Preparing Pets For A New Baby
Wednesday - August 06, 2008
I’m happy to announce that my husband and I are expecting our first child by the end of this year! So far, it has been quite an adventure to see and feel how my body is changing with this little life growing inside of me.
Now into my second trimester, I have a whole set of worries that keep my mind racing (mostly when I’m trying to go to sleep at night). I wonder if the baby is comfortable, is it healthy, how will I baby-proof the house?
But the first worry I had, right from the start, was, “Oh my, what is Pono Boy going to think?”
I truly consider Mr. Pono, the wiener dog, to be my first “child.” Even though he is 7 years old now, dogs really never grow up in the way humans do, and Mr. P is still very much a clingy mama’s boy used to getting all the attention.
But Mr. P definitely knows that something is different with “Mom.” Besides the fact his canine senses tell him something is up, there are other obvious changes to daily life as well. There’s not as much room on my lap for napping as there used to be, and for the first three months of my pregnancy when morning sickness (I call it allday sickness) took over, he hardly got any playtime outside.
He also thinks that everything stuffed belongs to him, so when my mother-in-law bought a stuffed otter for the baby, I put it high up on a shelf out of reach of grubby paws. Mr. P sat for days, straining his neck and staring up at the shelf, uttering high-pitched whimpers every few minutes.
For many couples, owning a pet together is their first foray into the world of parenthood. Our pets become our “children,” and we treat them as such, so when a baby comes into the picture it can be a difficult adjustment for a pet. After all, we can’t talk to and rationalize with our pets the way we could with another human being.
At the vet’s office the other day I noticed a pamphlet that read, “Growing up with Pets.” It was a website (growingupwithpets.com) that helps expectant parents raise happy kids with healthy pets.
The website says that animals are adaptable, but they have to be weaned. It says, “You can’t have a relationship with your pet and then say, ‘The relationship has changed, too bad for you.’ Animals will get jealous and show it through destructive behavior. Devoted pets can develop physiological problems from a lack of love.”
The site says, however, that there are things people can do to prepare a pet for this new addition to the family:
Once you are pregnant, the website advises you should begin reviewing basic obedience skills with your dog so that he/she will reliably and consistently obey you. If your dog sleeps in the same bed as you, decide if this will change once the baby comes home. If it’s going to change, you should start encouraging the new sleeping arrangements months before the baby comes.
Several months before the baby’s arrival, take your pet to the vet for health exams and vaccinations and address any pet training or behavior problems. Train your pet to remain calm on the floor beside you until you invite him/her on your lap, which will soon cradle a newborn.
Also encourage your friends with infants to visit your home to accustom your pet to the sounds and smells of a baby. If you have new baby-related furniture or toys, use them to accustom your pet to these as well, and make the experience positive by offering your pet treats.
When you are planning for the baby’s arrival, the Website growingupwithpets.com advises not to put the baby’s room together a week before the baby comes home and then shut the door. This will put stress on your pet and they won’t understand the change if they typically have free rein of the house. Pets need stable, consistent worlds so change things slowly and set up the baby’s space well in advance.
Once the nursery is set up, allow your pet to inspect it. The site also advises setting up a sturdy, removable gate that your pet can see through. Allowing the pet to see and hear what’s happening in the room will make him feel less isolated from the family.
The site has further information on what to do as your due date approaches, when you first arrive home with the baby and after your baby and pet have been introduced. You also can find information on parasite prevention and other diseases passed from pets to humans as well as how to manage child/pet interactions as your child gets older.
I’m going to do whatever I can to make the transition of the new baby as smooth and stress-free as possible for Mr. P. I can only hope that with good preparation Mr. P will love and protect his new “sibling” when he/she arrives - not just claim baby’s toys as his own.
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