Having pets can make you feel like a parent before you ever get pregnant. After all, you feed them, bathe them, and even -- admit it -- smooch them with abandon. And your pet, of course, feels like the center of the universe. That's why it can be so hard to introduce a new (and human!) baby to the household. Here's how to make it easier:
Anticipate changes. Like first-time parents, pets may need a little time to adjust to a new baby in the house. Anticipate any adjustments you'll need to make to your dog's feeding and walking schedules once your baby is born, and introduce them gradually ahead of time. If your dog or cat is particularly attached to "mom," have another family member work on developing a closer relationship with him so he'll still feel loved and cared for while you're busy with the new baby.
Address problems now. If your pet has fear, anxiety, or aggression issues that you've been ignoring, now is the time to consult your veterinarian or animal behavior specialist. Don't wait to see how your pet will react to the baby. Train her to stay on the floor beside you until she's invited onto your lap. If your dog has a habit of nibbling, pouncing on, or swatting at you and others, redirect that behavior to more appropriate objects, like her toys. Finally, make sure your pet is up-to-date on all health exams and vaccinations.
Adapt his senses. Prepare your pet for the sights, sounds, and smells that come with a new baby. If someone you know has a baby, invite them over for a visit (just be sure to supervise your pet at all times, even if he's never been aggressive with a child). You can also use a baby doll to help him get used to the real thing. Swaddle the doll and carry it around. If you're not easily embarrassed, you can take the doll along in the stroller when you walk your dog. You might feel silly, but all of this will introduce him to routine baby activities. Desensitize your pet to baby-related noises before your due date, as well. Play recordings of a baby crying (available at preparingfido.com
Acquaint the two -- carefully. Once your baby is born, while you're still in the hospital, ask someone to bring your dog a blanket or something else that has your baby's scent so she can check it out. When you arrive home, spend a few moments alone with your pup so she knows she's still important to you. Then you can have her "sit and stay," while you hold the baby nearby. Give the dog a treat so that she's occupied and begins to associate the baby with good things (and not with being excluded or locked out of the room while you're with the newborn).
Stay vigilant. With a little patience, your pet should learn to accept your new baby within a few weeks. But you still need to be careful. Never leave the baby and your pet alone together, and always supervise any interaction between the two. Make sure your pet can't climb into your baby's crib, bassinet, or bouncy seat, and install pet gates where necessary. Your dog may not know his own strength, and your newborn, of course, doesn't know not to poke her fingers in Fido's eyes. Until they learn each other's boundaries (which can take years), your two "babies" need you there to monitor.
For more information, visit the Humane Society's website