Bringing a baby into the world is a time of great excitement and change but it’s important not to forget about our four-legged friends during this big transition.
If you own a pet they will often be used to your undivided attention, so it’s important to be prepared when adapting to life with a newborn baby and a pet.
PDSA Vet Olivia Anderson-Nathan says: “Growing up with a pet can be great for children’s mental and physical health. Playing with a cat or dog can help keep them active and they may seek out the nonjudgmental company of pets for emotional support when they’re upset. But to make sure the relationship between pets and children is successful, it’s important to make sure your pet’s experiences are positive too.
“With careful preparation and consideration, your pets should still feel that they have a secure place in the family.”
- As soon as you’re planning to have a baby or early in your pregnancy, check your pet’s vaccinations, worming and flea treatments are all up-to-date.
- Gradually reduce the amount of attention you lavish on your pet throughout the pregnancy – a sudden noticeable drop in attention once the baby comes could be unsettling for them and their behavior could change as a result.
- Try not to reduce the level of exercise your dog is getting, as this is essential for their mental and physical well-being. Use a dog walker or ask friends and family to help when the baby arrives if you are unable to walk your dog yourself. Bored dogs can develop unwanted behaviour.
- If there are any rooms in the house that will become ‘pet free’ when baby is born, begin enforcing this well before the birth to help your pets acclimatise to the change. Similarly, bring the baby’s cot, play pen, highchair and other items into the home well in advance and supervise your pets while they take in the smells and sights of the new equipment. The more familiar they are with the items the better, as they won’t be worried or curious about them after your baby has arrived.
- Create a den or provide a space your pet can retreat to when it all gets a bit too much. A cat tree, or accessible bed on a high shelf in a quiet room is also useful as some cats feel safest when they are up high.
- A few weeks before your due date, start carrying around a ‘pretend baby’ – a doll in a baby blanket is ideal – so your pet gets used to the sight of this. Reward your pet for being calm and relaxed when you are carrying the doll, but if they jump up or do anything that would be dangerous for a real baby then just turn around and ignore them. Don’t punish your pet for inappropriate behaviour, or they could learn to associate you carrying a baby with negative experiences.
- Get them used to the sounds and smells involved with a baby. Use a socialisation CD or recording to play baby crying and fussing sounds so they’re not new to your pet when your baby arrives.
- When your baby comes home for the first time, greet your pet in a quiet room with no interruptions. A baby should never be left unattended with any pet, so install safety gates well in advance to keep dogs out of certain areas. Cats can get through an open door very quickly and silently, so be mindful, and consider using a screen door or a tent that fits over the cot to prevent your cat from getting too close.
PDSA is the UK’s leading vet charity. We’re on a mission to improve pet wellbeing through prevention, education and treatment. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information. www.pdsa.org.uk