One of the most important new rules to establish is where your pet is and is not allowed. Small dogs who are used to being held a lot or like to sit in your lap will need to be retrained, for instance.
Setting new boundaries includes limiting access to the nursery, if you think that is important. Every pet is different, and you know your pet best. I only limit my pet’s access to the nursery when my baby is sleeping, mostly because I don’t want them to wake him up. My cats aren’t very snuggly, but some cats are. They may inadvertently curl up next to that warm, cuddly body in the crib, and this may be cause for alarm. Play it as safe as possible.
Speaking of safety: never, ever, ever leave your baby alone with your pets. Your baby is utterly defenseless, and no matter how loving your pet is, accidents can occur any time. Crawlers and toddlers pose a new problem to your pet – sudden movements and shrieks can startle your pet and might lead to an inadvertent injury. Older dogs may suffer from arthritis, making it hard for them to escape a curious toddler quickly. In the same vein, playful “pats” from toddlers can be especially painful to arthritic joints.
To make your pet as comfortable as possible, have someone bring home one of your newborn’s hospital blankets before your arrival with baby. This can get her comfortable with the smell of your new addition. When you get home, take the time to say hello to your pets without your baby. They have likely missed you while you were gone and will be excited to see you. Once they have calmed down, you can introduce them to their new sibling. Use praise or treats to reward good behavior.
Bringing a new baby home is stressful for everyone, but by preparing ahead of time, you may be able to avoid some of the stress on your pet. If you are unsure how your pet will do with a new baby, talk to your veterinarian. He or she will be happy to give you a few extra pet pointers.