The bond between a baby and a pet can be so special. Build that initial relationship with a careful introduction and they can grow up to become the best of friends. From playmates to meaningful life lessons, there is so much to be shared between the two.
If you have a pet at home and you find out that you are pregnant or if you are actively trying to become pregnant, you need to test your cat for toxoplasmosis- this is a serious parasite that can cause birth defects. Make sure to be up to date with any vaccines and deworming. The expecting mother to be should avoid handling of litter or scooping up behind the pet from the very beginning.
Make all the changes in the house early and gradually such as rearranging the furniture, setting up the nursery, baby proofing the house. There should not be too much of a change right before the baby comes. You can start to teach the pet boundaries around certain places in the house such as a crib. For example, you can put orange or lime scent around the crib so the cat knows not to get too close. Take a doll and practice cradling it, laying it down with the babies items so the pet gets used to the idea. Take an empty stroller on your walks. Normalize these new behaviors.
Make sure you address any problematic behavior with a trainer and get that out of the way. This could be jumping, harsh play, disobeying orders.
Before the baby comes home, bring home an article of clothing, blanket or accessory that has been in close proximity with the baby. Let your pet sniff the item and acclimate with the scent. Give them a treat as they smell the item to attach positive feelings with the smell. Trim any nails and have your pet completely groomed.
Try to make the introduction in a neutral space. Places like in front of the house, on the sidewalk or garage. Let the pet meet the mother first and spend a few moments together. Make sure both parties are secure, the dog on a leash and the baby held. As for cats, let the cat observe from a distance and take their time getting used to this new human in their home.
When your baby is home, keep your dog closely but on a lease. Cover sensitive parts of the baby like the head. No matter how quickly they seem to bond, avoid leaving them to nap together unsupervised, especially a very small baby.
If no bad behavior is exhibited like growling, hissing, pawing and nipping you can let the pet sniff the baby under close supervision. Avoid licks as there is a lot of bacteria in the mount of pets. If any bad behavior is shown, immediately remove the pet physically from the room, letting them know that this behavior is not accepted. Make sure to include time for the pet alone. Going on walks with the dog or playtime with the cat. Just the two of you without the baby.
Don't place your baby on the floor and don't hold them in a way to encourage play or jumping. Supervise them together for 3-4 weeks. You have to be extra vigilant with puppies because of their energy levels and quick jealousy. Don't hesitate to speak to a trainer if there are no improvements.
After a few weeks of supervised moments, you can now include the pet in activities around the baby. Allow the pet to follow you around. Give your pet extra attention and affection around the baby. A good trick is to sneak in a favorite treat while you are feeding the baby. Let them feel included in your daily activities and normalize the baby being around.
As your baby grows teach your child how to respect the pet (not poke around and pull ears and fur). Not to pinch. Involve your toddler in caring for the pet, setting up the water bow, filing up food and giving treats. Building this friendship takes time and both parties need to be taught to care for and respect one another. Do not leave your baby and your pet completely alone in any circumstances until you are confident, which may not happen until way into toddler-hood.
There are countless benefits to having a pet at home. It teaches a young child to care for another being. There is playmate and a friend always around. Research even says that babies who grow up with pets are less likely to develop certain allergies and usually have a stronger immune system.