Having a baby is an overwhelming and stressful time for everyone including the four-legged members of your family. In fact, bringing a newborn into your family is a common reason for pet rehoming. During this time, your pet will experience a lot of changes to their home including strange smells, loud noises, and surprising movements, all of which can cause anxiety.
The good news is you have nine months to prepare for your newborn's arrival and there are some helpful things that you can do to prepare your dog or cat for the changes.
General advice for all pets
Introducing your pets
There is specific advice that will apply to the type of pet you have, which we will cover further down this article. But a good rule of thumb is to ensure that your pet is introduced slowly and if you have more than one pet, always introduce them to your baby one at a time. Before you bring the baby home, you can also bring back some of the baby’s clothing or a blanket for your pet to smell before the new family member arrives.
Never leave your pet unsupervised
The most important thing to keep in mind when bringing a newborn home to meet your pet is that they should never be left alone with your baby. No matter how much you trust them and how much experience they have with other children, you must always supervise them. Many dogs and cats like to snuggle up to humans, and you want to avoid the risk of them doing this to your infant's face whilst they are asleep.
Additionally, you should discourage your pet from licking your baby - particularly their eyes and mouths. Pets can carry bacteria in their mouth and your baby will not have developed a full immune system yet.
Dangers in the home
There will be lots of new additions to your home including creams and nappies, which can be a danger to your pet. Keep baby supplies out of reach of your pet so that they do not get accidentally ingested. Small toys and pacifiers could be swallowed and sometimes need surgical removal, and medications such as nappy rash creams can be toxic to your pet. Make sure to also keep any dirty nappies away from your pet.
As well as baby supplies being dangerous to your pet, pet supplies can also pose a danger to your baby. Ensure any toys, medication or toiletries for your furry friend are kept locked away and out of reach.
Advice for dog owners
Prepare in advance
Dogs flourish when they follow a routine. But when a new baby comes home, their entire existence changes overnight and this can be very stressful for them. The best thing you can do for your pooch before a new arrival is to prepare them gradually in advance for these changes. Start these preparations early and go at their pace so that they have as much time as possible to feel comfortable and happy with their new lifestyle.
What can I do to prepare my dog?
- Set up baby equipment early and gradually so your dog gets used to these new items.
- Use baby gates to start blocking off areas of the house. Your dog might not be able to access certain rooms once the baby arrives so you can gradually get them used to not having free rein of the house.
- If you can, look into getting external help such as a professional dog walker. This will ensure that your dog’s activity levels are kept the same.
- Brush up on their training and obedience. Do they have any behaviours that might cause issues in the future, such as jumping up? Try to curb these before your new arrival.
- Spend time introducing unusual and different noises to your dog.
- Take your dog for practice walks with a pram (but make sure not to attach their lead to the pram as there is a risk of them pulling it over).
- Carry a doll around with you and speak to it like you would your new baby. You can also use a doll in a carrier, a crib or other baby equipment to prepare your dog for what’s coming.
Introducing your dog to your new baby
When your bring your baby home from the hospital and you are ready to introduce them to your dog, here are a few tips for a smooth introduction:
- Take your dog on a long walk before the meeting so that they have burned off some energy.
- When you arrive home, ensure your dog is on a short lead and your baby is held securely by a parent.
- Keep the meeting as calm as possible and praise calm, gentle behaviours around the baby.
- Never leave baby and dog alone in a room at any time.
Take it at your dog’s pace
Whilst all these changes are happening, ensure that your dog takes things at their own pace. If they seem anxious during the preparations then that’s a sign to go ever slower. The more you can stick to your dog’s routine, the easier they will find this transition. Take them for their walks and provide consistent leadership, and don’t forget to give them lots of positive reinforcement during this time.
Advice for cat owners
Prepare in advance
Similarly to dogs, cats do not enjoy change and will likely be confused and stressed by the process of having a baby. If your cat is feeling this way, they may act out in different ways such as not using their litter box. Your new baby will also bring unusual smells, movements and sounds with it, which may make your cat anxious. You might notice them hiding more or showing defensive behaviors such as swatting in the baby’s direction.
But there are some steps you can take to make this transition period as comfortable for your cat as possible.
What can I do to prepare my cat?
Start by making gradual changes to your home such as putting out new furniture and equipment. Let your cat investigate these new additions as you introduce them. You can discourage your cat from sleeping in the baby’s crib by placing a carpet protector (upside down) on the mattress. Or you can use a piece of card with double-sided sellotape on any surface that will be used for the new baby. Cats dislike walking on sticky or spikey materials.
As cats use sound to communicate, it’s a good idea to get your cat used to the noise of crying before the baby arrives. Baby cries are similar to kitten cries so they can be upsetting to adult felines. To get your cat used to this sound, gradually introduce recordings of a baby crying (you can find these online). Start with short periods a couple times a day and build up from there with increasing periods of time played, frequency of play and volume. Reward any positive behaviours only and ignore any unwanted behaviours.
You can also use over the counter products to keep your cat as calm as possible. Two weeks before your due date, plug in Feliways around your home to soothe your cats anxieties. Just don’t forget to replace them when they run out.
Introducing your cat to your new baby
When your bring your baby home from the hospital and you are ready to introduce them to your cat, here are a few tips for a smooth introduction:
- Ensure you have the appropriate care in place for your feline before the baby comes, in case you are out of the house for longer than expected.
- Before the baby is born, pet your cat with a pair of their socks. You can then have the baby wear these socks when you bring them home for the first time so that they have a familiar and comforting smell.
- Once your baby is with you at home, hold them securely and let the cat sniff the baby’s foot. Give your cat lots of positive reassurance if they behave calmly.
- Don’t force your cat to interact with the baby if they don’t want to and let them approach when they are ready. If the cat shows any negative behaviours such as hissing, walk away and let the cat calm before trying again. Telling the cat off for these behaviours will only further their anxiety and increase the risk that the cat will associate the baby as a threat.
If you are struggling with having a pet and a new baby at home, Mayhew is always here for advice. Visit our contact page for information on how to get in touch.