Give your pets plenty of time to adjust to new baby

By Dr. John Beck

My wife is about to have a baby. We have two dogs and a cat that are inside our house the majority of the time. What can we do to prepare them for bringing home our new addition?

Your pets are probably in for a pretty big surprise.

Setting up baby furniture and re-arranging the house a couple of months in advance is usually the first step. This will allow time for your pets to get used to the new objects (cribs, swings, high chairs, etc.). If any of these items move, make noises, play music, etc. you should run them randomly throughout your day. Allow your pets to explore the new items. That way when the baby is in them and the noises are going, they will already be used to two out of the three things.

If you plan on blocking off the baby's room the pets aren't allowed in, do that now. Spend time in the room, with it blocked off, before the baby arrives. This will get your pets used to the idea that you will be spending time in the house, in an area, without them. Try to ignore their cries or whimpers, so as not to encourage this same activity when the baby arrives. If your pets are able to be quiet and still while you are in the blocked off portion of the house, positive reinforcement might help make that calm activity a constant.

If you are allowing your pets into the baby's room, do just that. Supervise them so the baby's toys, clothes, etc. are not carried off or made into their new sleeping bag. Your cat might be especially excited about the new crib: another great, elevated place to catch a cat nap. Training your pets to stay away from these things and to not sleep in the crib before the baby arrives will save a lot of headache after the baby gets here.

If your pets are not used to being around babies or small children, that is the next thing to conquer. If you have friends or family that have either you might ask if they wouldn't mind bringing them around a little for a test run. Take your dogs to the park where small children are playing. Make sure you stay very vigilant; you do not want to put any child in harm's way. If you are concerned about rushing into introducing your pets to children, you might just try finding a television show or CD that has a lot of children's noises on it. The sound of a baby crying can be startling to some pets. Let them hear that sound and assuring them that it isn't anything to get upset about.

Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck atdrjohnbeck@hotmail.com.