What are the 3 most common mistakes new parents make regarding their pets?
Expert: Jennifer Andrew, Humane Educator at the Best Friends Animal Society, mother of one, and proud owner of a dog and a cat.
1. Throwing In the Towel
“One issue I see a lot is that when people have a new baby, they often feel like they have to give up their pet. In certain cases, it probably is the best thing, but in most cases, it just takes a little bit of planning to make it work. When you know you’re going to have a baby, you need to make sure that your pet is well trained. Many people, when they come home, let the dog jump up on them or roughhouse with them. If you don’t have a baby, it’s not a big deal, but once the baby comes it is. If you’re holding the baby and the dog jumps up on you, suddenly, the dog is getting yelled at and it doesn’t understand why. So you need to plan ahead and do some basic training. Make sure the dog can sit, stay, and follow basic commands. You need to interact with your pet as though you had a baby in the house already. If you don’t want your pet to behave a certain way when the baby is around, start teaching your pet that during your pregnancy.”
2. Not Preparing the Pet for Change
“You can also help your pet to adjust by getting him used to a baby’s sounds and smells. Before you bring the baby home, you usually have the baby’s room and furniture set up. You should let your pet smell all of the new stuff. This is particularly helpful with cats. Let your cat or dog go in and walk around and smell everything – all of the new furniture, clothes and products. It’s good, because you’re telling your pet that something new is going to be coming in and it will keep him from getting jealous. Don’t, however, let him lay in the crib or on the baby blankets, because you don’t want him to think it’s okay to do once the baby is there. Another helpful thing is to buy a CD of baby sounds. You can put it on and gradually increase the volume so that your pet can get used to the sounds of whining and crying. My husband and I did this before our daughter was born. As it turned out, my dog was fine with the noise, but my husband and I were both like, ‘Oh no! Turn it off!’ It was good preparation for us too!”
3. Letting Pets in the Crib
“Sometimes I read in the different parenting forums things like, ‘Our cat loves our baby. She sleeps next to her all the time.’ This really scares me. You never, ever want to leave any animal alone with a baby. Your cat should never sleep with your baby, because a cat can accidentally smother an infant. There can also be severe allergic reactions at that age. Other people will think, ‘My dog loves people, so it’s okay to leave him in the room with the baby for just a minute,’ but it’s not true. Dogs don’t recognize babies as human beings for the first few months of their lives. For some reason, the baby’s smell is different than an adult’s and a newborn also sounds like an injured rabbit. This can spark an animal’s prey drive, even in an otherwise calm dog. When you are in the room with the dog and the baby, make sure that the baby is always higher, physically, than the dog. You want the dog to know that the baby is dominant over him. Having pets and kids together can be a great experience. You just always want to err on the side of caution with how you handle it.”
As told to Lindsay Armstrong