Isn’t it wild how having a baby can change your perspective of almost everyone in your life? Especially your animals. It’s like one minute your pet is a constant companion and best friend, and then, bam, your baby’s born and that pet suddenly feels like a looming threat. This can feel jarring and heartbreaking. While you’re celebrating and savoring the new love that’s come into your life, you’re also mourning the relationship you’re losing. Because even if your pet is able to stay in your home, it’s unlikely your bond will ever be the same, as you now have a new creature to dote on. On the other hand, if you determine it’s safe to keep your pet, their life may become even richer as they develop their own bond with baby. Everyone can win.
Regarding your fear of your pet hurting the baby, there’s no guarantee either way. But there are ways to objectively look at the situation and make a decision that’s best for all involved. And luckily, it’s not very often that a family needs to remove a pet from their home for baby’s safety. In most cases, training, limiting and/or supervising your fur-baby’s contact with your human baby and taking other precautions can ensure your baby’s safety without the need to say goodbye to your pet.
What to do
Here are some ideas to keep your baby safe while also nurturing your pet’s well-being:
Consider whether your pet has ever been violent. One of the best ways to determine if your pet will cause harm to your baby is to review their history. Has your pet been aggressive toward other animals or humans? How do they react to children? Is there anything about their personality or history that would lead you to believe they might cause harm to your baby? Answering these questions honestly can be an important first step in making your final decision about rehoming.
Hire a trainer. A trainer can not only help your pet break bad habits but can also help you determine if they’re a threat to your baby, as animal trainers are often experts in the behaviors of their animal-of-choice and know the signs that indicate an animal could be a danger to others. If the trainer believes your pet is safe to stay in your home, and you agree, you can ask them to help your pet break certain habits to create a safer environment for baby. For example, if you have a dog that jumps on people, is used to sleeping on your bed and getting on other furniture, and normally goes into the room that is now the nursery, the trainer can help you teach them that those habits are no longer allowed. If you’re reading this during pregnancy, I recommend working with a trainer before baby is born.
Introduce your pet to baby’s scent. As most animals have a heightened sense of smell, prepare your pet for the array of new odors baby will supply by having them smell an article of clothing that the baby has worn, before they meet the baby. Pet them as they’re taking a whiff, as this can help them create positive associations with the baby’s scent.
Don’t leave your pet alone with the baby. Make sure you’re always present when your pet and baby are near one another. Both children and animals can be erratic, so you’ll want to monitor all interactions until your baby is much older. In addition, begin teaching your baby that it’s not okay to pull the dog or cat’s tail, for example, by gently removing their hand if such an action occurs.
Stay aware of your pet’s emotions. Keep an eye on how your pet responds when they hear baby cry, for example, or when they’re simply around baby. Is their personality unchanged? Are they acting more aggressive or skittish than usual? Do they seem depressed? Do they shake or show other signs of anxiety when baby cries? Are they indicating stress by averting their eyes or moving away when baby is around? Your observations can inform how you navigate their relationship with your baby. A trainer can also provide invaluable insight into what various behaviors indicate, and what, if anything, should be done.
Tip: You can prepare your pet for your baby’s cries and other noises by playing recordings of baby sounds when you’re pregnant. It can be telling to see how they respond to the recording.
Organize extra care for your pet. Because your pets will likely be dealing with emotions that range from irritation to depression as your attention shifts from them to the baby, ensure they still feel the love by asking friends or family members to spend time with them during the first few weeks postpartum. If you have a dog, find people who can take them for a walk or a romp at the dog park. If you have a cat, ask a fellow cat lover to come over and give them attention. And of course whenever possible, remind your pets they’re still important to you by carving out bits of time throughout the day to spend with them. In addition, when your pet is with you and baby, be sure to also pay attention to them so they don’t feel jealous of the baby.
Ease into baby-pet interactions. When you’ve determined it’s safe to allow your pet to meet your baby, take it slow. Start by having someone hold your pet while you hold the baby, and allow the pet to slowly move toward the baby. They’ll likely sniff them, and maybe give a little lick. During this initial interaction (and all the following) stay as calm as possible, as pets and babies are sensitive to our energy and will react accordingly. A tense mood makes everyone else tense. So take deep breaths, and trust that the meeting will go great.
Read Good Dog, Happy Baby. This excellent book by dog trainer Michael Wombacher provides an effective twelve-step process for preparing your dog and family for a new baby.
Know that you’re not a horrible person if you need to find your fur- baby a new home. As heartbreaking as it is to determine your baby really isn’t safe around your pet, the decision to find them a new home will be best for all involved. Not only will you be keeping your baby safe, but you’ll also be ensuring your pet doesn’t spend the rest of their life being scolded and shut off from the family, and you won’t have to suffer the distress of being the one to hand out that punishment. While it’s devastating to say goodbye, you’re ultimately doing right by all involved.