Speaking from experience, I know there’s a LOT of preparation that goes into welcoming a new baby into your lives! As the time grows nearer to welcoming my own little human bundle of joy, every day I check things off my “to do” list: Nursery set up, check! Diapers and supplies bought, check! Little baby clothes waiting to be worn, check! Our pets prepared for the new arrival… hmmm, let’s make sure we’ve taken care of that!
Just as the human members of our household have been preparing to meet our newest family member, we have also been making sure our four-legged family members are ready as well! In our home, we have four cats and one dog who have spent the last 9 months watching me grow! They know “something” is happening and we’ve taken care to get them used to some of the changes we’ve already made in our home. But, there are still a few things we can do in the days before her arrival, including making a plan to introduce her to everyone once she’s officially out in the world!
Preparing our Cats to Meet the Baby
Anyone who’s owned a cat knows that most cats are happiest when they’re in stable environments, which usually means as little change as possible! (Good luck with that when preparing for a baby!!) However, there are lots of things you can do to minimize your cats’ stress level as the birth approaches!
First, the cliché is true, cats are very naturally curious! One way to make them comfortable with all the changes is not to try to keep them away from all the new stuff coming into the house. Let them into the baby’s room, sniff the new furniture and inspect all the baby supplies! (After all, most baby stuff is made to be washed repeatedly… you can always do a final wash before you actually need to use anything!) If you are planning to keep the baby’s room a cat-free zone, however, try to set up an area outside of, but near the nursery where the cats can feel comfortable. Provide them with scratching posts or pads and some of their favorite toys (and catnip if they like that!) That way the cats will feel rewarded when they’re near the room, but not in it.
However, even if the cats are going to be allowed into the baby’s room, get them used to the door being closed sometimes so they don’t come to think of the nursery as their new playroom! Close the door occasionally (when you are there and out of the house) so that becomes commonplace. There will definitely be times (like when the baby is sleeping) that the cats should stay away.
NOTE: Although we think allowing your pets to be around the baby is a positive thing, please do not let your cats sleep beside the baby unless you are closely supervising them! While many cats won’t care, some are natural snugglers and might want to curl up too close to the baby’s face. You always want to make sure the baby’s breathing isn’t obstructed!! You may also want to clip your cats’ claws before you bring the baby home or get some plastic claw tips (like Soft Paws Nail Caps, http://www.softpaws.com/) to prevent accidental scratches. (It’s actually very unlikely that the cat will deliberately scratch or attack the baby, but accidental scratches can happen. Having clipped or covered claws can also help prevent furniture damage if your cats act out with inappropriate scratching!)
Once the baby has officially arrived but before you bring him or her home, help your cats get used to the new arrival by bringing home a blanket the baby’s been wrapped in or an outfit he or she has worn so your cats can smell it! (Cats’ noses aren’t quite as sensitive as dogs’, but they will get a lot of information from a good sniff!) Then, once you’re ready to bring the real thing into the house, the cats will recognize her smell and be more comfortable with her presence. When you do bring the baby into the house, give the cats a good chance to inspect her (with supervision, of course!) But, be sure to greet them yourself and pet them when you first come in, too, so they’ll feel reassured that they’re still part of the family! It’s also a good idea if a family member (not a guest) offers them a treat after the baby first arrives (like a special food or extra catnip!) If you have anxious cats, it might also be helpful to invest in a Feliway/Comfort Zone diffuser (http://www.feliway.us/) that will put out calming pheromones to help your cats cope with all the changes more easily!
NOTE: keep in mind, your cats may not just be anxious about the new baby. Often a new baby also means you have new visitors and guests in your home, too! Make sure those guests are also comfortable with your cats and that they don’t overreact to your cats being around! (Of course many cats will welcome the extra attention!)
Your cats are likely to have one of four reactions when they meet the baby:
- “Wow! Cool! Is this mine? Can I groom it? Can I snuggle with it?”
- “Eh, ok… What’s the big deal? I’ll go curl up in my usual sunny spot now.”
- “Ummm… what the heck is this? This is what was inside you?! I don’t think I like it so I’m going to go hide under the bed for a while. Call me when she leaves for college.”
- “Mom, mom, mom… this thing is ok but aren’t I still the cutest? Pay attention to me!”
All of these reactions are totally normal! Give your cats some time and space to adjust to the new arrival and be patient with their reactions. Many cats will actually welcome the additional time you’re spending at home and will (eventually) love having a new family member around. Just be patient with them as they adjust to the new smells, sounds and household routines!
Preparing our Dog to Meet the Baby
We’re fortunate that our family dog is older, well-trained, and has already been around babies and kids before! But, that doesn’t mean she’s going to 100% comfortable with our new baby the first day we bring her home! In many ways, introducing a new baby to your dogs is easier than introducing him to your cats! Dogs are natural pack animals and while they’re protective of their home and their pack, they generally don’t feel as territorial over a specific space as cats.
Probably the most important thing you can do to help your dog adjust to the new change is to make sure the humans in the family are already established as the leaders of your pack BEFORE the baby arrives! As long as the parents have established themselves as pack leaders and make it clear that the baby is a new member of the family, the dog is less likely to see the baby as an intrusion.
However, if your dog has obedience issues, take some time during the pregnancy to take your dog for training lessons. (Pawmetto Lifeline has several local trainers we can recommend! Just give us a call!) In these training sessions, be sure to address certain behaviors that can be most harmful to a new baby, such as training him not to jump or nip at people, and to respond to basic commands like “Sit”, “Stay” and “Leave it”! (These will not only help with a new baby, it will also help your dog be more comfortable in your home in general!) This training is important for dogs of all sizes and breeds! A small dog can be just as aggressive (or even more so) as a large dog, so make sure all your canine family members know how to act appropriately!
NOTE, keep in mind that infants smell different to dogs than older babies, children or adults and your dog will not necessarily recognize the baby as “human” for a while. Even with the most well-trained dog, keep a careful eye on it while it’s around the baby!
Dogs are very sensitive to smells! After the new baby arrives, first bring home something that he or she has worn or been wrapped in and let the dog smell it so they’re aware of the new scent. However, introduce the smell in a controlled (and in control) way. Cesar Milan refers to this as “Claiming the Baby’s Scent” and recommends that you “Challenge your dog to sniff from a distance, while you are holding the item. By doing so, you are communicating to your dog that the item is yours and then giving permission for the dog to sniff. ‘This new item belongs to me, and you will need to follow my rules when around it.’ This helps start the process of creating respect for the baby.” (http://www.cesarsway.com/tips/yournewdog/introduce-your-dog-to-your-baby) Then, repeat this process with the baby once you bring her home! Make it clear to your dog that this baby is yours and needs to be treated with respect.
The first day you bring home the baby, it can also help if someone has spent some special time with your dog before the baby arrives. Take the dog for a long walk (to help him work out some of his energy!) and make sure he’s in a calm state before bringing the baby in. Then, keeping the baby close to you, let the dog sniff and inspect the baby from a slight distance so they start to get used to the smell, but still get the message that the baby is part of the human pack! But, be calm and reassuring with your dog, so they know the baby isn’t a threat, but is something to love and be excited about! Also, you may want to give them an extra special treat when the baby arrives to help him associate good things with the new arrival!
As you settle in with the new baby, make sure you continue to spend time with your dogs, too. Dogs are great companions (and can give you a good reason to leave the house!) Take both your baby and your dog for walks and spend time petting your dog while your baby is near. This will help the dog bond with the baby and accept it as a new member of your pack. Some dogs might also benefit from having a baby-free space all their own (like a crate or separate room), where they can go to feel secure and protected (especially when the baby is crying and the parents are stressed out!!)
Above all else, please remember to be patient with your pets as they adjust to the changes in your household! Your pets are going through a huge change, too! Also remember that while our pets are wonderful, and can usually communicate with us quite well, they lack the words to tell you when they’re frustrated, stressed or freaked out so their ways of getting our attention might seem inappropriate. But, if you continue to give them love and attention and take the time to interpret what they’re trying to tell you, it will go a long way towards making them comfortable with all the exciting changes that a new baby brings into your lives!!
We just scratched the surface! There are a LOT of resources online to help you prepare to bring a new baby into your home! We especially recommend the ASPCA’s Virtual Pet Behaviorist series:
by Robin Goffena, IT Manager, Pawmetto Lifeline