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Pets in the House

Pets in the House

With some key early planning, most dogs and cats adapt easily to life with a new baby. From the moment you carry your new baby through the door, a lot is going to change for everyone in your household, including the four-legged members. Just like an older sibling, your pet's reaction to the new arrival can be unpredictable. Some animals may be curious or accepting, while others may be jealous and protective.

If you have serious concerns about your pet's attitude, seek professional advice from your veterinarian or a specialist in animal behaviour before your little one arrives. An expert can draw on a wide range of experiences and offer insights on cats and dogs of all breeds. Consider asking your vet how to introduce a dog to a baby or for guidance on cat, dog and baby behaviours.

Here are some ways you can prepare:

  • Obedience training is a great idea for any dog, no matter the age. At minimum, it's important for dogs that are around children to be able to obey basic commands such as "sit," "stay," "come" and "drop."
  • Cats can use their claws intentionally or unintentionally. To prevent accidents, there are many alternatives to de-clawing, speak with your veterinarian.
  • Gently introduce "child-like" contact with your pet. For example, stroke and gently pull the ears, tail or paws. Reward your pet with praise or treats for accepting this irregular touching.
  • Keep clean – wash baby’s hands after playing with your pet and make sure your own hands are clean after feeding, playing or cleaning up after them.
  • Give your pet time to adjust to the baby's belongings and furniture. Set up the cradle, stroller and change table in advance and let them sniff around and investigate. Same goes with the car seat.
  • Don't let your pet lay claim to any of your baby's items by letting them nap in them. Pets can be territorial, so it's important to set clear boundaries and train your pet to sleep in specified areas.

If you have a cat it is important to find a place for their litter box that is clean and out of baby’s reach.

The early days

A new baby requires an enormous amount of time and commitment. This may mean that the time you spend with your new baby was previously the time you spent with your pet. Once the centre of attention, the family dog or cat is about to meet the competition!

When you introduce your pet to the baby watch their reaction closely. Correct your pet immediately if it hisses, growls or snaps at the baby. This isn't the time to take chances, so put them in separate rooms temporarily and reacquaint them when you feel your pet is ready.

Always keep the baby higher than your pet's head. Dogs have very primal instincts about hierarchy and their place in the pack. A baby lying on the floor is very vulnerable. Also, never allow a child to obstruct your pet's meal or "compete" for their food, e.g. climbing over or playing with the food or water dish. This is a common cause of aggressive pet reactions.

Regardless of how docile or friendly your pet is, you should never leave your pet alone with your baby - not even for a minute. A baby's movements and noises can be erratic, and so can your pet's reactions. So your pet shouldn't be allowed in the nursery. Paws on or in a crib can disturb your sleeping baby or, and potentially pose a danger. Pets should be kept out of cribs and bassinets the same way you would remove extra blankets, pillows or stuffed animals.

Once you're convinced that your pet has accepted the baby, and your infant is old enough, let them interact more freely (while still supervised). Teach your baby to treat your pet with gentleness and respect.

Did you know?

It is important to have another member of the family take care of the kitty litter duties during pregnancy. Speak to your doctor if you are a cat owner.