The arrival of a new baby is exciting, overwhelming and stressful for everybody. Your pet will experience this just as the human members of your family do, from the exhaustion caused by being kept awake at night to the joy at seeing others so happy. Pets can also struggle, however, because it’s difficult for them to understand what the baby’s arrival might mean for their own status within the group. In order to avoid conflict, it’s important to help them adjust.
Pregnancy and your pet
Just like an older child, a pet will find it easiest to adjust if you do what you can to explain the coming change during your pregnancy. If you are preparing a new bedroom, let your pet see what’s happening. Any significant change in their territory will make it clear that change is happening and will make them less certain about their defence of that territory, and therefore less likely to react aggressively to someone new arriving in it. Your pet will notice that your scent is changing, so don’t cover that up. If you have friends with babies, arrange for your pet to meet them in safe situations so that the idea of a baby is not new. Making a fuss of your pet at the time, or giving treats, will help them to view babies in a positive way.
When the baby arrives
No matter how well you prepare, pets can react in unpredictable ways when they first have to cope with the baby’s presence. Highly social animals such as dogs and rabbits will often feel jealous and need reassurance. Cats may be entirely disinterested, or they may be curious; if the latter, they could potentially hurt the baby when investigating it. Never leave your baby alone with your pet. Even when you have a child who is big enough to crawl or toddle, there can be problems as children this age can unintentionally provoke pets when playing with them.
Reducing other stress factors
To reduce the risk of problems, it’s important to make sure that your pet is in optimal health. Flea treatment and worming will make your pet happier and reduce the risk of harm to your child. Grooming is something you can do at home that will help to reassure them about their status.
Helping your pet adjust
Whenever somebody new arrives in a group, roles change. Since this can’t be avoided, the best thing you can do is to provide your pet with a new role that emphasises their importance. Encouraging them to guard the baby – for instance, by sleeping outside its door at night – can be a great way to do this. Make sure you give them plenty of attention, and thank them whenever they pay positive attention to the baby or behave in a helpful way. This will also help your baby to learn early on that pets should be respected, and it will help ensure that you have a happy, unified family in the years to come.