It's common for a pet to face some difficulties adjusting to the newest family addition. What can you do to ease the transition? Here's some advice from Suzanne Hetts, PhD, an animal behaviorist who, along with her husband, owns Animal Behavior Associates in Littleton, Colorado.
Can you prepare a dog or cat for a baby?
While you obviously can't warn them of what's ahead, you can start, during pregnancy, to desensitize pets to life with an infant. You may have heard that it's a good idea to carry around a baby doll -- it may seem silly, but it gets a pet used to seeing you with a bundle in your arms or on your lap. You need to teach a dog, particularly, not to jump on you when you have the doll. If a dog doesn't respond to verbal commands, such as "sit" or "down," we suggest you start obedience training well before your baby's birth.
Cats and dogs are also sensitive to newborns' cries, so you might gradually get them accustomed to the sound by playing a recording (tape a friend's baby or buy a CD from animalbehaviorassociates.com). Invite friends with children to come over more often to get your pet further adjusted to life with kids. It's important to socialize a cat or dog well beforehand. Pets that are only used to you and your partner will have a harder time with the baby.
Lavishing a pet with attention during your pregnancy may be well intentioned, but it's actually not the best idea. If your pet is used to being the center of your universe, back off a bit before the baby is born. That gives your pet the opportunity to become more independent.
It also helps to bring out the baby gear early. Though you may hate the thought of a baby swing taking up space before you need it, you want your pet to be bored with it before the baby starts using it (and also not associate all the furniture-moving chaos with the newcomer). Finally, babyhood involves a lot of new odors. Start using baby lotions, powders, and soaps on yourself or on a doll before the birth.
Many experts say Dad should bring a blanket that was wrapped around the newborn home from the hospital for the pet to sniff. What does that do?
You want your dog's or cat's first whiff of the baby to have a pleasant association. Try putting a blanket with your newborn's scent right in the pet's bed, under his food dish, or in his favorite nap spot.