Preparing your dog or cat for a new baby

Taking time to prepare your family pets for your new baby's arrival and properly introducing them once your baby is born will help to make this transition peaceful for everyone involved.

Preparing your dog for the baby

Dogs don’t know how to interact with babies, and some may not even know what a baby is. A dog who gets along with small children will not necessarily recognize a baby as a smaller child, and could even view him as prey. To avoid injury to your child, assume that your dog will react unpredictably towards them and plan for this.

  • Start training now. Enroll your dog in obedience training. Training class will teach you how to control your dog’s behavior without causing them stress or giving them unpleasant associations with you or your baby.
  • Once your dog can perform the basics (sit, down, stay, come, etc.) practice these commands while doing baby tasks. Practice a down-stay while cradling a doll and walking it back and forth. Pat the doll’s back as though burping it, sit back down, and so on. Reward your dog with treats for staying in the desired position. Practicing with a talking doll (some come with a crying track) can further simulate a real infant.
  • If possible, begin to expose your dog to real babies, perhaps of friends or extended family. Don't let your dog approach the baby: simply reward him for calm behavior in the baby's presence. If your dog shows discomfort (growling, barking, etc.) don't punish him:  this won't teach him that aggression is bad, but that babies are bad news. Calmly remove him and repeat the exercise at a later time and at greater distance from the baby.
  • Prepare your dog for baby sounds. Recorded baby sounds (gurgles, babbling, crying) can be played at an extremely low volume while feeding your dog treats. With each session, increase the volume a little bit. The goal is for your dog to be relaxed even in the presence of loud crying. You won't want to deal with a barking dog and screaming baby during 2 a.m. diaper changes.
Introducing your dog to the baby
  • If your new baby is born at the hospital, bring home blankets he/she has worn to familiarize your dog with the new scent.

  • Schedule time and exercise for your dog to prevent behavior problems like barking, digging, chewing, and hyperactivity from developing.

  • Plan to have one person handle the dog while another handles the baby. It's too risky and exhausting to ask one person to do both, and could result in injury to the baby.
  • Use a head halter (such as the Gentle Leader) to control your excited dog. A head halter will prevent your dog from jumping at the baby or simply moving too quickly toward her. Let your dog see the baby from 20 feet away, reward his calm behavior, then leave the room. Repeat from 15 feet away, 10 feet away, etc. 
  • Use caution when allowing your dog to approach the baby. Keep your dog on leash and watch for any signs of trouble: staring at the baby with a stiff body and closed mouth, high-pitched whining, or sudden lunges. If you are not sure what to look for, hire a trainer to come to your house and assist you with this stage.
  • If you can't supervise your dog around your baby, confine your dog in a safe area. Ideally, this would be a crate in another room. If small children are visiting, lock the door to this safe room so no one lets the dog out without your knowledge.
  • Pay special attention when the baby is crying, screaming, wiggling, and flailing her arms and legs, as this can provoke a predatory reaction in some dogs. Install a sturdy baby gate at the nursery door to keep your dog out or shut the nursery door and keep a baby monitor in the nursery.
Preparing your cat for the baby

Your cat can still be a loving part of your family after your new baby has come home. Taking these steps to prepare your cat for the baby's arrival will help to ensure a smooth transition.

  • Prepare your cat for baby smells. Begin to wear the kinds of lotions, powders, and other products that will be used with the baby. After your baby is born, bring home one of her blankets from the hospital to allow your cat to adjust to those smells as well.
  • Prepare your cat for baby sounds. A baby’s crying and screaming can be disturbing to a cat, so preparation is key. Find a recording of baby sounds and play the sounds at low volume while your cat is eating or playing. With each session, raise the volume just a little until your cat appears more comfortable with the sounds. You might also want to expose your cat to various baby toys, musical mobiles, and other sound-making devices before the baby comes home.
  • Change your cat’s environment gradually. Whether preparing a nursery, painting walls or purchasing new furniture, do so in small stages to allow your cat time to adjust. Cats rely on consistency, and even small changes to their environment can cause considerable stress. When the various areas are finished, play with your cat in those places to help him build positive feelings about them.
  • Take precautions against toxoplasmosis. This infectious disease is extremely rare in indoor cats, but can cause severe injury or death to a developing fetus. Toxoplasmosis is most often transmitted through infected feces or soil (which can contain egg spores), so indoors-only cats hardly ever become infected. Still, expectant mothers can further reduce any risk by wearing gloves and a mask while cleaning litter boxes, or asking another family member to do the job. Wear gloves while gardening as well.
Introducing your cat to the baby
  • Keep your cat’s schedule intact. When you're busy with your new baby, try not to neglect your cat. Have one person play with the cat while someone else tends to the baby. Use Feliway, a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure, to reduce the stress of multiple visitors. Confine your cat to a safe room if necessary.
  • Don't allow your cat access to the baby’s crib. Install a sturdy screen door at the entrance to the nursery or keep the door closed and place a baby monitor in the room.
  • Supervise your cat and baby whenever they're together. Never leave a baby or small child unattended around an animal. No matter how young the child or gentle the animal, too many things can go wrong, and both can get hurt. Once your baby starts to crawl, supervision is even more important. Your child should never be allowed to grab, chase or pick up the cat, so keep your child and cat separate when supervision isn’t possible.

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