"Pets really are like babies for many couples, so it’s important to include them when you prepare for your actual baby," says Pamela Jamieson, an animal trainer and adoption associate at the Hamilton/Burlington Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
An unfortunate number of dogs and cats are relinquished to animal shelters when the transition to family life goes less than smoothly, says Jamieson. But we owe it to our furry family members to make whatever efforts we can to help get them at ease with the newest addition. Here are five ways to smooth the way.
1. Implement new rules early in your pregnancy
"If you're planning to restrict certain rooms or areas of your home once baby arrives, do it well in advance," says Jamieson.
Sonia Giampietro's Yorkshire terrier, Harley, had the run of Sonia's Toronto house before baby Esmee arrived in early 2010. During Sonia's pregnancy, however, she and her husband made the living room sofa and future nursery off-limits to Harley.
This kind of preplanning gives pets time to adjust and allows you to correct slip-ups before your baby comes home, when you and your pet have other changes to adjust to.
2. Introduce your pet to babies and small children (in small doses)
If your pet has had plenty of interaction with children, he or she will be prepared for the strange smells, sounds and movements that come with little people. But if he or she is unfamiliar with kids, set up visits from friends and family. Introduce pets and children gradually, and provide an escape route for startled pets.
Interactions between pets and small children should always be supervised, advises Jamieson.
Babies can be gently held on an adult's lap, while the animal sniffs (if curious).
Toddlers and young kids can get excited around animals and become overly enthusiastic in their affection. This may include aggressive hugging, tail- and ear-pulling and general grabbiness. Protect your cat or dog from this, and you’ll also be protecting children from scratches and bites.
"I always monitor Harley closely, as his defence is to protect himself if he feels threatened," says Sonia.
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3. Expose and desensitize your pet to common new-baby paraphernalia
As you start to amass baby paraphernalia, leave it out for your pet to see and small, says Jamieson.
• Wheel the stroller around the house so the noise and movement stops startling your dog.
• Leave the diaper bag on the ground so the dog or cat can sniff it.
• Ditto for the car seat, although if you think your cat's likely to jump in for a nap, strap in a stuffed animal or doll.
• Wrap a stuffed animal or doll in a receiving blanket and carry it around so the sight becomes familiar to your pet.
4. Take a refresher course in canine obedience training
You don't want to chase down a wayward dog, break up a canine tussle, or have your dog dart ahead of you into traffic at a busy intersection while you’re also pushing a stroller or have a baby strapped to you in a front carrier.
Does Fido follow your commands without fail? If not, sign up for obedience classes – stat! – before your household gets crazy-busy with a new baby.
5. Include your pet in your pre-baby celebrations
OK, so your pet isn't actually an older sibling, but feel free to include him or her in some baby-bump canoodling. If you're reading to your bump, feel free to snuggle up with your pup too.
"I know it's a bit crazy, but I would put Harley on my belly. I'm not sure if that did anything, but I thought maybe he could hear her," says Sonia.
More hugs and affection for everyone in the household is a definite plus as far as we're concerned!
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