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Introducing Your Newborn to Your Pet

Before the arrival of your newborn, try our tips to help your pet make a happy and safe transition and better welcome your new baby.

As a pet parent, you’ve spent lots of time loving and caring for your pets. To help your animal companions transition happily to life with a new baby, here are several things you can do to help them welcome your newest family member.

  • Introduce new smells and sounds.
    Allow your pet to sniff items the baby has used, such as an undershirt or blanket. “That way the dog will become familiar with the baby’s smell and be less curious when the newcomer arrives,” advises Debra Holtzman, a nationally recognized child safety and health expert (www.TheSafetyExpert.com). She also suggests finding a recording of baby cries and other voices from the Web and then playing these sounds for your pet.

  • Get a checkup.
    Before baby’s arrival, it’s a good idea to take your pet to the veterinarian for a routine exam and any necessary vaccinations. If your pet hasn’t been spayed or neutered, this is a good time to schedule the procedure. “These pets typically have fewer reproductive-related health problems and are also calmer and less likely to bite,” says Dr. Jeff Werber, an Emmy-award winning veterinarian and pet-parenting specialist in the Los Angeles area. Werber also recommends making sure your pet is accustomed to having its nails trimmed.

  • Give your pet a pedicure.
    Cats in particular should have their nails trimmed at least five days before the baby comes home, “so that if the cat reaches out to gently touch the baby, there won't be sharp nails which may unintentionally scratch the baby,” advises Werber.

  • Do a test run.
    Consider using a toy baby doll to help your pet, especially a dog, get accustomed to a real baby. Holtzman recommends engaging in routine activities, such as feeding, diaper changing, and holding the “baby.” “Take the dog out for a walk with the doll in a stroller to find out how it will react.” Also, you might want to enroll your dog in an obedience training class. (Ask your veterinarian for recommendations.)

  • Establish boundaries.
    It’s a good idea to make your nursery a pet-free zone, even before your baby arrives. Work on conditioning your pet to stay away from this specific area. “Parents-to-be should purchase and install necessary gates for the areas in the house you would like to keep private a month or two in advance of the baby’s arrival,” adds Werber.

  • Prepare for the transition.
    “Since your pet is used to getting all the attention, it is a good idea to slowly spend a little less time with your pet right before the baby comes home from the hospital,” suggests Werber. That way, your pet will get used to sharing your attention.

  • Give treats and praise.
    Does your pet have a favorite treat? Before your baby arrives, reserve this extra-special treat and instead use a replacement. “Take those reserved treats and use them only for rewarding behavior that is related to the new baby,” Werber advises.

  • Include your pet.
    A big mistake pet parents make is that when their baby is asleep, many shower their pet with extra attention because they feel guilty. “This builds up more and more resentment toward the newborn because a dog will feel that life without the baby is better for the dog,” says Werber. Instead, it is important to ignore your pet for a bit when the baby is asleep and include your pet in fun activities with you and your newborn.

  • Be patient.
    Finally, the most important thing is to have patience with your pet and offer lots of love during this very special time. “If you are relaxed and loving during this transitional time, your pet will pick up on this and will certainly follow your lead,” says Werber.

Image: ThinkStock.com

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