Making your house safe for your new baby is among new parents' first tasks. One of the best things you can do to prepare your home is to prepare your pet for the new baby. The key to a happy household is to help your pet become comfortable with the baby even before it arrives.
The sounds and smells of your home help make your dog or cat feel secure. To help the pet adjust to new baby smells before the baby arrives, you should wear a little baby lotion or powder around the house.
You can also play tapes or baby noises for a few minutes every day. Start quietly, then increase the volume daily. Eventually, your pet should become accustomed to the sounds and ignore them.
As you decorate the nursery, let your pet investigate with your supervision. Gradually add new furniture and baby items so that your pet is comfortable with the room.
Now is also the time to complete some important things you may have neglected.
l Have your pet neutered. Dogs who are not neutered are three times more likely to bite. Cats who are not neutered are much more likely to spray in the house.
l Make sure your pet is trained. Your dog or cat should respond to your commands. Dogs must learn not to jump up, which can be dangerous for a small child. Training also helps your pet realize that you are in charge, which can prevent aggressive behavior.
l Keep your pet social. Expose your pet to new people. If your dog or cat has never been around children, invite your friends' children to your house. Keep your dog on a leash and have the children gently give your dog a treat. Talk to your dog or cat in a happy voice so that he knows that he should not feel threatened.
l If your pet shows any signs of aggression, consult a professional trainer immediately. Aggressive behavior now can mean serious problems when the baby arrives, so do not delay.
l Give your dog or cat a private place. This may mean a bedroom, a kennel or a blanket in a quiet corner. This should be a place your pet enjoys, so never make their retreat seem like punishment. Have toys, treats, water, a litter box and other items available in their private place. Once your baby arrives, remember that this spot is for your pet only.
Here are a couple of other things to remember.
l Do not pay more attention to your pet as the pregnancy progresses. Some loving pet owners pay extra attention to their pets as a way to make up for the inevitable decrease in attention when the baby arrives. This will only set your pet up for future disappointment and may cause your pet to blame the baby for the decrease in attention.
l Do not get rid of your cat. A common reason for people who surrender their cats to shelters is that they are expecting a baby. Very often, these well-meaning parents have heard about toxoplasmosis, a parasite found in the feces of infected cats that can cause brain or eye defects in the unborn baby. What many people do not realize is that most infections occur from eating undercooked meat, not from cats.
Further, pregnant women can protect themselves by wearing gloves or by having someone else clean the litter box. The feces are not contagious for the first 24 hours, so it's best to clean the litter box daily. These simple steps will prevent unnecessary heartache for you and your cat.
Once the baby arrives, there are many things you can do to encourage a good relationship between your pet and your child. Look for these tips in my next article.
In the meantime, start applying that baby lotion, play the baby tapes and remember that your dog or cat is your loyal buddy, deserving of this preparation.
Amy Tramill is an educator at the Lawrence Humane Society. You can reach her