As human beings, our natural instinct is to care for living things, especially those things smaller than us. Many couples move in together or get married, and before they decide to have a child, the natural step is to get a pet first. Most couples end up with a number of different pets, over a few years, from dogs and cats, to reptiles, rabbits and small rodents. It’s human nature to love our pets and give them tons of affection. A few years later, many couples decide to have a baby. This article deals with what to do and how to deal with your pets after you get your baby home. Our previous article, Having a baby, what should I do with my dog? dealt with the steps to take before the birth, in order to get your pets ready for the new arrival.
Pets and babies – how to cope!
Most mums to be take some time off work before the birth and stay at home for the final home stretch of their pregnancy. The inevitable surge of pregnancy hormones at this time, makes you lavish love on your pets. Thus your pets get used to you being at home 24 hours a day and getting a lot more attention possibly than they got before.
The day of the birth arrives and you suddenly disappear altogether from your pet’s lives for a few days, while you are in hospital. Animals thrive on routine. Having gotten them into an extremely nurturing routine, you suddenly disappear altogether. Your partner/husband also spends most of his time with you in hospital and your pets feel a great sense of abandonment at this stage. When I got home from the hospital, it was to find that my dachshund had chewed great big holes in the protective mesh over the front gate that stops her getting out, in an effort to escape and follow me. She actually did run away and we were lucky enough to find her at the vet.
What you should do while you are in hospital: Your partner or husband should take something home from the hospital that smells strongly of the baby and also of you and give it to your pets to smell and keep. Your partner/husband should also try to spend some time with your pets every day before leaving home, making sure they get enough attention.
Once you get home with your new baby, you will find that you barely have enough hours in the day to do anything, let alone spend the amount of time with your pets that they were used to. Your pets will both feel neglected and also very curious about the new person in the house that smells strongly of poo and cries through the night. My cat, who was used to sitting on my lap or shoulder all the time, was still trying to climb up onto me and ended up climbing over or sitting on top of the baby, and disturbing the baby during feeding time or when I was trying to quiet her before putting her down. The dogs were also desperate to see the new arrival and every time the baby cried, one of them would pace anxiously round the baby.
What to do when you get baby home: Allow your pets to meet baby. This doesn’t mean leaving your baby unattended with your pets – you should never do that, especially with big dogs as they can hurt your baby without realizing they are doing it. Let your dogs smell your baby and even lick her hands and head – you can always wash or wipe her hands and head afterward! Try not to let them lick her on the mouth, as this is unhygienic for a newborn baby whose immune system is still developing rapidly. It’s best to let each pet meet her one at a time, rather than the whole pack at once, as this may overwhelm her and also lead to fighting and pushing to see the baby, and the last thing you need is a dog fight as soon as you get home!
Steps to make the transition of adding a new baby to a pet rich household easier
Pat each dog if they behave well with the baby and aren’t rough with her. Give each cat a treat once they have met the baby and have behaved well with her. If your pets aren’t good with the baby, try again the next day until they get used to her. Reward good behavior with treats and say “No!” in a firm, low toned voice if they get too excited and start to push at the baby. Remember that your baby will get used to anything – everything is new right now, so it’s best to introduce the baby and pets as soon as possible.
Once your baby has been home a few days, you may find that your pets start to act up, especially if they got all the attention before the baby came. Acting up can take many forms – dogs can become anxious and start to urinate or defecate in the house as a sign of their anxiety. Cats may also spray or run over the baby or try to get into the baby’s basket or cradle and even sit on the baby. Cat also love warmth, so I found my cats did sit on the baby’s face – the old wives tale was correct!! Dogs may also chew things or dig to try to get attention, as any attention, even a scold at this stage is better than nothing at all for your pets.
There is nothing worse for a person, whose child has screamed non stop the whole night, than to have to deal with standing in dog poo and having to clean up urine in the middle of the night. Many people reach the end of their tether in the first few months, and it is a sad fact that some of these pets are rehomed or even put to sleep at this stage, simply because people cannot cope with the reality of a colicky child and an anxiety driven pet. People also worry about the hygiene aspect of a baby crawling round the house straight into dog or cat urine or feces.
What to do in the first few months:
Deal with the problem now – don’t leave it until it overwhelms you.
Establish a routine. When the baby has gone to sleep, make yourself a cup of tea and spend a few minutes alone with your pets as you used to. You can do this in an area where the baby isn’t sleeping, so you don’t disturb her. You will find that this helps a lot to restore their confidence in you and the new routine. Pets are far more adaptable than you realize, and will become used to the new routine after a few days, as long as they know that they are still getting attention from you. It doesn’t have to be the same amount as before. Feed them a treat each at this time, and play with them so they receive positive attention from you. Try to do this at a similar time each day, so they get to know that they will spend time with you on a daily basis. I found late mornings the best time, as it was when my baby slept the best. Late afternoons are possibly the worst time as this is often when babies are most fretful and difficult to calm.
Get a baby monitor, so you can hear if there are any problems with the baby when you are not in the same room as her.
Invest in products such as DAP (dog appeasing phermone), Rescue Remedy, Feliway and Nutricalm, which are all natural products that will help to calm your pets.
Feliway used regularly reduces stress
Don’t use ammonia based household cleaners to clean up urine and feces as this will make your pets mess there again. Use citronella oil after cleaning – I find a mix of water, bleach, and washing liquid works well. Your vet will also stock products to spray that will help to keep your pets away from areas where they have messed previously. These should be used every day for maximum effect.
Get a nappy/diaper bin that can be sealed closed, so your pets don’t tear up the old nappies/diapers.
Get help – doing all this on your own is hard. Get your partner to help with baby bathing and changes, so you get some down time as well. Or get a friend or relation to pop round and look after baby whilst you relax for an hour. If you are more relaxed, you will have a more relaxed, easier baby, and more relaxed pets as well!!
Animals are far more adaptable than you think!
Have faith in your pets and your baby – they WILL adapt to the new situation. Don’t take drastic measures because you think they won’t adapt. If you find yourself out of options, call in an animal behaviorist for a home consult, and you will find the practical advice they give will often go a long way to easing the transition.