As you prep to welcome your new addition, you may be worried about the four-legged baby you already have. How will your dog react to the baby? Will your cat be freaked out? There are plenty of ways to make the acclimation process as smooth as possible.
INTRODUCE BABY’S SCENT
Dogs and cats are sniffers. Let them “meet” your newborn ahead of time by bringing home some blankets or clothing with baby’s scent, suggests Mary Ann Crawford, DVM, internal medicine specialist at Oradell Animal Hospital in Paramus.
MAKE FIDO LISTEN
Before you bring baby home, make sure your dog follows basic commands like sit, down, stay, come and “go to place,” (aka a mat, bed or crate). This is especially helpful when your pet’s getting in your way or needs a break from baby.
SATISFY KITTY’S CURIOSITY
Cats have a settled routine that baby will inevitably upset, says Crawford. Help keep kitty calm—and avoid unwanted behaviors like not using the litter box—by bringing the crib, stroller, car seat and bath items in weeks before baby arrives. That way, your cat can explore by smelling, walking on and even sleeping on them beforehand.
GRADUALLY CHANGE YOUR PET’S ROUTINE
Your dog’s been the center of attention, but long walks and fun at the park are about to become a thing of the past, at least for now. The American Kennel Club recommends making gradual changes to your pet’s routine two to three weeks before you bring baby home. Shorter walks at different times will keep your dog from associating these changes with the baby.
KEEP A CLOSE EYE AT ALL TIMES
Never leave a pet alone with baby, sleeping or otherwise, advises Kristen Walsh, MD, early childhood champion for the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Since pets are attracted to movement, a swing or moving baby can sometimes provoke an attack. Even if the animal is attempting to play, baby can be injured.
LOOK OUT FOR LONG PET HAIRS
Avoid exposing baby’s nose or mouth to excessive amounts of pet hair. This could cause irritation or, in extreme cases, an airway blockage, cautions Walsh. For pets with very long hair, watch for a “hair tourniquet,” hair wrapped around baby’s finger or toe that can cut off circulation.
SHARE THE LOVE
Play with your dog or cat while you’re with baby. Your pet gets positive reinforcement and baby is entertained at the same time. “We did this when our son John was young,” says Crawford. “He remains a cat person today.”
Babies typically can’t contract illnesses from healthy cats and dogs, says Walsh. But parents should take precautions, like preventing pets from licking an infant’s face so germs don’t get into baby’s mouth. Washing baby’s hands when they’re visibly dirty is smart, but it’s not realistic to do so every time your baby comes in contact with your dog. Your pets and baby will inevitably share toys, so be sure to wash them in hot, soapy water. Toys are more likely to contract harmful germs from contact with the floor than a pet or child’s mouth, adds Walsh.
Make sure your pet’s healthy with trimmed nails, current vaccinations, no internal parasites, no fleas or ticks and no fungal infections, like ringworm, that can be transmitted to a child. Keep pacifiers, toys and soiled diapers away from pets, says Crawford. If swallowed, they can cause a problem or an obstruction.
If your pet’s previously shown aggression toward babies or small children, keep him away from your baby, advises Crawford. “Consult a veterinary behaviorist. If there’s no effective treatment, re-home the pet to an adult environment.” This is the worst-case scenario, of course, but a must to keep everyone in the family safe and happy.