Check out the fall edition of Women's Today Magazine for this timely article by Dr. Kennedy on babies and pets in the household.
Q: Help! We’re expecting a new baby next month. How can I prepare my dogs and cats?
A: That is a great question and Congratulations! You’re exactly right that you should take some time to prepare your canine and feline household pets. First, are your dog’s obedience trained? It’s very important that they respond to sit/stay commands and listen to you when you’re talking to them. Also, it’s a good idea to have your annual veterinary checkup for all your pets to make sure they’re current on vaccines and don’t have any intestinal parasites or and fleas/ticks. There aren’t a lot of diseases transmitted from pets to people but there are a few that you’d need to make sure your pets are healthy (roundworms and hookworms are important intestinal parasites and ringworm or scabies are potential skin contagions).
Dogs and cats are very sensitive to smells so they need to become acclimated to baby smells, especially diapers. Do you have friends with babies that you could borrow some dirty diapers to start acclimating them to the odors? Sounds gross but it really is an important step. Sound is another possible trigger for your pet’s behavior problems. Have a friend bring their babies over so your pets can hear sounds of crying so they will know that it’s normal. Don’t forget to keep giving your pets lots of attention. They’ve had all your attention so far and can get jealous if you ignore them which could cause some behavioral issues. Please reward your pets for good behavior. Don’t punish your pets if they misbehave. A firm “no” with an immediate “sit/stay” command is appropriate. Practice sessions should be fun and not discipline exercises.
Bring your new baby into the house while your pets are confined and allow them to see the baby but not get too near during first visits. Never leave your baby alone with your pets until they are well acclimated to the household changes.
The general rule is never leave a child, especially one under three years of age, alone with a pet at any time. While your dog is in a sit/stay position, carry around a doll wrapped in the baby’s blankets, rock the doll in your arms and let your dog or cat investigate the doll. Pretend to diaper the doll and get your pets used to all the activities associated with care of your newborn. The best time to introduce a baby to a household pet is when the pet is calm and the baby is quiet. Ideally two people are needed: one to control and reward the pet and the other to hold the baby. There is simply so safe way to rush this process. Supervised contacts and rewarding the pets so they don’t associate negative events or punishment with the baby. Most pets bond with an infant in a special way that benefits all of you. There is nothing more rewarding than watching your two and four legged family members playing and growing together.