How To Ease The Introduction of A Baby To Your Cat or Dog

We’ve all seen those adorable photographs of dogs cuddled up next to a sleeping baby. The idea of our children growing up with a furry best friend is a lovely one, but what do you need to think about before having a pet AND a baby? While the life of a pet that lives in a cage or tank won’t be affected much by a baby they have a much greater impact on a four legged friend like a cat or dog. 

This post contains advice for you if you already have a pet and are pregnant or are considering having a baby.

A toddler girl in the garden with a black and white cat
Helping your pets and children get off to a good start and end up best friends

What to consider before you have a dog or cat and a baby?

I’ve read posts warning about the dangers of pets getting into the cot or the risk of illnesses and while I don’t doubt there is a risk they seem overly cautious. When you have a baby, particularly one on the move, you soon realise that they put EVERYTHING in their mouth and that trying to ensure EVERYTHING is clean all the time is an impossible task. It is even harder when you have a cat or dog walking on pavements outside and then on your floors. You have to be realistic and pragmatic.

Bringing home a baby? How do cats and dogs react.

It’s natural for anyone who has a cat or dog and is going to be bringing home a newborn to worry about the impact it will have on their fur baby. Pets are used to being the focus of our attention and it can be an unsettling time. At first they tend to be curious, but as they realise the priorities of the family have changed they can become jealous or anxious. Some will become overwhelmed by all the new smells and sounds, while others will take it in their stride. 

The good news is that generally pets don’t tend to take out their feelings on the new arrival. I have had newborn babies with 2 different cats and both of them have instantly recognised the baby as something which needs protecting and caution. One of our cats protested a few times by going to the toilet on the baby's toys as an indirect complaint, but they didn’t do anything to the baby. It was annoying yes, but not harmful. With my first baby our cats would love to jump in the Moses basket to nap, but they would never go in when the baby was in there. Even as the baby got bigger and there was inevitable fur pulling instances the cats didn’t hurt the baby, but showed their annoyance towards us adults when we took the baby away. 

My current cat was very good around my youngest as a newborn. Again as he has got older there are times my son has persistently pestered the cat, but at worst after a few warning bats of the paw and not being left alone, our cat has slightly scratched him. Knowing how hard a cat can bite or scratch when they want to I have been impressed with the control she has shown. As much as I would like to protect my cat she shows a stubborn tendency to nap within reach of my son rather than somewhere safe.

Dogs struggle in a different way. They love a routine which can be disrupted when there is a new baby. Add in novel sounds and smells and it can make them unsettled. Preparation is key. Ideally when a dog is young they will get to socialise around children, if they are older it’s a good idea to visit friends with babies when you are pregnant. If you aren’t able to do this then playing audio of some of the new sounds and maybe carrying a doll around will get them used to some aspects of the change. Any new furniture or equipment should be introduced one item at a time.

Mix up your routine so they don’t always get fed or walks at the same time and get them used to changes at home gradually. You might find using a dog walker helps you rest in later pregnancy and gives you more time for recovery after birth. 

If the dog will be sleeping somewhere different then introducing this change well in advance of your due date will help ease them into their new way of life. Maybe look at luxury dog beds (or an orthopaedic dog bed if they are older) as a treat especially if they will be displaced from your bed or an otherwise favourite nap place. 

Practise new skills like walking them on a lead with a pushchair (although you might find wearing the baby in a sling easier especially if you tend to walk off road). Baby toys are a huge appeal for dogs, and some for cats too, so it can be a challenge to stop favourites getting chewed. Again practising and training in advance helps.

When you bring the baby home for the first time it can help to greet your dog alone first, especially if you have been away for longer than normal and they are likely to jump up and get excited. Once they are calmer you could bring the baby in.

A small dog on a new looking dog bed
Dog bed from The Pet Empire

Tips for when your baby is on the move

While having a newborn for the first time can seem like hardwork it gets a whole lot harder when they are on the move. Some babies start to roll at a few months old and they might crawl as soon as 6 months, while others will stay in one place until they are around a year old. Being on the move means children can chase your pet and get to all of their things. I think all of my children have managed to successfully steal and eat cat biscuits at some point, the water bowl gets regularly spilt and when we had a litter tray it was a huge challenge trying to persuade my daughters it wasn’t a sand pit. 

What worked best for us is having a series of baby gates that the cat could jump over, but the baby can’t get past. Where we have had spaces we want to keep the pets out of we have found an extra tall baby gate was generally enough to discourage them.

Some dogs might appreciate having the sanctuary of a cage to retreat to for meal times or naps so that the baby can’t get to them.

Over time you will find out what works for your family. Life will be a little busier, but it will be filled with a lot of love.

***This is a collaborative post***

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