Bringing a new baby home for the first time is exciting. But what about your “first” baby—the one with four legs and a tail? Introducing a new family member to the home can be challenging, especially if your pet is territorial. Read on for some helpful vet-recommended tips to ease the transition.
Plan, Plan, Plan Ahead
As with most big events in life, planning ahead pays off in this situation. Fortunately, new babies generally come with at least a few months of warning—so you’ve got time to prepare your pet.
- Review their training. Go over commands and polish up their obedience skills. Positive-response training, with lots of treats and praise, is the best way to improve your pet’s skills and responsiveness.
- Rehearse! This may feel a little silly, but “rehearsing” ahead of time can help pets feel prepared. Carry around a doll wrapped in a blanket, arrange all the new furniture as far in advance as you can, and maybe even play recordings of a baby crying. If you sense any anxiety, keep practicing with positive-response training until your pet gets used to it. Hopefully, by the time you replace that doll with a real baby, your pet will already be familiarized with the new situation.
- Arrange a safe space. Give your pet a private “safe space” in the house. For a cat, this could be a special cat tree, a protected area under the bed, or a nook in a favorite closet. For a dog, it could be a comfy crate or spare bedroom. Having a space they associate with comfort and peace can alleviate anxiety and allow them to self-soothe as needed.
- Toys. Fun toys can be a useful distraction in stressful times. Interactive toys, such as Kongs that contain bits of kibble or peanut butter, can be especially helpful for providing an activity to focus on. Prey-like or battery-operated toys are also a good option. Squeaky toys may allow cats and dogs to safely get their aggression out. (Note: If your pet tends to be very destructive with toys, this might not be the best option for them.)
- Activity. Do you have a high-energy pet? If so, start to modify their daily activity a few months before the baby arrives. This may include changing the times you take them for walks, introducing a dog walker, or giving them new activities or toys to play with. We don’t recommend trying to decrease their activity levels, but if it’s unavoidable, consider adjusting their diet and calorie content so they don’t gain weight. (Don’t hesitate to contact one of our veterinarians at Small Door if you need help with this!)
The Big Day: Introducing Your Baby to Your Pet
You’ve put in the groundwork. Now it’s time to introduce your pet to the new addition to your family.
First, keep in mind that for pets, their sense of smell plays a huge role. In fact, it’s been estimated that the average dog’s sense of smell is at least 40 times more sensitive than that of humans. So if possible, try to bring home something that smells like the baby—such as a blanket or an article of clothing—ahead of time. Leave it around the house or the nursery, and make sure your pup gives it a sniff. That way, your baby won’t be such a stranger by the time he or she comes home.
Speaking of which, don’t just walk into the house holding the baby and expect your pet to greet you. Instead, have the pet in a different room when you arrive. Have one person hold the baby, sitting in a chair. Then bring your pet into the room and have them meet for the first time. (If you’re at all concerned about a negative first interaction, make sure someone is restraining your pet with a harness.) Carefully monitor your pet’s behavior during this interaction, and let that guide the moments to come.
Try to bring home something that smells like the baby—such as a blanket or an article of clothing—ahead of time. Leave it around the house or the nursery, and make sure your pup gives it a sniff.
Extra Help for Anxious Pets
There are products out there that can safely ease pet anxiety without putting your new little one at risk. Pheromones may have a calming effect on your pet, without affecting you or other family members. Over-the-counter products such as Adaptil Calm (for dogs) and Feliway (for cats) can also help calm your pet. It’s important to know that these products alone, without any behavior modification, will be unlikely to resolve your problems, but you can think of them as helpful boosters to use alongside training.
If your pet is still struggling to adjust, talk to your vet. In the event that training attempts have failed, or you’re concerned about aggressive behaviors, there are safe medications that might help give your pet the best quality of life.
With practice, patience, and some guidance from the Small Door team, we can help make this exciting transition a good one—both for you and your pet.