Happy families: Integrating your newborn with the family pet
A new arrival to the family is certainly exciting for all involved, but this brings concerns regarding the effects this will have on the current members of the family, including your pet. Dr. Adrienn Krasznai at Blue Oasis Veterinary Clinic discusses ways to prepare the family…
How do we best prepare our furry family members to keep things smooth and easy? First rule, start early! Expect changes, different daily routines, less time for the pet, new smells and probably a change in room arrangement. Decisions like ‘is the dog allowed in the baby room?’ need to be taken from the start and followed through right away. Otherwise, the baby may get the blame for the sudden changes.
Active interaction should be reduced in time, but intensified in quality, well before the baby comes. Set times for play, cuddles, grooming, walks and active interaction, and gradually reduce them to what you think you can keep up with after the babies’ arrival. Make sure that your pet still holds its’ position in your heart and continues to receive attention after the babies arrival, so that they don’t feel pushed aside.
Both, the pet and the baby, should have safe areas. For cats, this will often mean the chance to escape or hide in high places, to sleep out of reach or watch from a safe distance. It also means restricting the baby from access to pet food and cat litter tray, i.e. with child gates or elevated feeding stations.
For dogs, proper crate training is essential to give them a ‘safe retreat’ and the use of chewy toys or feeding via feeding toys can help them handle the stress of the new situation better. Dogs should also learn to go for their walks with the baby stroller, so that the daily walks can continue for both the child and the dogs’ benefit. Regular visits to daycare, or runs with a dog walker, can help very energetic dogs deal with the reduced attention they will receive at home.
For the baby, consider carefully which areas are strictly ‘baby only’, and imply this rule from the start and well before the baby arrives. The use of special sticky tapes (‘sticky paws’) or protective netting over the baby’s cot, can discourage cats from declaring the items their new favourite sleeping place. Early installation of screen doors or child gates allows you to keep the dog out of ‘baby only’ zones.
Never leave pets and children together unattended. Even the best natured pets can react in a defensive way if an uncoordinated move from the baby startles or hurts them. If pets and babies are allowed to snuggle, supervise their sleeping habits. While the pets will mean no harm, snuggling up too close can hinder the baby’s ability to breathe. Always make sure the babies face and chest are free.
Last but not least, observe general hygiene. Always wash and disinfect your hands after handling your pet, and especially when handling faeces. Deworm your pet frequently (up to every month with a newborn or toddler in the house) and apply products for tick and flea prevention. When the day comes, choose a neutral or common space (not the pets sleeping place) and give your pet time to calm down before you introduce the baby. Allow them to approach and sniff, leave the room with the baby if they get too excited or worried, while your partner remains with the pet to help them calm down again. Avoid sending the pet out, as this will create a negative connection with the baby. Encourage a friendly approach and calm behaviour with plenty of praise and cuddles, and always make sure that the presence of the baby has some positive effect for the pet (cuddles, attention, treats, toys), so they will enjoy the baby being in the same room. In case of adverse reactions, increase distance but avoid any form of punishment (like ‘telling off’), as this can lead to the pet associating the baby with negative experiences and thus rejecting the baby.