Bringing a new baby into the home is a huge adjustment for all involved, especially your pets. There are preparatory measures that can be taken in the weeks and months leading up to your baby’s homecoming that can help your pet through this adjustment phase. Consulting with a professional trainer can also help you create a training regimen.
Here are some helpful tips to prepare your pet for their new sibling.
Ways to Prepare Before the New Arrival:
- Allow your dog or cat to investigate all of the new baby furniture, strollers, clothing, and toys before the baby arrives.
- Alter your pet’s schedule slowly to mimic your forthcoming schedule. This will prevent any sudden change to be associated with the baby.*
- Play soundtracks of baby noises/crying to start the acclimatization.
- Create a safe place for your pet.
- For dogs, provide them with a crate or room that they can retreat to in moments of discomfort.
- For cats, provide a place to hide, sleep, and climb in addition to eating and litter box spaces.**
- If these safe spaces are going to be moved from their previous locations, this should be done weeks or months prior to the baby’s arrival. A sudden change, especially to things like litter boxes, can result in inappropriate urination/defecation.
- Teach your dog a command that sends them to their safe place, and reward them for following commands. Since this may prove to be too difficult for cats,rewarding them with treats or catnip when they are in their safe places can act as reassurance.
- Bring a used receiving blanket home prior to the baby’s homecoming, so that your pet can become accustomed to their smell.
What to Do on the Day of the Baby’s Arrival
- Make sure your pet has had adequate exercise prior to the introduction. For dogs, this may mean a long walk, jog, or yard time.
- Greet your dog without the baby to help minimize excitement.
- Allow your dog to greet the baby on a leash in a controlled environment. DO NOT force interaction if the dog is scared or nervous. Always allow the introduction to be on the dog’s term.
- For cats, allow them to initiate the interaction. Cats are very independent creatures. Allow this interaction to be on their terms and reinforce positive behavior.
NEVER leave your pet alone with the baby.
- Always make the interactions positive, with encouraging words, treats, and extra love.
What to Do Moving Forward
- Try to keep your pet to their normal schedule.
- Make an effort to provide your pet with independent time for exercise and attention.
- Do not feed your pet around the baby.
- Install baby gates, which can be used to separate the baby from your pet and to prevent any unsupervised interactions.
Maintain alone time with your pet. Carve out a portion of the day to conduct your normal routine with your pet. If your cat loves afternoon play time, try to stick to these rituals, and keep routines consistent. Make sure you maintain the special relationship that you and your pet shared before the new addition.
Calm your cat by installing pheromone dispensers, which are undetectable to humans, but help minimize stress for felines. Plugging these in before stress occurs is more effective than waiting until your cat shows signs of anxiety.
The most important detail concerning first and subsequent interactions between your pet and baby is that they are supervised. Safety is always the top priority, and you should never force your pet to interact with a baby or child. Pets should not be cornered or feel trapped around babies/children, and should always have space to get away and retreat to their safe space. As your new baby grows up, their interactions should continue to be monitored. As your baby’s mobility increases it can be harder for your pet to have a safe place to retreat to.
*Canfield, Christie, (2017). Helpful Hints When Introducing Babies and Dogs. American Kennel Club. Retrieved January, 2020
**Anonymous, (2020). Cats and Babies. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Retrieved January, 2020