How to Prep Your Pet for the Arrival of a New Baby

Bringing home a new baby is a time full of excitement, but it can be hard to predict how your fur baby—who was part of the family first!—will react. Here’s how to prepare for a smooth transition. 

Prep Work

Enroll your dog in an obedience class. This is the time to lock in basic manners and nix any bad behaviors, like playful nipping or jumping on people. "The better behaved your dog is, the more she can be included and the happier she will be," says Lauren Novack, KPA-CTP, a certified behavior consultant at Behavior Vets in New York City.

Bring in the baby gear. Set up the nursery and let your dog sniff around the new space; bring the stroller along on your next walk; install baby gates. Have your dog practice cues to go behind the gate, to her mat, and in and out of the nursery, says Novack.

Play pretend. "It's incredibly effective to simulate having a baby in the house," says Natalie Marks, DVM, VCA Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago. Carry a baby doll around the house and act out nursing, rocking, and cooing at the doll, and play baby noises, suggests Dr. Marks. While doing this, give small, consistent food rewards to your dog.

Take your dog for vet checkups now. Also, have someone on standby to watch your pup while you're at the hospital, and schedule any dog walkers or day care you might need once you're back home.

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Meet & Greet

After coming home from the hospital, let your partner greet your dog first without the baby. "Once your dog has settled, have her sit down, and she can sniff the baby—the feet, not the face!" says Dr. Marks. Keep your behavior relaxed; your pup will follow.

Dogs can pick up on the pheromones emitted during breastfeeding and sense it's an intimate moment. If you want your dog around while nursing, cue her to lay on her mat, and after she has done so calmly for a few minutes, give her a Kong or lick mat. "This will reward her for staying in place and elongate the time she stays on her mat," says Novack.

Try to keep your dog on her routine. Feed and walk her regularly, and don't forget to give her one-on-one attention during the day.

Living Together

The number one rule: "Never, ever leave your baby or young child alone with your dog, no matter how calm your animal is. Dogs startle and babies startle, so it's really important to always have supervision," says Alison Tothy, MD, a pediatrician and associate professor of pediatrics at University of Chicago Medicine.

Reward your dog for good behavior around the baby. "Remember, the relationship

your baby is going to have with your dog will be built over time," says Novack. Safely monitored interactions followed by treats will build that positive connection.

As your baby becomes a curious tot, teach her how to pet gently and respect your pup's boundaries. "You can demonstrate kind, calm behaviors that need to take place around your dog," says Dr. Tothy.

Cat care

Our felines may seem to be low-maintenance, but this is a big change for them, too. Here are a few tips to keep your cat calm and happy.

1. Do the same home prep work as you would for your pup.

2. Cats enjoy their personal space. Don't force any interactions, says Dr. Marks.

3. They also like vertical spaces. Give yours a cozy spot up high to escape and observe from a safe place, says Dr. Marks.

4. Reward good behavior by giving your cat extra head scratches, treats, or catnip—whichever she likes best!

This article originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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