For many people, pets act as their 'child substitute’ and their animals are treated accordingly. This can lead to problems when a ‘real’ baby comes along. Issues that may arise include jealousy, decreased time spent on the pets and hygiene issues. All of these problems should be able to be easily addressed if dealt with efficiently and appropriately.
First Things First
Firstly, it is important that your pets realize that they are in fact animals. This does not mean that they are loves any less but it will mean that imposing boundaries when the new family member comes is much easier. Basic things such as not feeding your pets from the table and interacting with them at your chosen time, rather than theirs, will ensure that they understand where their place in the family is. If this is done from the outset the introduction of a new baby will be considerably easier.
During the lead up to the birth ensure that your pets recognize that the nursery is off limits to them unless accompanied by you and invited into the room by you. Let them sniff around the room and understand that something is happening. This will decrease the shock to them when another living, breathing (and often crying!) newborn is in there. A good idea, especially if you have a dog, is to make sure that you have a nappy disposal unit as this eliminates the smell of dirty nappies that a dog might find incredibly appealing. If you have a cat, let them sniff around the cot and perhaps rattle and shake it a bit just to make them realize that is isn’t a warm and cosy spot for them to sleep in. You want it to seem fairly unappealing to them so it isn’t even the slightest bit appealing for them to jump into and curl up.
Lead up to returning home
During your time in hospital make sure that all pets become used to the smell of the newborn. Dad could bring home a few nappies and even a few blankets or items of clothing that the baby has been in. Place these in the baby’s room (or cot if baby is going to be in your room) just so they get used to a new smell in the house. Make sure that during the time that you are always that they are well looked after and not ignored. They don’t understand at this stage what is going on and a sudden withdrawal of attention will upset them and may lead to behavioral changes.
On the odd occasion cats or dogs will urinate on the baby’s blankets or bedding. This is a territorial behaviour that relieves the pets’ anxiety by covering the strange cent. Do not reprimand them as this will only increase their concern regarding the new scent and make it more likely to occur again. It isn’t a behaviour suggesting jealousy or malice and scolding them will increase their stress during this time of adjustment (this is easier said than done when you are washing the sheets for the third time that day!!!) the best thing to do is to ensure they don’t have access to the target and increase your interaction with the pet.
On your arrival home with your baby make sure that you give your pets the attention and greeting that you would have given them had you just been away on holidays. Perhaps giving them an extra treat or a new toy will let them know that you didn't desert them but had just been away for a while … and happened to bring someone else home with you.
On introducing the baby to your pets initially, have one adult holding the animal and another holding the baby. Ensure both are getting appropriate attention but are in the same room. Gradually you can bring the two of them closer together, always ensuring that the pet is under control. This process can take anything from a few hours to a few weeks depending on the nature of the pet. If your pet has a history of showing any signs of aggression towards strangers or other animals, you must do this incredibly cautiously. Don’t try to do it on your own, a dog jumping up to investigate a baby can easily accidentally scratch them or even bump them out of your arms. It doesn't matter how much you trust your pet, they must never be left alone with a baby or an infant.
It is important to ensure that your pet gets some ’special time’ with you, just like they did before the intruder arrived home!! Perhaps an extra cuddle when the baby is asleep or taking your dog for a walk, without the baby, will ensure that they realize you still love them just as much as always, but you are just a bit busier these days. Sleep deprivation doesn’t always allow hour-long walks but going to a park, sitting in the sun and throwing a ball or a stick can do wonders for your sanity! It will give you a chance for a bit of ‘baby-free’ time, something that doesn't happen that often as a new parent. Perhaps this is a reason to love your pets that bit more. I personally got a 6-week old Border Collie puppy when I was six and a half months pregnant and already had a 9 month old kitten. Everyone told me I was crazy and that I was creating so much extra work for myself. How would I possibly find time to walk the dog when I had a newborn? And the cat would definitely want to get into the cot and cause all sorts of problems, not to mention all the germs!!
Best of pals
After following all the above ideas, my 8 month old daughter breaks into a beaming smile whenever she sees the dog and the dog is incredibly adoring of her as well. She lets her stroke her head (always under supervision of course) and even lets her little fists pull at her ears. My gorgeous ginger kitten looks at Lucy from afar but really isn't that interested in her. Never once has she jumped into the cot and neither of them goes into the nursery, even when the door is open, if I am not with them. Sure, I spend a fair bit of time picking up poo of one sort or the other, but basic hygiene methods such as regular worming, hand washing and vacuuming has meant that all of us are nice and healthy. It is now considered that children who grow up with pets are much less likely to suffer asthma or any other allergies. As a new mum, to a human baby and two of the furrier varieties, all three of them make my day in different ways.
Philippa Warren BVSC (and mum!!)
Tips: Long before baby arrives start preparing your pet for the new arrival.
Remember: Your pet was first on the scene and will take some time to adjust to having a new member in the family. A new pecking order will need to be established and maintained. They remain the lowest on the rung but need to know they are still loved.