Tips for Helping Your Pet Adjust

A new baby in the home can upset pets. An animal should never be left alone with an infant at any time. An infant is incapable of pushing the animal away if it cuddles up to them for love or heat.

Schedule 5 to 10 minutes daily to pet, groom, and play with the pet. Maintain this schedule when the baby comes to convey to the pet that it is still important. When there is more than one pet, each one needs at least 5 minutes of undivided attention daily. If pets get along well with each other, play and talk to them together.

Before the baby comes, begin adjusting your pet to the new feeding and walking schedule that will be necessary after the baby is born. It is best not to subject your pet to too many changes all at once. This is a good time to evaluate the mechanism you use to walk your dog. If you use a choke collar or a regular buckle collar and the dog does not behave properly instantly, you can introduce a head halter (Halti or a Gentle Leader Promise System Canine Head Collar) or train it to walk on a no-pull harness (Lupi or Sporn harness). The dog must be under control while on a leash to avoid the potentially dangerous scenario of struggling with a baby in a backpack or stroller and a dog that is pulling. It is important to continue to take your dog with you on outings for protection, company, and exercise. If you can take the dog with you on most outings, it reduces the chance that your pet will feel displaced in the family and resort to attention-seeking behavior.

Before the baby arrives, allow the pet to explore the baby's sleeping and diaper changing areas to become familiar with them. Let the dog or cat sniff, paw, or nose at the baby powder, lotions, diapers, and baby objects you will be using. Do not, however, allow the pet to sleep on the baby's furniture.

If the dog or cat drags off a baby item, correct it by telling it "No" and asking it to relinquish the object. Your dog must respond instantly to your vocal command to avoid serious management problems after the baby is born. If your dog can "sit," "stay," "take" an object, and "drop it" at your request, it can be taught to interact appropriately with the baby.

If your pet has toys that look like baby toys, it may think it can play with the baby's toys. If you are willing to wash the toys, this is okay from a health standpoint. As the baby gets older, the dog may drag the toys from the baby's hand and unintentionally injure the infant. The best solution is to provide dog toys that do not resemble baby toys.

Before the baby is brought home, expose your pet to articles of clothing that the baby has used. Allow the pet to smell these items and leave them around the house.

If it is possible, arrange in advance for someone to care for the pet in your home when you are having the baby. Keeping the pet home decreases its stress level.

When the baby comes home, another person should hold the baby while you greet your pet. Your pets have missed you and it is important to pay attention to them. If you have a dog that jumps, it should be put in another room until things are calm and you can greet it. A leash may provide more control, but first you should greet the dog or cat exuberantly. When you are ready to introduce the pets to the new baby, harnesses and leashes are helpful. Introductions should only take place when the pet is calm and quiet.

Control and monitor your pet while someone else holds the baby. The pet should be leashed or restrained and allowed to smell the baby and explore. If the pet is fearful, talk to it, pet it, and encourage it to smell the infant. Do not hold the baby in front of the pet. This is potentially dangerous and could cause the pet to lunge. If you are alone, harness the pet and tie the harness to solid, stationary piece of furniture. Verbally reward the pet while enforcing this safe distance.

Remember to be calm at all times. The animal must respond immediately to a verbal correction to stop licking, growling, or hissing. If not, put it in another room until it is calm and try the introduction again. Do not reassure the pets that it is "okay;" aggressive behavior toward the baby is not okay. The animal must learn that if it wants favorable attention, it must behave favorably toward the newest addition to the family.

Pets should be restrained or confined in the presence of the infant when there is only one person at home with the infant. The key is to avoid aggression and any circumstance in which the pet is unsure of appropriate behavior. An aggressive dog may lunge at the baby when your guard is lowered.

If the pet does not exhibit untoward behavior, it can be unleashed after 3 weeks or so; but it still must be closely supervised. Sharing and trading off attention for the dog and the baby provides a warm, loving environment. A muzzle does not protect an infant or a young child from crush injuries and fractures caused by large dogs.

Pets should not sleep in a room with an unattended infant or young child. The pet may inadvertently smother the child. Use a baby monitor, an intercom, or a room monitor, and close the door.

Young children should be taught to treat pets gently. A pet that is in pain may bite in defense. Appropriate pet-child behavior is a wonderful experience.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 01 Dec 2001

Last Modified: 15 Dec 2014