Pets love unconditionally and ask for so little in return. A pet is part of the family. When life changes hit a household, those changes affect the furry members of the family even more than the humans. However, no change is more earthshaking to the family/pet dynamic than the addition of a new member of the family.
A new baby is a huge stress for dogs and cats. Pets that have been the center of attention quickly discover that their share of their human’s time might be cut short. A 2010 study revealed that once a new child enters the household, pet owners find that they have less time to focus on their fur babies.
However, parents must show their beloved companions that the new child is not in competition. The baby is not a rival…or a play toy. Boundaries should be set for pets, but the process should begin before the baby arrives at home.
For Kitty Parents
Cats can be a finicky bunch. While they choose when they show their love and devotion—and to whom they show it—they are quite lovable and loyal in their own special way. They also become quite nervous and uncertain when change hits their domain. Cats like consistency. When a room suddenly turns from an office into a nursery, a cat notices.
Some cats might react with sweet curiosity. They may rub against the new furniture, slink under the crib for a nap, or they may actually jump into the crib and take the new bed for themselves. Let cats investigate the new surroundings, but shut the door to avoid the new clean crib becoming owned by the cat. Otherwise, new parents might be in for a big problem once the baby moves in.
Male cats that are not neutered spray to mark their territory. Spaying and neutering pets helps ensure the pet population is controlled, and neutering also combats spraying behaviors. According to the Humane Society of the United States, “the urge to spray is extremely strong in an intact cat, and the simplest solution is to get yours neutered or spayed by 4 months of age before there’s even a problem. Neutering solves 90 percent of all marking issues, even in cats that have been doing it for a while. “
Once the baby is born—or when adoptive parents meet their child—make sure to first bring in a blanket or toy that bears the new child’s scent. Allow the cat to smell the object to slowly introduce the scent of a new family member. Never leave a new baby or child unattended with an animal in the beginning. Parents should always be present when kitty and child are together.
For Puppy Parents
Dogs love unconditionally. A new baby will be accepted and adored by the family dog, but it will take time and patience. Like cats, dogs must slowly be introduced to a new baby.
Before the baby arrives in the home, the dog should be introduced to their new sibling’s scent via a blanket or toy. When the baby is introduced at home, allow the dog to sniff the baby…but never leave a baby unattended with any pet. Reward the dog for good behavior, and speak gently and calmly.
Discourage dogs from licking the baby’s face. Experts warn that licking could introduce harmful bacteria to tiny immune systems.
Make sure the puppy has a special spot in the house. This area should serve as a safe place for the dog—away from the stress of a new baby—and include favorite toys, food and water.
No matter how busy parents get with a new member of the family, make sure that the family dog stays on routine. Always carve out time for exercise and walks. Staying active and fit is important for pets as much as it is for humans.
The Humane Society also recommends that all pets should be introduced to baby sounds before the baby arrives. High pitched cries or new noises can terrify an animal and create anxiety. Slowly allow the pet to get used to the sounds of a baby.
Properly preparing pets for a new baby helps lessen anxiety and creates a positive experience for the introduction. Most pets will warmly welcome a new friend and family member into their home, but they need time and patience to adjust to such a major change. Love grows for pets, just as it does with humans.