It’s not all about luck. A little planning can help your fur babies get along with your new baby.
When my daughter was born in the summer of 2013, I thought I had everything all figured out. I mean, I didn’t know how to change a diaper, warm a bottle, pump, or breastfeed, but my home was ready.
Our nursery was stocked — with lotions, potions, creams, balms, and wipes — and we had attended several birthing and parenting classes. I knew all about The Wonder Weeks and nipple confusion. But during our 8-plus months of preparation, we never considered what we would do with our cats.
We never thought about how we should (and, more importantly, would) introduce our new baby to our fur babies until the morning of our discharge. Until we were on our way home.
The good news is we were lucky. Both “Mama cats” and our young, feisty kitten adjusted amazingly quickly — and well — but the Animal Humane Society (AHS) suggests readying your four-legged friends long before the baby’s birth:“Taking time to prepare your family pets for your new baby’s arrival and properly introducing them once your baby is born will help to make this transition peaceful for everyone involved.”
Luckily, there are several ways to do this, and there is no absolute right or wrong approach. The process depends on the type of pet you own, their personality, breed, and your pre-existing family dynamic. However, there are a few general tips and tricks.
We got lucky, but it’s better to avoid diving in with no preparation. In fact, the more you do prior to your baby’s arrival the more you can ease the transition for everyone.
Make a plan
Whether your furry friend is a dog, cat, or other animal, the first thing you should do is to make a plan. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), “Dogs can be eager learners, but they can also exhibit jealousy because they are no longer the center of attention.” The same is true of cats. Felines can be temperamental and some struggle with change.
As such, you’ll want to use the duration of pregnancy to prep your cat or dog for baby’s arrival. The ASPCA suggests enrolling your dog in basic obedience classes and relocating your cat’s litter box to a more private area. You should also set up nursery furniture as soon as possible, as this will give your cat several weeks to investigate each surface before you declare it off limits.
Introduce your pet to common baby sounds and smells
Newborns are noisy. After all, the only way they can convey discomfort, hunger, sadness, or exhaustion is by crying. But the added commotion can be overwhelming to small animals. Dogs and cats can become distressed, frustrated, and agitated. To avoid this, the ASPCA recommends introducing common sounds and smells to your pet prior to the baby’s arrival.
In fact, they suggest using recordings of baby sounds in combination with treats to help your animals create associations. Why? Because instead of becoming scared or upset by the noise, your dog or cat will welcome it. “She’ll learn to look forward to them because they predict attention and treats,” the ASPCA explains.
Shift routines and pet care responsibilities
Everything will change when your little one arrives, for you and your pets. The duration of daily walks may be reduced, the timing will almost certainly change, and both feedings and playtime will be impacted.
As such, if you will be your child’s primary caregiver, you may want to relegate these duties to a loved one or spouse or begin altering your daily routine.
The AKC suggests making gradual changes to schedules or caregivers before the new baby so that your pet won’t associate the changes with the new baby. Of course, there are more than just schedule changes on the way.
You can experiment with bringing the empty stroller with you on walks so that your dog can get used to the new system ahead of time. This will allow you to work through challenges without the stress of a newborn in the mix. You may also want to hire a dog sitter or walker to alleviate some of the burden on you.
Establish new rules
Putting boundaries in place prior to the baby’s birth is key. If not, your pet may come to resent your new bundle of joy. It is also easier to enforce these rules in advance, when you are not living in an emotional, sleep-deprived haze.
“If you don’t want your dog [or cat] on the furniture or the bed after the baby arrives, introduce that restriction now,” the ASPCA says. “If you don’t want your dog to jump up on you when you’re carrying your new baby or holding him in your lap, start teaching her to keep all four of her paws on the floor.”
The same goes for sleeping arrangements — if your pet is used to sleeping in your bed or room and you want that to change, it’s important to start putting those changes into place as soon as possible.
Bring home receiving blankets or onesies your baby has worn prior to discharge
One of the most popular and well-known ways to introduce your fur baby to your new baby is to bring home your little one’s receiving blanket or first outfit. Doing so will help your pet become familiar with the infant’s scent prior to their first introduction.
So you’ve done the prep work, you feel like you’re ready, but what about when you actually bring your brand new baby home for the first time?
Introduce your newborn slowly, on your pet’s terms
Once you and baby are back home, you’ll want to officially introduce your dog or cat to the newest member of their family but the ASPCA recommends you wait, at least a few minutes.
When you first arrive home from the hospital, greet your cat or dog in the same manner you always do. This will keep dogs from pouncing and calm their nerves. Once you’ve had your quiet reunion, you can welcome in family and friends who may be there to visit. It’s best to wait until things are relaxed to take some time out to let your pet meet your baby.
That said, this meeting should still be done slowly, and with caution and care. Keep the newborn in your arms at all times. Have another family member handle the dog (which should be leashed) or cat, and respect your pet’s boundaries.
If your pet appears irritated or anxious, give them space. Then try again after a few days.
Supervise all interactions
You should never leave your infant or small child unattended with a pet — regardless of their temperament — as too many things can go wrong. Your new baby or fur baby could get hurt.
So supervise every interaction. Intervene when necessary, and give your cat or dog space. Forced meetings can be detrimental and can result in scratches and bites. The AKC also suggests keeping your dog on a short leash, at least for a few days, when first getting familiar with the new baby.
Of course, this may seem like a lot — and it is. Caring for your new baby and fur baby can be overwhelming, at least in the early days. But with a little preparation and a whole lot of patience, you’ll find there is room in your home (and heart) for your four-legged friend and your new, tiny-legged companion.
Kimberly Zapata is a mother, writer, and mental health advocate. Her work has appeared on several sites, including the Washington Post, HuffPost, Oprah, Vice, Parents, Health, and Scary Mommy — to name a few. When her nose isn’t buried in work (or a good book), Kimberly spends her free time running Greater Than: Illness, a nonprofit organization that aims to empower children and young adults struggling with mental health conditions. Follow Kimberly on Facebook or Twitter.