Introducing Your Dog & Cat To The New Baby In Your Life
Ron Hines DVM PhD
I am always hesitant to mix in-and-out & recently-obtained pets with infants, small or frail children. But then, people don’t come to me when things go right. Please don’t be in a rush.
There was a time when kids came first and then you got the pets. But times change, and with people marrying later and latter lots of furry or feathered creatures tend to come along with the new spouse. Many of my clients are quite concerned how to introduce their pets to the new baby when it comes. It is amazing how intuitive dogs and cats are when it comes to accepting a new baby. If you love the child your pet senses this and will also cherish the new arrival. There are a few instances, however, where special care must be taken.
Introducing Your Dog:
Three types of dog need very special care :
1) Dogs that have already told you that they do not like children are one type. These are often nervous, fearful dogs with little self-confidence.
2) A second personality type is the dog that is aggressive toward all strangers that come to the home. These dogs are assertive and are often owned by submissive owners who let the dog make its own decisions.
3) The third type of dog is the one that pounces on smaller furry creatures, chases cats and barks at large animals. These are predatory personalities.
If your dog fits into one of these three groups it is a good precaution to keep it on a leash and muzzled when it is near the baby until you know for sure that it will not harm the child. You can never go wrong taking that precaution with any dog of any personality type. If you are fortunate, your dog or cat does not fit into any of those three categories, but pets, like people, can be unpredictable in new situations. Here are some suggestions for introducing your normal dog to your new child:
If you want your pet to be under control when it is with the baby you need for it to be under control at all times. This means starting long before the baby comes by teaching your dog to obey commands. Enroll in a dog training camp or school. Teach your dog to sit, roll over, heel and lay down on command. This lets the dog know that you are in charge of decision making. You may want to read my article on dealing with aggression in dogs for more information. One of the most powerful commands is to train your dog not to eat a treat until you give the OK. This is an extremely difficult task for a pet and by the time it masters it I will leave you thoroughly in charge of all important matters in your household. Another strong command is to sit patiently even when activity is occurring in the room. Begin by standing at the dog’s side and eventually get to a point where you can leave the room and the dog will continue to sit. Whenever I train dogs to these commands I use the positive reinforcement of a pat on the head, a kind word and a treat instead of punishment. Practice the stay command in the room you have set aside for the baby. Some authorities suggest you put a doll in the crib and fuss over it as if it were the baby. You can do this, but I think dogs are quite intelligent enough to know the difference. Letting the dog become accustomed to the smell of warm formula is probably a good idea.
It is a good idea to keep your dog at a friend’s house or kennel for a week or two when you bring the baby home. You will have your hands full with your infant and will not have the time to pet and reassure your dog or prevent jealousy. When you do bring your dog home he will be overwhelmed by all the new odors and be more inclined to cooperate. When you bring the dog back home first let it sniff some of the baby’s used diapers. Then praise and reward the pet. Once it has calmed down introduce it to within seeing distance of the baby but on a leash. Then take the pet into the living room and praise and reward it some more. I would do this for several days until it becomes routine. When you actually allow the dog to sniff the baby be sure to have several people present to help restrain the dog if it becomes necessary. Keep the dog on a leash for better control. If you feel the dog tense up discontinue the introduction and try later. If you sense any degree of aggression or predatory emotion in the dog have it wear a muzzle. For a dog to adjust to the presence of a bay it needs repetitive exposure to the by in a happy situation so the dog associates the baby with pleasure. Lavishly praise your pet and give him treats during this training period. It is always better to be overly safe than foolishly sorry. Place a child gate in front of your child’s room to keep the dog away from the baby when you are not present. If the gate is too low, purchase a second gate and place it above the first. You can gradually relax your supervision as you come to trust your pet. The more inattentive to the baby the dog becomes the better. There is no way for me to tell you when (or if) this will occur. All I can tell you is that you should sense it when the right time comes.
Introducing Your Cat:
Cat are only less of a potential problem because they are smaller than many dog breeds. Cats are creatures of habit. They are not going to be enthusiastic about the new addition any more than they would be if you brought home another cat. But like a second or third cat, with time they generally get to like (or at least tolerate) your new baby. You can read about some of the things that make cats aggressive to each other and to people here.
Much depends on the personality of your cat. If the cat is aloof and stand-offish it may simply ignore the baby. But if the cat is the social type that begs for affection it may feel left out in its new situation. You will have less time to play with the cat and meet its needs. So set an hour or so aside each day to spend with your cat. While you play with the cat introduce it to items of cloths and diapers that have the babies scent on them. The cat will be very curious at first at these new odors. Once you have set up the nursery allow the cat to sniff out all the new furniture and supplies. If you can, invite some other small children in to play in the room while the cat is present. If you have purchased battery operated toys play them for the cat. As you do all this, give the cat food treats in the nursery. Remember not to change the cat’s litter box while you are pregnant.
There is a misconception that cats dislike babies. They probably do not recognize babies as little people and I have noticed that they treat them more like another object of furniture. This is not necessarily bad. If you own a shy cat it will probably hide for a day or two after you bring the baby home. If they are particularly piqued they may urinate on piles of the baby’s cloth but nothing worse. If the cat does get stressed out from all the unaccustomed activity it is likely to over-groom itself and eat less for a while.
When your infant becomes mobile in a wheeled toddler’s chair, your cat will have to learn the art of self-defense. Usually they find an inaccessible place to relax – on the dryer or bookcase or under the bed. This is fine. It also helps to place an infant gate across one quiet room. Also use that room for the cat’s litter box. The cat will quickly learn to jump over it. If your cat has no sanctuaries from the child, it will have to learn to be poked and pulled and carried around. Our cat puts up with an amazing amount of this from my children. He stoically allows himself to be just one more child’s stuffed toy. It is only when his tail is pulled that he meows, hisses and runs away. Of the two children, the youngest learned to love cat chow. This food does not seem to have caused him any harm.
We have all heard the folktale that a cat will intentionally smother a baby. There is no truth in that. Cats may not come to the rescue of the baby but neither will they do anything to intentionally harm it. Cats might be drawn to the baby by the smell of milk formula or plain curiosity. If this should happen, shoo the cat away from the baby’s crib. Some might close the baby’s door and install an infant monitor but I set a few mouse traps under a sheet of newspaper to “mine” the area around the crib for a week or two. You can also replace the child’s door with a screen door.
If you also have reptiles such as a turtles, an iguana or a snake, keep them and things that have been in contact with them away from small children. Reptiles are a reservoir for salmonella bacteria that can cause severe illness in young children. The same goes for pet rodents.