Congratulations on your new baby! It’s been seven years today that I brought home my last baby to introduce to my dog. I have to say, by the time we got around to the third baby’s introduction, our dog was a pro with kids. It was certainly a different situation than when we brought home our first baby. Mostly because I wasn’t a nervous, first time mom, but also because we had learned a few things along the way. Here are some tips to ease the introduction of your new baby to your “old baby.”
First of all, you have nine months notice! Use this time wisely, and train your dog. You won’t be able to train him to not jump up AFTER you come home with the baby – you’ll be busy enough as it is. This is also a great time to get them to sleep in their own bed, if you want to. If you feel your bed will hold two adult humans, a baby human, and a dog, then go for it. Obedience classes generally last about 6 weeks, with homework each week, and can be used to get reliable sit, stay, come, and retrieve commands down.
Use this time also to prepare your dog or cat for the new sights, sounds and especially smells of a baby. Invite over friends with babies, play the baby channel on TV, and allow your pet to explore all of the new things that are invading the house: bedding, toys, baby swings, blankets. One tip I used successfully was to sprinkle baby powder on all of the baby’s things: toys, blankets, etc. That way your dog or cat recognizes the smell, and that the object does not belong to him.
Signs of stress in dogs and cats include hiding, taking or destroying new objects (includes chewing on them, urinating on them, etc), lack of interest in normal routine (doesn’t want to walk or play as usual), decreased appetite, and progress all the way to vomiting and/or diarrhea. Just what you need with a newborn around. You can help to ease the transition the first time you bring home your baby. There will probably be a lot of new people in the house, and extra chaos. Make sure they let your dog or cat out to let off some steam before you walk through the new door with new babe in arms. It is a good idea to hand off the baby to dad or someone else before the mom walks in. That way, she can greet the dog and offer some love to the cat before showing them their replacement (just kidding!).
Seriously, your pets need to know they are still loved. Take a little time. Allow them to sniff the baby and it’s paraphernalia. They may be really interested. Or they may not. The important thing is to try to keep the pet on their own schedule, while you are figuring out your baby’s schedule. Try to offer some attention and positive reinforcement when the baby is awake, so that your pet associates good times with the baby, and not just when the baby is asleep! You want your pet to think “Wow, this baby thing is fun and cool!” and not, “Can’t wait for the baby to be gone so I can get some attention.” But no matter what, no matter how much your pet loves the new baby, do not ever ever ever leave the baby alone with your dog. I used to take my dog to the bathroom with me when the baby was on the floor or in the swing.
For those of you worried about the possible germs that a pet can carry, you are right! Make sure to have your pet up to date on veterinary exams and parasite checks. Most bacteria that pets can carry are the same germs we can carry. Some food and treats can carry Salmonella and other bacteria, so make sure to wash your hands after feeding your pet, and keep the pet food and treats out of baby’s reach. Internal parasites (worms) CAN infect you or your child! Most monthly heartworm preventives are also intestinal parasite prevention as well. Generally these are passed through infected dirt, so more hand washing is in order. Face licking is also to be avoided – it is unlikely to directly transmit a parasite, but you never know what your dog was chewing on outside just prior.
If you feel like you need some more information about your particular pet, the best source of information you have is your veterinarian. Tell them your concerns, and I am sure they will provide plenty of medical advice and personal experience. There are even anti-anxiety meds available for dogs and cats – did you know that? For more information, the Novartis Growing up with Pets website (www.growingupwithpets.com), and American. Animal Hospital Association website (www.healthypet.com) are great resources. Also visit Dr. Carrie Fox at my hospital website www.hrah.com