Even the calmest, cuddliest family dog or cat that is used to being the center of attention may act out once a baby arrives. With less time for Fido or Tabby and a major family change, your pet may start to shadow your every move, mope around the house or behave worse and become aggressive. You can help your pet make a smooth transition. Here are some ways to head off any future rivalry between your four-legged “baby” and your newborn son or daughter.
If possible, expose your pet to babies. If you have friends or family with babies, safely invite them over so your dog or cat can become familiar with their sounds and smells. Even though your pet may seem to adore babies, never leave the two of them alone.
Invest in obedience training. Practicing good behavior techniques like “drop it,” “stay,” and “down” will make him less likely to unintentionally harm your baby. What might have once seemed like normal behaviors — jumping on the couch, pouncing, or playing aggressively with his toys — will not be welcomed. Your pet must listen and obey.
Get your pet used to life with a baby in the house. Try carrying around a swaddled baby doll and “practice” everyday baby activities to get the pet used to the routine: sing to the doll, put her to bed, change her diaper. It’s a good idea to play a recording of a baby crying at home, too. Make all of these positive experiences for your pet by offering him a treat or playtime.
Limit playtime and attention. Don’t lavish too much playtime and attention on your cat before the baby’s birth. Many parents unwittingly do this because they know their infant will take up all their time later. But your pet will become accustomed to the extra cuddling and won’t understand why it lessens when the child arrives.
Try different sleeping arrangements. If a new bed or sleeping area is in the cards for your pet, introduce him to it sooner than later. Fix up a spot in a baby-free zone with his favorite blanket, pillow, or toy.
Take your pet for a medical checkup. Be sure your pet is up to date on vaccines (rabies shots are a must) and that she is flea- and tick-free. Ask your vet about using a pill version or other method that’s effective against these pests and safe to use around a baby.
Establish clear boundaries near the nursery. You should never leave your pet alone with your baby, so if your little one will have a separate room, train your pet to stay out of it when you’re not there. One good option is a baby gate that keeps him out but allows him to see and hear what’s happening in the room.
Don’t leave your pet’s food out in the open. If your pet’s food-and-water station is in a spot your baby will later be able to access move it to a place that’s out of reach.
Get your pet used to your baby’s scent. Dogs and cats learn a lot about their world through their sense of smell. Before you bring baby home, try to introduce an unwashed piece of clothing — like a bodysuit or blanket — that your newborn has worn to your pet. This helps him become familiar with your newborn’s scent. When you bring baby home for the first time, have your partner hold her while you say hello to your pet. Then let the dog give the baby a sniff. Break out a special treat so he learns that behaving well with baby gets him the attention and praise he craves.
Bond with your pet and your baby. You want your dog or cat to get the message that she’s still a beloved member of the family, so put those parent multitasking skills to the test by allowing her to sit next to you as your nurse, or by playing with her while you cuddle with your baby. And try to spend at least five minutes of solo time every day with your affection-hungry pet — a happy cat or dog is usually a well-behaved one.