Start early.Pets are creatures of habit. They need time to adjust their behaviors and routines to adapt to having a baby in the home. During pregnancy, an important part of your cat’s routine may need to change—where he spends his time. If yours is an outdoor cat, he’ll need to stay indoors. That’s because outdoor cats that hunt small animals could become infected with Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that could pass to you and your baby. The resulting infection, called toxoplasmosis, can cause miscarriage and birth defects. Toxoplasma gondii spreads through cats’ feces, so have your partner or a family member change your cat’s litter box daily. If you must do it yourself, wear gloves and wash your hands immediately afterward. Starting baby prep early is important for dogs, too. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends introducing new, baby-related items and experiences to your dog four months before your due date. Start integrating new changes to your dog’s routine at least one month before baby is set to arrive.
Teach important skills.If you dog hasn’t had any formal obedience training, now is a good time to enroll it in a course so it can master important commands before your baby arrives. Your dog will also need to learn some baby-specific skills. With patience and treats, you can teach it to give you and your baby space when necessary or to relax on its bed in a corner of the nursery.
Prime your pet’s senses for baby.
You don’t want to overload your pet’s senses with new sights, sounds, and objects all at once. Instead, introduce changes gradually. You can:
- Let your pet investigate baby-related furniture, toys, and other items
- Play recordings of baby noises so your pet can get accustomed to them
- Rub baby lotion on your hands so your pet can get familiar with the smell
Before you and your baby leave the the hospital, ask someone to take home a onesie that smells like your baby so your pet can get to know the new arrival’s scent.
Set new rules and routines.When there’s a new baby in your home, you may not want your dog sleeping in your bed anymore, and your cat’s habit of walking on counters or furniture may no longer be welcome. Enforce new rules well before your baby arrives so they don’t come as a shock to your pet. To get your dog out of your bed, for example, you can buy a dog bed and train your dog to sleep on it. Placing pieces of cardboard with the upward side covered in double-sided tape on furniture can deter your cat, according to the ASPCA. You may need to give up certain daily tasks, such as feeding or exercising your pet, after the baby comes. If you anticipate that, have a family member or partner begin performing those tasks at least a month before your due date.
Go slow and supervise.
When you and baby arrive home from the hospital, let your pet greet the other members of your household for a few minutes before the two of you enter. Keep your baby in your arms, stay relaxed and positive, and allow your dog—on a leash—or cat to greet and investigate the baby. Moving forward, always supervise your baby and pet when they’re around each other, even if things are going well. Balancing loving your baby and your dog or cat may not always be easy, but you can do it. Look for new opportunities to show your pet one-on-one love and affection, such as playing for a few minutes or enjoying some cuddle time while your baby is asleep. Show your pet some attention when you’re interacting with your baby, too, such as taking your dog along when you and your baby go for a walk. That can help build cohesion among your expanded family.