Planning for the arrival of your new little bundle of joy can sometimes feel overwhelming. Between baby showers, birthing classes and picking out names, it can be easy to overlook one very important four-legged member of the family. The truth is that your pet may need just as much time as you to prepare for baby’s coming. By planning ahead and working with your pet early, you can avoid some of the stress and tension that may arise later.
- Make a list: Consider the changes you will have to make to your current routine when the baby arrives. Will there be different sleeping arrangements? Will there be areas such as the baby’s room your pet is no longer allowed to visit? Is there any new training involved such as crate training or new commands? Will your pet’s feeding and walking schedules or one-on-one time with you change to accommodate the baby’s needs? Will you be recruiting the assistance of family or friends to help care for your pet or your new child? Try to be as comprehensive as possible and involve the whole family in this planning process. Having everyone on the same page will keep things consistent and less confusing and the more you anticipate, the more you can help your pet gradually adjust to all of the changes coming up on the horizon.
- Find acceptable alternatives: Once you have your list of potential changes, try to consider what you can offer as alternatives to the current arrangements. For example, if the nursery will now be off-limits, try to set up a blanket, bed or cat tree near-by so your pet can still see/hear you, but also be out of the way. Start blocking the door to the nursery with gates so it will not come as such a surprise when your baby arrives. If your pet will be allowed in the nursery, try to train them to stay in a corner that is “theirs.” Demarcate this area in some way like with a blanket or collapsible gate. If the litter box will need to be relocated do this gradually over a period of several weeks, moving it just a few feet at a time. Sleeping space and times may also need some tweaking. If your pet will no longer be allowed in the bed with you, try to find a very comfortable pet bed for them and encourage them to use this bed by putting blankets or clothes that smell like you in it. You can also offer treats to your pet just for coming near the bed to associate the bed with positive experiences. It is best to get your pet used to their new bed or space prior to restricting their access to your bed or other “off-limits” room.
- Create a safe space: Often this is a crate or gated area for dogs and a separate, private room or cat tree for cats. This space will serve two purposes: it gives your pet a place to retreat when they are feeling uncomfortable and it will provide a place to confine your pet, if needed. It is important to make this space as appealing as possible. Your pet should want to go there. Provide a comfy space with a bed, water and lots of toys. Natural pheromones such as Adaptil and Feliway may also help your pet feel at ease during this transition, and can be sprayed in the safe space or plugged in as a diffuser. Treats can also be beneficial in the training process. It works best if the treats do not actually come from you so your pet associates the treats with the space rather than with you. Use only your pet’s favorite treats and place them in the space ahead of time or use treat dispensers. Try to select treats that your pet only gets in this particular space, this way they will be more high value and therefore more enticing for your pet. Most importantly, don’t rush this. It’s not unusual for crate training to take several weeks.
- Introduce new things: This may happen naturally while you are setting up the nursery, but try to gradually introduce your pet to new baby items such as swings, rockers and toys. Allow your pet to investigate and sniff these new items. Reward your pet with treats or praise for calm behavior around these objects. If any of these items such as toys will make noise, periodically turn the toys on and give your pet lots of treats for calm behavior. This is also a good time to teach new commands such as “drop it,” “kennel,” or “gentle.” Practice these commands frequently and randomly so your pet becomes familiar with them. One of the most important commands to practice is one to ask your pet to retreat such as “away.” Often pets do not realize that it is acceptable to move away from a stressful situation such as a crying infant or newly walking toddler. Giving the “away” command reminds your pet it is alright to distance themselves when they are becoming anxious rather than risk them becoming defensive. Finally, if your pet has any less-than desirable habits such as jumping on you, this is the critical time to break them. Try to deter jumping behavior by turning away from or ignoring a pet’s excited behavior and rewarding your pet with praise, petting or treats only when they are sitting calmly. Reach out to certified fear-free trainers if you need any assistance with the training process.
- One-on-one time: Schedules are comforting for our four-legged family members. Knowing when they will get fed and walked as well as have some one-on-one time with you will help keep your pet calm and allow them to better adjust to all of the other new aspects of their daily life. If your pet’s current schedule doesn’t fit with the baby’s new one, pick a new time and stick with it. Make this change gradually. Also, this is a good time to start limiting your one-on-one time with your pet to manageable chunks of time (15-20 min) where they get your undivided attention. Most pets are actually quite open to this change as long as it occurs slowly and in a predictable way. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help with this. If your pet is fairly high energy and will need more walking or playing time than you can provide, coordinate with friends, family or neighbors to take your pet for walks, set play dates with other dogs, play games with your cats or take your dog to a day care where they can burn off some of that extra energy. If you think you will need this when the baby arrives, start getting your dog or cat used to these play dates now, so it’s just part of the routine later.
- Welcoming the baby home: This is the moment everyone has been waiting for! How you introduce your new bundle of joy is just as important as all of the preparation and training leading up to this point. If possible, try to have someone exercise your pet before you arrive home. For dogs this may involve a nice walk around the block and for cats, perhaps some play with string toys or a laser pointer with a treat for reward at the end. This way your pet is tired and relaxed for the big moment. It is usually best to start the introduction simply with the new scent of your baby. Bring home a blanket or other item of clothing that your new baby has worn a day or so ahead of time. Try to give your pet treats while they are sniffing this or shortly after. Next, give your fur-kid some alone time with mom. They probably have not seen her for a few days and will be excited that their family is back together again. Finally, it’s time to introduce your newest family member. Keep this interaction as low-key as possible. Wait until your pet has calmed down to make an entrance with baby. Try to have someone holding your dog or cat and lower the baby to their level. Always have 2 adults involved in this and take it slow. Your pet may not seem incredibly interested right away, but give them an opportunity to look and perhaps sniff a bit, then move on with the next step in the routine (maybe a nice walk outside or feeding time).
- Ongoing Interactions: Even if the first interaction goes perfectly, keep in mind that ongoing interactions still require supervision and minor adjustments. While your pet may LOVE your baby, it is still best to never leave your baby unsupervised with your pet. Encourage your pets to associate the baby with good things. Try to avoid reprimands. Rather, redirect behavior into something that is acceptable such as playing with a toy, performing tricks or going to their safe space. In anticipation for the future, start getting your dog or cat used to having their feet, face and tail touched. Start slowly and gently and reward with lots of treats. As your kid grows and becomes aware of the pets around them, try to teach, gentle petting techniques and direct your child to acceptable places for petting such as the trunk or back rather than the face. Remember the best pets need a little reminding and direction from time to time and it is never too late for a remediation course in good behavior as your kids grow. Just always remember to keep these interactions positive and take your time.
As a final step to prepare for the arrival of your little bundle of joy, it is safest to make sure your pet is also up to date on all of their vaccines and preventative care. Some diseases like rabies and leptospirosis can be spread to humans as can parasites like hookworms and roundworms. By keeping your pet healthy, you keep your whole family healthy. If you are looking for a vet in Keystone, a vet in Oldsmar or a vet in Westchase, contact us to set up an appointment today! Our caring veterinarians will help you protect your pet and set up the perfect environment for your newest member of your family.