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Before your baby arrives
Making changes to your pet’s routine can take some time, so it’s important to think about the general house rules you would like to have in place when your baby arrives and start implementing them well in advance. You may want to consider:
- Behaviours you would like to change, such as jumping up or barking
- Areas you would like to be off-limits to your pet (like the baby’s room, cot or changing table)
- How your pet’s routine may change. For example, will your cat need to be outside more? Will your dog be walked at different times?
- How much time will you be spending with your pet? Will it decrease when the baby comes?
Implementing a new routine
Once you decide how you would like your pet to behave with a baby in the home, start implementing the new house rules. Make the changes well before the baby arrives so your pet has time to adjust.
As your new baby will frequently be held in someone’s arms or on someone’s lap, it’s important your dog learns not to jump up on people. This can be done through teaching him/her basic commands such as “sit” or “down” and rewarding good behaviour with treats, petting, play etc.
If you have a cat that likes to jump into your lap, it’s similarly important to teach a jump-up command before the baby is born. Each time your cat hops onto your lap uninvited, stand up and put him/her on the ground. Then teach your cat a jump-up command, possibly using a treat as a lure, so he/she learns an invitation is required.
Sleeping and changing areas
Before your child arrives home, allow your pet to explore the baby’s sleeping and change areas. This is especially important with cats. Teach your pet that these areas are off limits well before the baby arrives. You may need to install deterrents in the area such as a water spray bottle, cat deterrent spray and/or a door to keep your cat outside the room.
Cats dislike anything sticky, so placing cardboard with reverse sided sticky tape will discourage your cat from these areas. To ensure your cat does not accidentally suffocate your newborn, it is imperative your cat is kept away from the baby’s sleeping area.
Create a newborn environment
Your cat or dog may find the sounds, smells and routine changes of a newborn difficult to adjust to. You can prepare him or her for these changes by introducing all the stimuli that might occur when the baby comes home in advance.
Place a baby mat on the ground and do not allow your dog or cat to sit on it, place baby swaddling in the pram, again – do not allow your cat or dog to sit in it, or jump up on it. Place baby toys, baby bottles, nappies, soothers and any other baby items you have on the mat, do not allow your cat or dog to touch these.
When the baby comes, it will save you a lot of time sterilising items your cat and dog have stolen from the baby! Gradually decrease the amount of time you spend with your dog and cat. Do this well before the baby arrives so the pet is already used to the change when the baby comes home and is not put out or jealous.
When baby arrives
If you are having your baby in hospital, it’s a good idea to have your husband, relatives or friends take some baby blankets or worn clothes home for your cat or dog to smell a few days before the baby comes home. These items will carry the baby’s scent and allow your pet to familiarise him/herself with your new babies’ smell.
Baby’s first introductions
It’s important that the first time your cat or dog meets the baby it is positive and non-threatening. When you first introduce your new baby, ensure there are two adults present – one to supervise the baby and one to supervise your dog or cat. Have one member of the family greet the pet first and then introduce the baby when your pet is calm and relaxed. Allow your pet to safely investigate the new baby and reward him/her for good behaviour, so they develop a positive association with the baby.
Don’t be surprised if your cat goes into hiding when the baby arrives – this is common. It’s a good idea to have a quiet room to which your cat can escape.
In contrast, your dog will be more likely to crave attention and not leave your side.
Creating a positive environment
Many pets experience the presence of a baby as a time for inattention, confinement, or even punishment. The goal is to teach your dog and/or cat that good things happen in the presence of your baby. Reward your pet for obedient, relaxed behaviour around your little one to help your pet develop a positive association with the baby.
Where possible, try to maintain your pet’s routine. Your pet still needs quality time with you even if it is only five minutes of sitting alone together, talking quietly or grooming. Continuing quality time will ensure your pet remains a valued family member.
When things don’t go to plan
Sometimes, even with the most rigorous preparation, a pet may show jealousy and even aggression towards your child. An aggressive dog or cat should be kept away from children at all times. Vets want to see pets live happily with their families after a baby is born. However, we will never recommend keeping a pet that places a newborn baby or child at risk. If you find yourself in this situation, please make an appointment with your vet for advice and to discuss your options.
Keeping children safe
In preparing for a new baby, it’s important to think about when your baby will be mobile. Most problems with pets occur when babies start crawling and walking. Their movements can be unpredictable and this can excite or threaten pets.
Sometimes clumsy actions or unwelcome ‘love’ can cause a cat to lash out, or pulling a dogs ears or tail can cause a dog to growl, snap or bite. To keep your children safe in the long term, consider the following:
- Never leave your pet and baby alone, no matter how much you trust your pet. Children under five should never be left unsupervised with a pet.
- Continue to monitor your pet’s behaviour as your baby grows and implement behavioural or routine changes as necessary.
- If you have any concerns about your pet’s behaviour, contact your vet.
Dr Amanda Roddam is Veterinarian and Practice Owner of Kowloon Veterinary Hospital. Call her on 2382 3300 for advice or behavioural assistance before the issue becomes more serious.