I always had pets when I was a child. We always had at least one dog, a cat and various other pets over the years which included a sheep, fish, mice, and stick insects. My whole family adored our animals. By the time I was pregnant with our first child, my husband and I had two dogs and two cats of our own. So I was completely taken aback when a member of our extended family mentioned to me in passing how sad it was that we would have to rehome our pets before the baby arrived.
It was her assumption that pets and babies don’t mix, which was absolutely not my experience! When our son was born, our dogs adored that baby so much that they’d sit at my feet and growl at anyone who came near me while I was breastfeeding, and sleep with their heads over the side of the moses basket.
As our children grew, the pets remained an integral part of the family, and our dogs were always very protective of the children.
So here’s my top tips on how to prepare pets for baby, and how to get a great balance with your pets and your children.
Preparing pets for a new baby
- While you’re pregnant, it’s a good idea to brush up on your dog’s obedience training. Make sure that he’ll sit, stay, and go outside on command, and that he’s got no issues with food. If there are any behavioural issues, talk to your vet or animal behaviourist as early as possible so you can start working on any potential issues.
- Ensure your dog will walk on the lead without pulling, and it may be a good idea to practice walking your dog with the pram.
- Get your pets immunizations and worming up to date, if they aren’t already.
- If your dog is allowed into the room where baby will be sleeping, start shutting him out as early into your pregnancy as you can, so that there won’t be any problems once the baby arrives.
- I’ve heard suggestions that you can prepare your pets for a baby by playing a recording of baby noises, but it certainly wasn’t something I’d even thought of or did.
- It’s also a good idea to ensure that your dog knows which toys are his, so that he doesn’t chew any baby toys that may be left on the floor.
- Before you bring baby home from the hospital, let your dog smell a piece of clothing that baby has worn so that he can get used to the smell.
Introducing pets to the new baby
- Your pets may be very curious about the new baby, so introduce them gently, and in such a way that you can move the baby away quickly if you need. Pat and praise your dog as he’s sniffing the baby.
- If you can, take your dog for a short walk with the new baby as soon as the baby arrives home. Lots of praise and positive reinforcement on the way will have your dog associating the baby with good times.
- When your dog is gentle and calm with the baby, praise him and pat him. Gently push him away if he’s getting too excited, never shout at him or hit him.
- Although you’ll be busy with the baby, make sure that you take time out to spend with your dog or cat. Try to give them some one on one time, and a bit of extra attention so that they don’t feel left out. My mum tells me that when I was born, the cat would sit right on top of me as I was being breastfed, so that he could get pats as well!
- Keep pets out of the room that baby sleeps in, and never allow a pet to share a bed with a baby. When your baby is tiny, it’s easy to keep them apart, but this will get more difficult as baby becomes more mobile.
- Cats can be curious, and while they don’t usually get jealous, they can be attracted to the warmth of the baby’s cot. Keep the door closed, and it may be a good idea to get a cat net if you’re going leave baby in the pram downstairs or in the garden.
- Lots of exercise will keep your dog tired and less likely to get into mischief when you have to spend time with the baby. Give your dog plenty of chew toys and bones to keep him occupied.
- Never leave your baby alone with a pet – even for a few minutes. Always supervise.
Pets & Toddlers
- Once your child is crawling or toddling, you may like to consider a baby gate to keep dogs and children apart. A baby gate will also allow a cat to escape if it needs, and can keep babies away from cat litter or pet food.
- It’s also a good idea to check that your baby can’t get out through the cat flap!
- Most cats will escape if a toddler is teasing them or hurting them, but some cats will scratch and bite. Keep an eye on your toddler, and teach her the right way to play with the pets.
- Dogs always need supervision. No matter how long you’ve had your dog, and how trustworthy, a dog is still an animal. He may lose patience with a toddler pulling his tail or poking him in the eye. He may also just get a little overexcited and nip or scratch.
Following these rules should ensure a happy balance between pet and baby, and it won’t be long before your dog becomes your child’s best friend!
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