You're a pet parent and your dogs and cats are your furry little babies. That's true — until the day you bring home a human baby, and your priorities shift. Of course you'll still love your pets, but that little baby (understandably and deservedly) will steal time and attention away from your four-legged friends, and they may not be very happy about it. Maybe your dog's cherished daily walk gets moved to a new time to make room for baby's nap schedule. Maybe your cat can't sleep in your room at night anymore because you're worried about her jumping into the bassinet.
But that doesn't mean pets and babies won't ever happily coexist. They will — and they should. After all, it's good for children's health. "Children who have a dog or cat or are around dogs and cats during the first year of life are reported to be healthier and have fewer respiratory infections than children without contact to these animals," the American Academy of Pediatrics says.
Follow this advice on how to prepare your pet for the arrival of a new baby and you'll be posting cute pics of your furry baby snuggling your human one in no time.
Before baby's arrival
1. Spend less time with your dog. You may be inclined to squeeze in a ton of quality time with Fido or Fluffy before the baby is born to make up for the attention deficit coming soon, but experts advise doing just the opposite and gradually reducing the amount of time you spend with your pet before the baby comes. Also, "If your pet is particularly attached to the mother-to-be, another family member should develop a closer relationship with the animal. That way, the pet can still feel loved and provided for while mom is busy with the baby," the Humane Society suggests.
2. Visit the vet. If you haven't already, spay or neuter your pet. The Humane Society points out that sterilized animals are calmer and less likely to bite. This will come in handy with Little Johnny yanks Spot's tail just a little too hard. Also, have the vet give your pet a health exam and make sure your pet is up-to-date with vaccinations. Tell your vet if you feel uncomfortable or nervous about your pet interacting with your new baby, the Humane Society says. They can refer your dog to a behavior specialist or help you customize a plan to introduce the baby.
3. Teach your dog basic obedience skills. You'll need them more than ever. For example, if you're nursing and the dog wants to jump into your lap, "sit" or "down" can keep her at bay — and the baby safe — until you're done, the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says. If she's biting or getting too close to the baby's things, "leave it" or "drop it" are valuable phrases. And teaching her not to jump on people will be important for those times when you or anyone else is holding the baby. The Humane Society says you may even want to enroll in a training class with your dog to strengthen your bond and give you more control over her behavior. The ASPCA has more tips on which commands are especially helpful for parents-to-be.
4. Invite parents and their kids to your home. Do you have friends with little kids? How about nieces or nephews? Invite them over and closely supervise your pet around the children. Be sure to tell the other parent to do the same, as your pet isn't yet used to playing near hyper little people.
5. Introduce them to new sights, sounds and smells. With babies comes a slew of new things to torture your pet's senses. Get your pet used to the sight of a baby by carrying a swaddled doll around the house or putting one in the baby's crib, the Humane Society suggests. Prepare your kitty for the sound of a shrieking infant by playing the sound of a baby crying. If you're using a mechanical swing or mobile, turn it on occasionally so your pet becomes familiar with it. Set out diapers and clean clothes for the dog to smell, and use baby lotion or oil on your skin once in a while.
6. Practice changes to your daily schedule. Do you feed your cat breakfast at 7 a.m. every day? If so, get him ready for the unpredictability of life with an infant, and start feeding him anywhere from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., the ASPCA suggests. If you hope to take naps in the afternoon (and good luck with that) when you'd normally walk your dog, hire a dog walker to do it instead, or start the dog on a new walk schedule before the baby arrives. (The ASPCA says it may be a good idea to hire a dog walker for the first few postpartum weeks anyway, and especially while mom and baby are in the hospital, as your family will be very busy getting used to the new recruit.)
7. Set limits now, not later. If the dog or cat won't be allowed into the nursery, start keeping her out with a sturdy gate now, not the day you bring baby home. Same thing applies if the dog sleeps in your bed now but won't once the baby is born. Get her a comfortable dog bed instead; the sooner she gets used to it, the better.
After baby's arrival
Bringing home baby is a monumental occasion for the whole family. When you get home from the hospital, the Humane Society suggests having someone take the baby in another room while you give your pet a warm, calm greeting. Take a baby blanket or piece of clothing with you so your pet can smell it. Try to remain quiet and relaxed — your dog, especially, will pick up on your anxiety and may start to feel nervous, too.
Then bring the pet to sit with you while you hold the baby, and reward him with treats for good behavior. If your cat or pup doesn't want to go near the baby, don't force it. Always closely supervise any interaction, the Humane Society reminds.
The ASPCA adds this tip: "You may be tempted to give her plenty of attention when the baby’s asleep and then try to get her to lie down, be quiet and leave you alone while the baby’s awake. It’s actually much better to do the opposite. Try to give your dog lots of attention when the baby is present. Teach her that when he’s around, she gets treats, petting, playing — and anything else she likes." As your baby grows, consider taking her along when you walk the dog, the ASPCA says. Whether it's in a baby carrier or in a stroller, it's one more way the dog will understand that when the baby is present, good things will happen.