Before you discovered that you were pregnant, your pet was your baby. The love you have for your pet is the closest thing you’ll feel to the love that you will feel as a parent, I think. Research has even shown that snuggling your kitty or petting your dog releases oxytocin, It is the same love-feeling hormone you release when you breastfeed your infant or cuddle with your spouse. It is important that when you bring your new baby into your home that you do so in a way that grows the family in a respectful way and not one that pushes one aside for the love of another. Thanks Amy Sherman and Kranky Kitty for contributing illustrations for this week's post.
The famous Cesar Millan challenges parents not to make assumptions about breed. He says, “Don't assume your dog will (or will not) pose a problem based on breed alone.” Sure, babies have been bitten by breeds with bad reputations such as Rottweilers and pit bulls, but they have also been injured by breeds with good reputations like labradors. The key is to know your dog and set hierarchy immediately. Like Pepper here, pictured with her newest human Shea. She has already been deeply embedded into the Spencer Family thanks to Shea's four older siblings.
Cesar recommends to introduce the dog to your baby’s scent separate from the baby before the baby comes into the home. Do this with a receiving blanket or burp cloth. Let the dog take in the scent by sniffing from a distance. This will establish two things.
First, it will allow the dog to become familiar with this new scent. Second, by sniffing it from a distance it will establish that this scent belongs to you, the human. In Dog language it means that it must follow human rules when around this scent and that this new scent is not one to be dominated.
Next, when the baby comes home do the same thing but with the baby. Keep a calm assertive energy, hold the baby and allow the dog to sniff the baby from a distance. The dog will pick up the scent as soon as you come into the house. You need not worry that the dog needs to be close in order to smell this new creature. Cesar also recommends to have someone take the dog for a long energetic walk before the introduction. This will help keep the dog calm.
As the baby grows keep control of the boundaries and be sure to witness every new experience. Use your pregnancy time to work on boundaries and discipline with your dog. You know your dog’s limitations and insecurities. For example, if you know your dog is possessive about their food or toys, work on that behavior during your pregnancy. Nine Months is ample time to adjust behavioral concerns, Cesar says.
Dogs and babies who grow up side-by-side no doubt can become best friends like Brutus the Rottweiler here with his best human Shea Spencer. The objective is not to squash the emerging bond, but to supervise it so if dominance is asserted or tails are pulled you can help nurture a loving respectful relationship between your pet and your child.
With cats you want to take the opposite approach. You want to come back into the house prior to bringing in the baby and give your kitty some love and affection. Besides, you’ve been gone for a few days and I’m sure you’ve missed your kitty. When you bring your baby in, it’s okay for your kitty to approach and do some investigative sniffing.
It is important that your kitty is not left unsupervised in the baby’s room or not to permit the cat to sleep in the baby’s crib.
What’s wrong with this picture?
This is a picture of my daughter as an infant with my cat, Toby. I had supervised this interaction so technically, nothing is wrong. It was love at first sight for both of them. However, had I been out of the room this could have proved to be a dangerous situation. The myth that a cat steals a baby’s breath is foolish and unfounded, that’s not what should concern a new parent. The danger is that cats seek warmth and will curl up on or near the baby and this could make it difficult for the child to breathe. Your 10-pound cat can definitely be a danger if it curls up on top of your 8-pound baby for warmth. Be sure to supervise any interaction and keep the nursery off limits to the cat during infancy.
Cats that were not spayed or neutered before five months of age may begin to spray when a new baby comes home, even if they’ve never sprayed before. The Humane Society of the United States says that spraying is a way that your cat will emphatically communicate that it is stressed.
The way to correct the behavior may seem to be counterintuitive. We instinctively want to shout, “no!” and shoo the cat from the area. On the contrary, you need to help change the way the cat feels about the area it is spraying. Clean but don’t over clean. The cat may feel the need to overspray a place that has been heavily masked or scented with chemicals.
If the cat is spraying objects that are associated with the baby, keep these items in a cabinet or behind a closed door. Give the cat affection and play with it in the area where it is spraying. This does not reward them for their behavior but it lessens the stress that is associated with this part of the house. Also, block off the spray area or otherwise make it un accessible to the cat that is repeat offending.
Don’t forget about your pet
Your pet is a part of your loving family and deserves the same love and affection it has always had regardless of your new circumstances. It starts the day you find out that you're expecting. Don't think your pet (cat or dog) doesn't feel the excitement, anxiety, and worry that you may feel during pregnancy. They know something is going on, they read every emotion and will many times mirror it. Take the time to prepare and help your pet. Build a family that includes your pets, and you will have a rich, fulfilling experience for both you and your children because of it.
I'll finish up with Amy Sherman's clever depiction of the exact reaction my cat Toby had to my kicking baby.