American Humane Association Offers Tips for Introducing a New Baby to the Family Pet
Studies have shown that having a pet can be a positive boon to your health, both physically and mentally. However, when you have a family, or considering starting one, there are some factors to consider so that baby and furry friends can live in harmony. The American Humane Association offers a free guide to potential pet-owning families giving advice for the time when “Pet Meets Baby.”
Recently, a study conducted at Miami University and St. Louis University found that pet owners are more physically fit, have greater self-esteem, are more extraverted, and more conscientious than non-pet owners. What wonderful qualities to instill in your children for their successful futures! Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher with the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland said several years ago that “The bond between animals and humans is part of our evolution, and it’s very powerful.”
If you and your partner already have a pet before starting a family, the Humane Association offers the following tips for preparing your home (and your furry friend) for the upcoming changes that will undoubtedly occur.
The most difficult change for your pet will be the initial decrease in physical and verbal contact. While you will certainly have less quantity time with your pet than before, make sure the time you spend with him or her is “quality”. Instead of passing by and patting him on the head, carve out 15 minutes where you can have one-on-one time with your “first baby.”
Having a baby in the house will also likely change your behavior – you will be busier and more stressed, so your pet will pick up on these changes. Try to be cognizant of how that will affect your pet’s own behavior; he or she will likely be more nervous or excited himself.
Try to prepare your pet before the baby arrives by playing recordings of baby noises at low volume. If your pet becomes anxious or fearful, or displays any negative reaction, stop for the day, but try again so that over time the pet will become used to the new sounds. You could also get a realistic baby doll that makes noises to carry around as a “dry run” to see how your pet will react. When you receive gifts at baby showers, such as a stroller, strap the baby in and go for a walk to see how your dog might react.
After the baby is born (but before baby comes home), you or your partner should bring home a piece of clothing or a blanket that the baby has worn in the hospital to introduce the new smells to your pet. Never let the pet take the item in his or her mouth, however; treat it as you would a real item that would come home when the baby does. Use praise and encouraging words to calm an anxious pet.
During the first few weeks, pay attention to some of these signs that your pet is stressed:
- Panting or rapid breathing
- Pacing or excessive movement (frantic, escape behavior)
- Freezing or backing away (avoidance behavior)
- Charging forward, batting or snapping
- Dilated, large pupils
- Hunched, tucked-up body posture, silence (trying to become invisible)
- Fluffed fur or feathers, vocalizing, posturing, charging (trying to look intimidating)
A new baby is sensitive as well to potential allergens in pet hair. Be sure to relocate the pet’s living quarters before the baby comes home. (Most important is the cat’s litter box, which could be dangerous, especially when the baby becomes mobile.) It is probably best to do this several weeks before the baby arrives so the pet won’t associate the sudden change with the arrival of the new family member.
If your pet needs additional help adjusting to a new baby, enlist in the help of your veterinarian for more advice. He or she can direct you to trainers that can stop negative behaviors early. However, no matter how much you trust your pet, never leave him or her alone with a child.
American Humane Association
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