It may not be the first thing on your mind when having a child but pets and newborns aren’t always the most compatible of creatures. Whether it be hair pulling or weird smells, your pets may need some training to welcome in the newest member of your family. Here are some very helpful tips to getting your little ones to connect.
I just made sure that I knew each of their characters’ well, I would encourage people to discuss this with their own vet and see what they think about your dog or cats character in relation to a baby. My dogs are also well trained, which I think is important; it just makes life easier when a baby arrives. If you can, then doing a training course with your dog – they run them every Sunday at Centennial Park. I also made sure I had a strict regime set up for parasite control such as fleas and worms, and continued with this as my children grew. There are some dangerous diseases children can get from pet’s intestinal worms particularly when very young; so it’s important to treat before and be diligent with a protocol for them once the baby has arrived. A general rule for puppies and kittens is every 2 weeks until 12 weeks of age, then monthly until 6 months and then every three months for life. You also need to treat for heartworm..
Once your baby had arrived home, what kind of things did you do in order to smooth the transition for your pets?
I always made sure my partner or myself were present when there was an interaction between my child and any of the pets. Clients are always asking me about cats smothering babies and this is one of those urban myths. In over 15 years of Veterinary experience, I have never experienced first-hand or heard of this occurring. They do like to set up camp in a cot sometimes as it is confined and warm (when the baby is not present), I made sure my cats had their own beds and favourite rug/blanket, and removed them calmly and repeatedly to discourage this. Once the baby moved in they were not keen anyway. Generally cats want to stay away from babies as they smell funny, are very loud, and move around a lot! There are the exceptions though and some really enjoy being near babies. I also never forced my pets to spend time with the baby – I let them discover in their own way and time. Dogs are naturally curious and each breed and dog within a breed are different. I would often do nice things with my babies which involved the dog, like going for a walk, then the dog associated positive experiences with the baby. Animals recognise a young animal (which is what your baby is) and generally are pleased and welcome their presence and will be protective. You know your pet’s best of all, let common sense prevail. I never left my dog alone with the baby as you can never be 100% sure; luckily this is pretty easy as you never leave your baby alone anyway.
What was your pets’ initial reaction to your baby’s presence?
My cats always stayed away from the babies because they were loud and squirmy! As my kids grew older the cats could make a quick getaway when necessary. Initially my dogs were gentle yet tentative. Has that changed? Yes, very quickly they really enjoyed having another member of the family to love, and realised the pack had just gotten larger, but there was enough love to go around! As the kids got older and started pulling hair, ears and tails, the dogs either put up with it or moved away. I think this is the most important time to be attentive and watch your dog’s reaction and of course as early as you can, try to discourage this behaviour in your child. Over time, both my cats and dogs formed an inseparable bond with my children.
Of course the first few months are usually a great upheaval in routine and emotions and pets sense this, you do the best you can. Stressing yourself out and becoming exhausted trying to stick to routine is counter – productive, animals get far more upset by you getting upset than missing a walk, and so I generally tried to not be too hard on myself and this in turn was healthier for my animals. I did not ignore them and always gave them separate attention and love. My pets were all fine, and generally yours will be too. Actually one of the reasons I started my mobile vet business was because of a need I saw in the community for parents of young children to eliminate the stress of having to get to the vet clinic, getting out of the house with two and four-legged can be quite an ordeal! Sometimes animals will suffer from a change in routine or stress levels which a baby can bring, and this can manifest in a variety of behaviours, such as inappropriate toileting or over grooming. They are usually transient and a vet can help you deal with this transition period. Also, the older a pet is when you introduce a baby the more you need to think about their condition – possibly cranky and arthritic, less able to move away from a baby as quickly as they might like to, and usually less patient when geriatric. If you are concerned about any of these issues, talk to a vet or email me, I am always happy to help!
I think the most important thing is to use common sense and consistently let them know they are loved and not forgotten, as little as 5 minutes each day of your hugs, pats or play can make all the difference and then they will be as excited as you are about the baby (cats not so much!).
Written by Dr. Romy Feldman – Sydney’s roaming vet