Guest blog from Pet Talk.
Expecting parents are often as busy as they are excited while they’re preparing to welcome a new baby to their family. In this happily hectic time, those who also have furry family members should consider how their fur babies and their new baby can safely interact when they eventually meet.
Dr. Lori Teller, an associate professor in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says expecting parents can begin preparing their animals for a new arrival as soon as they know they are expecting a new baby.
“This is a great time for a training refresher for your dog. Make sure your dog knows cues such as sit, down, stay, come, wait, off, and go to bed,” Teller says. “If your dog likes to jump on people, this is a great reason to teach them to stop this behaviour. The relationship between your furry friend and your child will be so much the better if your dog has good manners.”
The arrival of a new baby will interrupt a companion animal’s schedule almost as much as it alters the parents’ schedule. Teller advises animal parents to adjust their companion animal to their new schedule and new rules, such as not allowing animals to enter rooms reserved for the baby, before the baby’s arrival.
“Bring new baby products and furniture into the house before your baby comes home. These may include diapers, lotion, baby wash, formula, and linens,” Teller said. “Let your animals get accustomed to these smells, so that by the time the baby arrives, those smells will be a normal part of the environment. Don’t allow your furry friend to sleep in the baby’s crib or any other location where the baby may rest.”
Acclimatizing to newborn sounds
Teller also recommends that animal parents acclimate their furry friend to the sound of a baby crying prior to their arrival. This can be done by playing a recording of crying at a low volume and practicing positive reinforcement and verbal cues. Animal parents can reward their dog for remaining calm, then slowly increase the volume, continuing to reward their animal’s positive behaviours.
“If you will be walking your dog while pushing the stroller, start training your dog to walk next to it,” she says. “Initially your dog may find it scary to walk next to the stroller, so it’s better to get your dog comfortable with it now before all of you end up in a tangled mess.”
Demonstrate diverted attention
Animal parents can also help their animals adjust to their diverted attention by holding a doll in the chair where they will feed or rock the baby and by carrying the doll around. Parents should reward their animal for resting calmly while they are occupied with the doll.
While practicing these techniques can be greatly helpful in ensuring a smooth transition, animal parents may also wish to consult their veterinarian with any behavioural concerns.
“If your animal is anxious by nature, it would be good to discuss this with your veterinarian before the baby’s arrival,” Teller says. “Your furry friend may benefit from an anti-anxiety supplement or the use of a calming pheromone. Some animals may need medication and a behavioral modification plan to address anxiety issues.”
Preparing a companion animal prior to the arrival of a new baby is instrumental in ensuring that your new, expanded family gets off on the right paw. Not only can these preparations support a safer environment for the new baby, but they can also help reduce stress for new parents in their first joyful weeks of parenthood.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.