Pets improve our quality of life. But introducing a new baby to your pet – whether furry, feathered, scaly, or slippery – can make life a little stressful for everyone involved. The sooner you begin preparing your pet for a new family member’s arrival, the better that transition can be.
Before Your New Baby Arrives
When you find out you are pregnant, you should take some simple steps to help prepare your pets for a new family member in the home. It’s important to get your pet to the vet for fecal tests and updating vaccinations. In addition:
In general, dogs are safe pets during pregnancy, but as the baby develops, be careful of your pup jumping on your tummy while you’re sitting or lying down. Now is also a good time to revisit obedience training. Mastering commands like sit, stay, down, off, go to your mat, drop it, leave it, and back will go a long way toward a happy transition. Get your dog used to walking next to a stroller by starting with an empty stroller. Be sure to hold the lease attached to your pup and do not tie it to the stroller.
When your baby arrives, your household routine will adjust abruptly. Most notably, you won’t be able to spend as much time with your pup. Begin now to gradually reduce the amount of time you spend playing with and giving attention to your dog, so they don’t associate less time with you with the baby’s arrival.
Cats can transmit toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can put your unborn baby at serious risk. Indoor/outdoor cats are more likely to contract the parasite than purely indoor cats. To be on the safe side, relinquish your poop-scooping duties to another family member – or use disposable gloves and a facemask if you have no other choice. Also, avoid digging or gardening outside. If you are harvesting foods from your own garden, wash fruits and veggies thoroughly before you eat them, as well as the utensils you used to prepare them.
Pet birds can transmit infections, including salmonella, that can put your pregnancy and unborn baby at serious risk. Be diligent about hand washing with soap and hot water after handling Tweetie or his cage.
Rodent pets like hamsters, guinea pigs, and mice, are also risky to be around while you’re pregnant. A virus they can carry, called lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV), can be harmful to you and baby. Hand washing after handling is important for all family members. Keep these pets away from your face. You’ll need to hand off your cage-cleaning duties to another family member. Cage cleaning should also be done in a well-ventilated area.
Reptilian pets like lizards, snakes and turtles, and amphibious ones like frogs can carry infection-causing salmonella and listeria bacteria. To avoid serious risks to your pregnancy and harm to your unborn baby, it’s best to relinquish all caregiving duties to another family member or find a temporary home for these pets.
Plan Your First Meeting
Before you come home from the hospital, have someone bring home a blanket your newborn has been wrapped in. Allow your pet to sniff the blanket to become familiar with the baby’s scent. When the baby comes home, allow your pet to greet you before meeting the baby. Have someone else carry the baby while you and your pet reunite. Keep that first interaction short; allow your pet to see, but not touch the baby.
For dogs, set up a supervised introduction on neutral territory, like the sidewalk outside your home. Make sure your pup is on a leash.
Once You and Your New Baby Are Home
In the early days, when you’re sitting on the sofa, keep another adult between you and your pet, if possible. If you have a dog, remember to tell your dog to sit every time you bring the baby into the room. After your pet becomes accustomed to the baby’s smells and sounds, it’s okay to let him sniff the baby. Leash your dog during early encounters; you can gradually allow him to sniff off-leash while supervised.
There are countless resources out there to help you through the transition of introducing your new baby to a pet: friends, family, YouTube videos, professional pet trainers, animal behaviorists, your vet, and of course, your doctor and ob-gyn.
It’s going to take some time, but with planning and practice, your pet will come to appreciate that your new baby is an awesome addition to the family.