Like many pet owners, you may dote on your dog or cat free of distraction (and why shouldn't you?). However, when a new baby arrives, your pet will most likely miss being the center of attention and could become jealous of the baby.
There are some relatively simple steps you can take to minimize your pet's stress level and create an amicable relationship between your pet and your baby.
First, have a routine. This will allow you to make time every day for your pet. Encourage a good relationship by having an activity that everyone can enjoy. Go for a walk or visit the park with your dog and your child, for instance.
Do not play with your pet only when the baby is sleeping, because your pet will associate your baby with a lack of attention.
Give your pet and baby equal attention as much as possible. When your child gets a toy or treat, give your dog/cat a toy or treat as well. Or while your child plays with a toy, brush your dog or cat. While you feed your baby, you can say your pet's name. These steps will help your dog or cat adjust to the new baby, and hopefully your pet will come to enjoy the baby.
Create a place your pet can call its own. Dogs should have a kennel with a blanket, water and their favorite toy. Cats should have a safe area, which could be a windowsill, a comfortable corner or a small room. Make sure that your cat has a comfortable place to sleep, a litter box, water and toys in its safe area.
When your pet goes to this designated area, do not bother it. Animals need a den where they can escape to rest or be alone.
Make sure your pet knows that you are the boss. If you have not neutered your dog, now is the time to do so. Dogs who are not neutered are three time more likely to bite. If your dog exhibits any aggression problems, consult a dog trainer immediately.
Never leave your child and pet alone together. Dogs can knock children over with their tails or become scared and bite. Cats can become injured if a child accidentally falls on them.
Teach your child very early on to respect pets. Show them how to pet gently and teach them not to pull on ears or tails. Also teach your child not to pull toys and treats out of the dog's mouth.
Feed your dog privately, preferably in its kennel. This will allow your dog to eat in peace and protect your child from a potential dog bite as a result of the dog protecting its food.
These are a few of the many small steps you can take to help foster a safe, happy relationship between your pet and your child.
Amy Tramill is an educator at the Lawrence Humane Society. You can reach her at 843-6835.