Prepping Your Pet for Your New Baby
How to help your pet get used to your baby -- starting before your baby is born.
When you find out that you're pregnant, it's natural to feel nervous and excited. If you're a pet owner, you may feel more anxious than other expectant parents if you're worried about how your pet will get along with your baby.
Luckily, with a bit of planning, you can help even the most pampered cat or dog make a smooth transition from living in a baby-free household to residing in a home that's focused on a crying, demanding newborn.
“Many dog and cat owners say of their pets, 'This is my first baby,'” says Vicki Mendiratta, MD, professor in the division of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. “Pregnancy is time to reflect that your life is changing, and most pet owners can't focus the same amount of time on a pet when they have to take care of a child.”
A study of nearly 600 dog and cat owners, which was presented at the 2010 meeting of the American Sociological Association, confirms what most people believe to be true: Pet owners who have children spend less time with their pets.
“I learned from my research that close relationships with cats, and especially dogs, change,” says study author David Blouin, PhD, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at Indiana University, South Bend. “Many owners simply have less time and money to spend on their pets, but emotional changes often occur, as well. When people have young children, it makes less sense to think of their pets as babies or children, too.”
Here's what you can do to let your pet know that it still has a special place in your family, even though a baby is coming:
Before Baby Comes
Your pet may realize that something is brewing when you begin accumulating baby paraphernalia and rearranging rooms in your home during your pregnancy, so be sensitive to your pet's needs.
“A significant amount of change occurs before the baby is born,” says Ilana Reisner, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of behavioral medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia. “The nursery is prepared. There's new furniture and baby stuff. Nervous cats may react by hiding or even spraying urine. Make sure they have unfettered access to litter boxes, food, water, and their favorite resting places. For dogs, it may be helpful to have a CD of baby noises or exposing them to new baby smells, like lotions.”
Gradually help your pet get used to the idea that a baby is on the way.
“If all these things start changing suddenly, it's going to be very stressful for the pet,” says registered veterinary technician Nancy Peterson, cat programs manager for the Humane Society of the United States, in Washington D.C. “You want the pet to associate good things with the baby.”