How a Baby Changes Your Pet's Life: Frequently Asked Questions

Life as a Family

How do you keep yourself from feeling guilty about no longer having as much time for your pet?

Many families hire a neighborhood kid to play with their dog, but put him in doggy daycare, or hire a dog walker a few days a week. Regardless, go easy on the guilt. Most pets do adjust -- there's just a change in terms of how much time they receive. Pets live in the moment; they don't think about the time they used to get. And remember, your animal needs to be petted and needs to be around people, but he doesn't need someone focused on him 24 hours a day. When you get settled into a routine with your baby, then you can devote more time and energy to your pet.

As your baby grows, do things get easier?

Actually, once a toddler begins to invade the pet's space, there are more problems. A child playing with the pet's food is a common dilemma. For cats, place a dish on a high counter (or somewhere such as the top of a clothes dryer) and fill it with a treat to entice the cat to the new spot. For dogs, make sure to stick to a regular feeding schedule so that a dish of food is on the floor for 15 or 20 minutes twice a day but is otherwise unavailable. The dog will get used to eating during those times and you can keep the child out of the room.

When are kids old enough to know how to pet gently?

From the beginning, you can guide their hands, but they're not capable of being gentle on their own until they're close to age 3. Toddlers are simply too enthusiastic and incapable of checking their own impulses, which is why supervision is vital.

When will life return to normal for the pet?

Cats may take longer to adjust than dogs, and a year isn't out of the question. Behavioral changes like hiding, loss of appetite, or peeing where they're not supposed to might surface now and then, but when they disappear, it's a sign that your pet is adapting. If such problems don't go away, visit a veterinarian to make sure there aren't medical issues unrelated to the new baby.

If you don't have a pet, is it smart to get one when your baby is young?

Having a puppy or kitten is like having another baby -- but one with sharp teeth and no diapers. They're a handful, so it's probably a good idea to wait a bit. A school-age child will be better able to help with pet care.

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