1. Start Preparations Early
Compared to other species with short gestation periods, expectant mothers can find solace in the fact that their long pregnancy offers the advantage of allowing time to prepare for changes post-baby. While there is certainly plenty else to do, making time to transition pets can make a big difference in a healthy environment once the baby is born, according to the ASPCA.
Some veterinarians recommend starting with pets’ walking or feeding schedules. If it is anticipated that the baby will drastically alter these routines, begin switching them up now so the animal has a chance to acclimate to the new schedule. If planning to hire a dog walker or cat sitter, introduce the animal to them now a few days a week, so they become accustomed to their presence and feel comfortable and familiar when the time comes to interact with them regularly.
If certain rooms like the nursery will be off-limits, begin to train your animal now to not enter that room. Enforce new furniture rules, such as staying off the bed or couch if the baby will be nursing or sleeping in those areas. There are many safe, non-toxic furniture pads and sprays that can be utilized to help train both cats and dogs to stay out of an area. The reverse is also true – set up a dedicated pet area that is off-limits to baby, recommends Parents.com. Besides just a litter box or dog bed, give your pet a special space or even a crate with a toy or blanket where they can feel safe and secure.
Become aware of attention habits, and avoid lavishing pets with extra attention that they become accustomed to receiving on a daily basis, recommends the ASPCA. It is best to randomly schedule play time and attention, so they will not feel suddenly abandoned when the baby arrives.
Since both cats and dogs are sensitive to smells, purchase a sealed container for soiled diapers to avoid any unexpected messes around the house, suggests Parents.com.
2. Evaluate Your Pet’s Obedience Level & Consider Professional Training
While it may be impossible to predict how a pet will react once a new baby is actually present, if they are generally well-behaved and responsive to commands, it will undoubtedly be a smoother transition. Animal behaviorists recommend going through basic instructions such as being told to sit, stay, get down, etc. In addition, they suggest introducing your pet to loud, unpredictable sounds (similar to a baby’s cry) that might otherwise be startling to them.
If there are obvious problems with following commands, behaviorists recommend attending some professional training classes with your pet. Local veterinarians or pet stores sometimes offer group classes, or professional trainers can provide one-on-one attention if a pet is especially unruly or unresponsive to home or group training.
3. Introducing Your Pet Once Baby Arrives
All the preparation in the world sometimes isn’t enough to handle every possible circumstance with a new baby and existing pets in the household. Further, many times first interactions with baby will go very smoothly, and the anticipation is much worse than the actual event.
Cesar Milan, a renowned animal behaviorist, recommends starting slowly and first introducing a dog or cat to an item that the baby has scented, such as a blanket or worn clothing. It provides an initial starting point for the animal to become accustomed to the baby’s scent, so it is not a threat or viewed as unusual.
Next, make sure the dog or cat is calm before the actual first meeting with the baby. Take the dog for a walk, or play with the cat to expend any extra energy. Ideally, have one person hold the baby, and another to hold the cat or contain the dog on a leash. Allow a slow, distanced greeting, allowing the animal to fully sniff the baby. This establishes boundaries and respect for the baby, as well as your leadership, says Cesar. Eventually, their interaction will flow naturally. However, avoid leaving any pet alone with a baby. Safety is always paramount, and while a pet may be fine under supervision, there is always a chance of an alternate behavior when alone.
Lastly, don’t forget to give your pet some attention. While an overabundance of attention can be negative and encourage them to constantly seek more, a healthy amount reinforces feelings of security and contentment in the home – even with a new baby addition.