When you’re pregnant and your due date is approaching, you may worry about how your fur baby is going to react to. this new arrival. But pets and babies can happily coexist—and even become best friends! How parents prepare their pet for a new family member, bring baby home, and ensure a safe environment greatly impacts how well a newborn and an animal get along. So how should you introduce your little one to your pet? And how can you keep your baby safe around their new furry sibling? Pregnancy & Newborn sought advice from the experts, and here is what they said.
Before the First Introduction
As the baby’s due date approaches, parents should prepare their pet for baby’s arrival. “As you set up the nursery, begin accumulating baby items, and rearranging rooms, your pet will likely recognize that something is changing,” says Colleen Kraft, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Because of this, you should be sensitive to your pet’s needs. For example, cats may become nervous, Dr. Kraft explains. They may hide, urinate, or defecate outside their litter box. To help with their adjustment, you should ensure they have access to their favorite rest and play areas as well as food and water. Or, if you have a dog, you can expose them to some of the new sounds, smells, and baby toys associated with your infant. When walking your pup, Dr. Kraft also suggests bringing the baby’s stroller so that they associate it with a fun activity.
You should also decide if you’re going to allow your pet into your baby’s nursery or if the space is off-limits. “Cat owners who don’t want their pets jumping into their baby’s crib can train them with an adhesive deterrent product like Sticky Paws,” Dr. Kraft says. “Safety gates or screen doors can allow an animal to see and hear what’s going on instead of being in the room.”
If possible, Chyrle Bonk, DVM, a veterinarian from Orofino, Idaho, and veterinarian advisor for Hepper, recommends letting your pet meet your friends’ or relatives’ babies before meeting your own. These quick introductions will allow your pet to “get a taste of what it’s like to have a baby around without having them there 24/7.”
Having set routines will help ease the transition as well. Babies and pets share the need for routine in their lives. “Routines help both children and pets understand what is required of them, and what they can expect from caring adults in their lives,” Dr. Kraft says. That said, if you plan to feed, exercise, or play with your pet at a different time when the baby arrives, then you’ll want to change your pet’s routine gradually. “Doing this before the delivery will make it an easier transition,” Dr. Bonk says.
Lastly, having places where both your child and your pet can take breaks will help create and maintain a safe, comfortable environment. “Using baby gates can be a great way to have your baby and pet separated from one another, to keep both pet and baby relaxed and safe,” says Alex Crow, DVM, a veterinarian practicing in Nottinghamshire, UK, and veterinarian advisor for Happiest Dog. “Also, keeping your newborn’s door closed when they nap and sleep will ensure your pet won’t disturb your baby so they can have a good night’s rest.”
When pets and babies are in the same room, there are certain precautions, like positive reinforcement, you can take to ensure your pet behaves properly around baby. For example, “using a leash for a while to keep your dog a safe distance from your newborn and giving them praise and treats for keeping a distance can eventually instill in your pet the distance they should keep around your child,” Dr. Crow says. However, even if you believe your pet and baby would be safe together, you should always provide supervision. “Accidents can happen easily, and your pet could become spooked or excitable unexpectedly which could hurt your baby,” Dr. Crow says.
If you choose to allocate pet- and baby-friendly zones, “make sure to make those distinctions well before the baby arrives, so that your pet will be used to it and not associate being kicked out of places with the baby,” Dr. Bonk advises, adding that for areas that aren’t strictly pet- or baby-free, you should set up a schedule for when each the baby and the pet can use the space.
The First Introduction
The initial interaction between the pet and the baby should be controlled. To help your pet acclimate to the newest family member, familiarize it with the baby’s scent by having it smell and touch an article of clothing baby has worn, such as a baby blanket or a hat, before your little one comes home from the hospital, explains Danelle Fisher, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician and the chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. “This will help the pet acclimate to the new human coming into their home.”
The actual introduction, Dr. Fisher says, can be carried out “when the baby gets home from the hospital or at a later date if the parents want to go slowly and wait a few days.” When the introduction takes place doesn’t matter, but rather how ready you feel. “When you are alert and ready, you have better judgment and are more aware of your surroundings,” says Dr. Crow, “this is essential when dealing with a delicate baby and a possibly excitable pet.” So although you might want to introduce your pet to your newborn right after you deliver, it might not be the best idea since you and your partner are most likely exhausted.
Dr. Crow explains that when you and your partner are both alert and ready to introduce your pet and newborn, you should have one person hold the baby while the other observes the pet to read their emotions and body language. The pet should be in a good mood and not extremely excited. If your pet isn’t relaxed or at any point becomes upset during the introduction, you should wait or try again later.
Although the first introduction will include lots of sniffs from the pet, both the baby and the dog or cat should be kept at some distance. Having your pet restricted using a leash, for example, will allow you to maintain control and move them out if needed, Dr. Bonk advises. It’s also important to “let the pet dictate how fast they go,” she adds, explaining that it’s best to “let them approach at their own pace.” At first, some pets may not be interested in the baby, but that’s alright.
After the First Introduction
Up until now, your furry friend may have been the center of attention. And although your new arrival changes this, it doesn’t mean you should give them less attention. “Just because you have a new baby doesn’t mean you can decrease your interactions with your pet,” Dr. Bonk says. “They will still need to have their needs met.” For this reason, she recommends carving out one-on-one time with your pet every day to help it know that you still care and haven’t forgotten about it.
Although this time can be spent simply sitting on the couch and petting them, it’s important to remember that regular exercise is key to a healthy dog, in particular. So if your current routine doesn’t include plenty of exercise with your pooch, it might be a good idea to include playtime or long walks. A well-exercised pup will not only maintain good physical and mental health but ensuring they get their energy out will also help keep your baby safer. “When your pet is wound up, they are more likely to be a danger to your baby as they are excited and full of energy,” Dr. Crow says. “They can accidentally hurt the baby, and want to play with them which could lead to bites or scratches that, although meant to be playful, can cause harm.”
Babies and Pets Coexisting
To further maintain the safety of children and pets, parents should teach their young children how to properly pet and interact with the animal when they’re old enough. And one of the best ways to accomplish this is by modeling caring behavior toward your pet and helping your little one practice. “Babies should always observe proper handling and care of a pet,” Dr. Fisher says.
Children should learn to have the pet smell their hand prior to petting on the body and away from its face and mouth. They should also be taught to never hit, bite, or kick an animal, even as a form of discipline.
If your tot ever ends up being too rough with the pet, show them how to treat the pet more gently. For example, “if your child hits your cat, take their hand and show them how to softly stroke its fur,” Dr. Kraft says. “Your children will learn and follow your actions. Learning gentle touch and setting limits with animals will help your child be safer when encountering dogs on the street or friends’ pets on playdates as they grow older.”
Parents shouldn’t attempt to force a bond between the pet and the baby. “Curiosity will encourage your pet to want to interact with your baby,” Dr. Kraft says. “However, since infants are pre-cooperative, developmentally speaking, they may cry, reach, grasp, and do things that provoke a pet,” she explains.
Since this might result in the pet having a negative reaction, Dr. Bonk advises parents to never force their pet to interact with the child. “This could create excessive anxiety in your pet that can be long-lasting and make your pet fearful or even aggressive towards your baby,” Dr. Bonk says.
Furthermore, keeping your animal clean will also help keep the baby safe. Dr. Crow explains, “Your pet has a lot of hair, dander, and germs on their body that they naturally have and pick up from the outside. These germs can get to your baby and cause them to get sick.” Because babies tend to put their hands in their mouths often, he recommends having your pet groomed frequently and washing your baby’s hands after they touch the pet.
Lastly, make sure the baby is not able to handle or get into the pet’s food and water, Dr. Fisher says. Also, the baby’s and the pet’s toys should be “separated so there are no battles over toys.” If they aren’t, the pet may become aggravated.
“Routines, times to interact, and appropriate boundaries will set the foundation for a lifelong friendship between your child and your pet,” says Dr. Kraft. Eventually, your pet will learn to love the newest addition and treat them as part of the family—a member of the pack. But it is important to recognize that, although unlikely, sometimes pets and babies just don’t get along. “If the pet does not warm to the baby or if something concerning happens, parents must be prepared to handle the consequences,” Dr. Fisher warns. It’s for this reason that it’s of utmost importance that you plan and make the necessary steps to keep your baby safe around pets.