Bringing a new baby home to your beloved pet? We spoke to Dr Lisa Chimes to get some tips on preparing your furry best friend for the arrival of your new baby. Dr Lisa is a well-known veterinarian most notably from her roles on Bondi Vet and Dr Lisa to the Rescue.
Aside from being a vet, you are also a mother and dog owner yourself. What can you share from your own experience having young children and pets at home?
Having four kids, two puppies and a blind dog is certainly a handful - there is always mess, noise and chaos! When kids grow up around dogs, it teaches the kids so much and it’s incredible to see how calming the dogs are for a child. The kids absolutely adore the dogs and I try involve them in the daily dog care routines – they help walk and feed them, and I even encourage them to help with poop scooping, much to their disappointment. Giving kids some responsibility with the pets helps to strengthen their bond and builds a pathway for mutual respect.
How does having a baby change your pet's life?
Bringing home a baby is a massive change for a pet - your pet will no longer be an only child and they will now have to share your attention. Some pets adjust better than others, but I always recommend slowly decreasing the one-on-one time you have with them in the weeks leading up to the baby’s arrival so that it’s not a sudden change when the baby comes home. It’s also really important that when the baby arrives, you create a positive association between the dog and baby. This can be done by including the dog whenever possible in daily activities and constantly rewarding good behaviour.
What are some practical tips to help get your pet prepared?
- Playing the audio of babies crying around your pets for a couple of months before the baby arrives can help them adjust to the impending noise.
- Bringing home an item of clothing when the baby is in the hospital allows your pet to familiarise themselves with new scents.
- Ensure that your pet always has a safe place that they can retreat to as they wish.
- Using treats and praise whenever the pet is well behaved can help create a positive association between the pet and baby.
- A good amount of daily exercise and play will keep your pet physically and mentally stimulated and will prevent boredom.
- Try spending one-on-one time with your pet whenever possible after the baby is brought home.
What is the best way to introduce your new baby to your pet?
If possible, arrange for someone to take the dog for a long walk on the day the baby comes home, ensuring the dog is out when you arrive. Since cats prefer to stay home, you can put your cat in a safe place in the house where they feel comfortable and not threatened by a new baby. When you arrive home, do what you need to do with the baby – feed, change, set their bed up, have a shower etc. Once the baby is settled in bed, allow the dog or cat to return and spend some calm time with them. Encourage them to sniff you so that they can smell the baby on you. The best baby-pet introductions are calm and casual at first – don’t shove the baby in the pet’s face, rather allow the pet to come to the baby when they are ready. This may not happen at first, but be patient and always reward calm, relaxed behaviour as this will encourage your pet to continue to behave in this way. Remember to never leave a baby and animal together without supervision – accidents can happen even with the most trusted pets.
How can you help build a relationship between your pet and baby and are there any common pitfalls parents should be mindful of?
After creating the initial positive association when the baby first arrives, you will need to help your pet adapt to each new developmental stage that the baby goes through. For example, pets can become quite distressed when babies learn to crawl or walk. It’s really important that you recognise this and ensure the baby is not able approach the pet without your very close supervision. It’s also a good idea to learn about common pet body language so that you can understand how your animal may be feeling in a situation when your baby is around. Always make sure that your pet has an unencumbered escape route whenever a baby or child is nearby.
Dr Lisa is the founder of DOG by Dr Lisa, a luxury grooming and lifestyle brand for dogs. The products are natural and eco-friendly - you can find out more by following DOG by Dr Lisa and Dr Lisa Chimes on Instagram.