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Pets and babies: What you should know

Up until now, your dog and cat have been the only "babies" in your house. But soon you'll be bringing your real baby home from the hospital, and you're wondering how your pets will react.

The key to family harmony is to plan in advance so that your pet isn't completely overwhelmed when you and the baby walk through the door. Here are some tips for introducing your fur babies to your actual baby.

Bringing a baby home to your dog

How are your dog's basic obedience skills? You'll want your good boy to know how to sit, stay and lie down on command. If your pooch doesn't have these skills now, consider taking him to an obedience class before the baby's arrival.

Take a look at your dog's schedule too. Does he expect a walk or a bowl of food at the same time you expect to be busy with your baby? You may want to change your pet's schedule now so he has some time to get used to it.

Let your dog inspect the baby's room. If you have some baby items that play music, turn them on while he sniffs about. It'll be good for your dog to get used to some of the sounds and smells of the baby.

When you arrive home with the baby:

  • Have everyone else enter the home first to let your dog get his initial excitement out of his system. Then leash your dog.
  • Set up a slow, quiet introduction between the two. Sit the baby on your lap and let your dog smell baby's feet to get their scent. Praise your dog for his gentle behavior.
  • Stay calm and relaxed while he checks baby out. If you seem anxious, your dog will pick up on it and see the baby as something to worry about. Speak to your dog in a soft but cheerful voice. Have someone else in the room hold a bag of treats to distract your dog's attention or reward gentle behavior.
  • It's totally OK to put off the dog-baby introduction until all well-wishers are gone and the excitement level is reduced. Choose a quiet room. Sit down with your baby. Have the dog brought in on a leash. Greet your dog in a calm, happy voice. You want your dog to associate good times with the baby.

You should also find ways to have your dog associate happy things with your baby. Give your dog a lot of attention when your bundle of joy is around. Teach your dog that when the baby is near, so are dog treats, pats on the head and playing.

But don't leave your dog and baby alone while they're getting used to each other—no matter how friendly your pup behaves.

If your dog ever shows a hint of aggressive behavior toward your baby, contact an animal behavior expert for help.

Bringing a baby home to your cat

Keep away from other cats while you're pregnant, and assign litter box duties to someone else. Cats can carry an infection called toxoplasmosis, which can cause serious problems for pregnant women. Because cats use gardens for litter boxes, wear gloves anytime you work in the garden while pregnant.

Before you bring your baby home, try to acclimate your cat to new sounds and smells. Play tapes of babies making noises, or rub baby lotion on your hands so your cat can smell it.

Let your cat explore the baby's bedroom. Give your cat a few weeks to check out all the furniture before declaring certain places off-limits. To make the crib and changing table unwelcome to your cat, line the surfaces with pieces of cardboard and sticky tape. Cats tend to avoid sticky surfaces. 

If the cat is acclimated to you as its caregiver, switch caregiving duties to someone else well in advance of your baby's arrival.

When you first get home with baby, wait to greet your cat in a quiet room without interruption. Let your cat smell you and get reacquainted. Then let other well-wishers into the room.

When it's nap or sleep time, close the door to the baby's room so the cat can't get inside.

More pregnancy news

Are you sick of strangers touching your baby bump without permission? Here are some tips for handling people invading your personal space.

Source: American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Reviewed 1/31/2023

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