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Babyproofing Your Pet

Pets and Babies

Your dog or cat is your best friend – and you’d like to keep it that way. But what happens when all your love and attention go to the new animal in your house?

Making Preparations

First of all, take your pet in for his or her annual vet exam before your due date. This is one less thing you will want to monkey with after the baby arrives. It also gives you the opportunity to ask your vet about any specific concerns you have about the pet/baby relationship.

Second, try to acclimate your dog or cat to the new switch. For example, if Doggy Dog is used to sleeping in your bed and getting attention from you all day, you may want to gradually spend less time with him and get him used to sleeping elsewhere. Do this over a couple of months so it’s not a total shock to the system. If this sounds like giving your pet the stiff paw, you’re totally right. It is.

Also, don’t forget to arrange for pet care while you are away giving birth. Unless you have a scheduled C-section, make sure this person can be “on call.” Yes, your partner can drive back and forth from the hospital but, omg, what a pain. Do you really want the attention diverted from you? Heavens to Betsy, no!

Shifting Responsibilities

I told my husband: The baby is my primary responsibility, and the dog? Is now yours. Congratulations!

Seriously though, your partner will need to take the lead on primary pet care. Walking/feeding/bathing… everything. Start before baby arrives so you can establish a routine that works for everyone. Don’t wait until after the baby comes to make this change.

Is your dog or cat used to being around babies/kids? If not, you may want to do a couple of things:

  • For dogs, train him to sit calmly next to you on the floor until you invite him over to your lap. Easier said than done, I know.
  • Invite friends with babies or kids over to your house so doggy/kitty can get acquainted with the species. Supervise this interaction, of course.
  • Let your dog or cat sniff diapers, wipes and baby clothes to get acquainted with the new (ahem) smells.
  • One website suggests playing recordings of a baby crying to acclimate her to the new sounds. I commend anyone who actually does this.
  • Read up on stress signs in dogs. You may learn some things that surprise you! (Our dog DEFINITELY does the lip-licking and yawning when she’s tense.)

Don’t Go There

Dogs are very social animals and they hate to be separated from their pack. But occasionally? You might really need/want to for your own sanity. Cats don’t seem as bothered by it. If you plan on having certain “off-limits” areas of the house, get everything installed now and enforce the new rules.

For small dog(s), try a freestanding gate (like this one) to create off-limit areas. For bigger dogs (like my 60-lb pitbull mix), I’m a huge fan of the Midwest Pet freestanding gate. This gate is really versatile and doesn’t have to be bolted or attached to anything. We now use that same gate to fully enclose our super dangerous yet alluring stone hearth (babyproofing – bleh!). Nice gates can be expensive, BTW. Prepare for sticker shock.

For Cats

Start thinking about where you will locate the litter box once your babe starts to crawl (8-9 months). Ideally, the litter box should go in a place that only your kitty can access. Some moms suggest using a low baby gate (one the cat can get over, baby cannot) to create a cat-only room/area for the litter box(es), like your laundry room.

Making the Introduction

If possible, bring home something from your baby that your dog can sniff up before your baby gets home, like a blanket or a piece of clothing. Fido will be excited to catalog this new smell.

Upon your homecoming, have treats on hand for this first interaction. When you get home, warmly (yet calmly) greet your pet while someone else holds the baby. Then lead your pet over to the baby for the initial introduction and sniff-down; reward your pet with treats for appropriate behavior.

Make sure your pet associates the baby with a positive interaction. If your pet is shying away or shows any hesitation, remember not to force him near the baby. He’ll go when he’s ready.

Oh, the Crying!

Our dog? Is not normal. She was abused before we adopted her and ohmygawd does she have issues. When we brought Lucie home, she was SO WORRIED about the crying – for a couple of weeks at least. She would pace up and down the hall. So we asked an expert: WHAT is going on? Is our dog about to go postal or what? The answer: No, your dog is completely NEUROTIC and needs LOTS of exercise. Which leads me to….

Make Time for Your Dog

Dogs of all breeds need exercise, especially when they are under stress. Exercise is like a relief valve for all of the built-up angst and boredom. Have your partner take your dog out for a decent romp several times a week. Make it a habit. It’ll be good for both of them. 😉 And when you’re feeling up to it, you take your dog out to play while your other half stays home with the babe. It’s nice to switch it up every now and then and get some alone time with your old buddy.

Et tu, mom-ee?

Remember in Marley & Me when Jennifer Aniston demands they get rid of Marley after she had her 2nd (3rd?) baby? And you thought: OMG, I would nevarrr! Don’t speak too soon. Ask almost ANY mom and they will tell you that there was a period (albeit brief) when her dog drove her completely crazy.

Being sleep deprived and harried – well, it really takes a toll on your patience level. Just know that this too shall pass, and soon enough, everything will return to normal – so don’t ship your dog off to the glue factory quite yet.

Long Term

The vast majority of moms I spoke with said the situation between their pets and babies is just fine. Nay, it’s downright cute! Your dog will probably relish all the new walking opportunities with his new pack. If, however, your dog shows any signs of aggression (my friend’s chihuahua just nipped her 9-month-old baby in the face) or questionable behavior, you should reach out to a behavioral specialist for help. You can get referrals from your vet.

Some good books on the topic:

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