Abby Holtman, DVM
A newborn will bring many fun and amazing changes to your life, but it will also affect the pets in your household. Starting to prepare your pets will help minimize stress later. Although some animals will accept a new person easily, there are several things you can do to reduce the anxiety for your pets.
Start by making changes a few months ahead of time for what you know will happen once the baby comes home. For example, their environment and activity schedule will change. There will be new smells and sounds, plus the addition of baby gates and possibly loss of access to rooms.
Your dog’s exercise schedule may need to change as multiple times a day walks may become only daily or just limited to yard play. Allow your dog to gradually become adjusted to this change. Otherwise, consider doggie day care 1-2 times a week or a dog walker.
Place baby gates up ahead of time, so your pets can adjust to the new layout. Make certain they still have access to food and water bowls, doggie doors, their beds, and litter boxes. Make sure cats, especially, can still have an escape route if they become stressed. Provide places for your cats to hide and lounge away from the noise of the nursery, particularly if they are losing a room they once considered theirs. Also, consider what areas your cats may not be allowed onto. Are they used to counters, but now will not be able to go onto the changing table? Are your cats and/or dogs use to being on your lap? Training your pets ahead of time to ask before jumping up can help ease the transition.
You can start to introduce sounds and smells before baby arrives. Buying a baby CD or downloading a crying baby soundtrack from YouTube can help your pets adjust to the crying. Playing them in the nursery through the monitor speakers may also help. When you visit another baby, bring some of those smells home with you or have a baby visit the house. This is a great time for your pets to investigate both sounds and smells. During this time, reassure your pets with positive commands, treats, or loving. Please consult your veterinarian for further advice if they become upset. Making these changes early and slowly will help your pets manage any anxiety beforehand.
Do not forget about your pets’ annual veterinary visits or vaccines. If they are due shortly after your baby is due, try scheduling it before baby comes home, so it is not over-looked later. If your dog is not already on year-round heartworm prevention, we recommend starting. These products not only prevent heartworm disease, they also treat gastrointestinal parasites. This will help prevent these parasites from being transmitted to your baby. A general dewormer should be considered for both your dog and cat.
Once your baby is born, but still in the hospital, have someone bring a few items home for the pets to smell. A blanket or hat can be placed in the nursery for continued adjustment. This is a great way for a partner to come home, while mom is still hospitalized and have a little quality time with the pets prior to baby joining the family.
When baby is ready for discharge, be ready at home with a leash to control your dog. The pets will have missed mom and become very excited, so may start jumping up. This is much easier to control with a leash verses continued no’s. Staying positive with your pets will also help them form positive associations with your baby. Have someone other than mom carry the baby in, this allows mom and pets to greet each other one on one.
Gradually allow your pets to sniff your baby while still controlled, on leash and with baby in carrier or someone’s arms. Once the newness wears off, most pets will ignore the baby. However, we still recommend never leaving the baby and your dog alone together.
Finally, remember to still take some time every day to spend with your pets. They will need this time, just as much as you will need a non-baby moment!!