Pets and babies: preparing for a new arrival
Finding out you're expecting a baby is often an exciting – and slightly daunting – time. If you’ve got a pet who’s used to having your full attention, it’s worth thinking about how they’ll react to a new arrival to avoid extra worries.
Preparation is key. Gradually getting your pet used to the big changes before the baby arrives can help make everything go much more smoothly. Making sure their first experiences are positive ones can help your pet and baby grow into best friends.
Before baby arrives
- Check your pet's health. Early in your pregnancy check your pet's vaccinations, worming and flea treatments are all up-to-date. This means they'll be no danger of them accidentally passing any unwanted parasites to you or your new baby.
- Take care with cat litter. It's advised that pregnant women avoid cleaning cat's litter trays. This is to prevent an infection called Toxoplasmosis. If you do need to change your cat's litter tray, wear rubber gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
- Get your pet used to sharing your attention. If they suddenly get less attention when baby arrives, your pet might start behaving badly so you'll focus back to them. Slowly reduce the amount of fuss and attention your pet gets throughout your pregnancy rather than going 'cold turkey'. It will help them get used to having to share your attention with someone else.
- Set boundaries in advance. If there are any rooms in the house that will become 'pet free' when baby is born, start getting your pet used to these new rules well before the birth. Baby gates are a great way to keep dogs out of an area. For cats, you may need to keep those doors shut. If your dog is used to jumping up on the sofa or bed, you might want to train them to wait for a command before they're allowed up. Read our guide to reward-based training.
- Bring in new furniture early. Bring the baby's cot, play pen, highchair and other items into the home as soon as you've got them. This will give your pets plenty of time to get used to the new sights and smells. They'll be much less curious about them by the time baby arrives.
- Get all the senses involved. Our pets rely so much on their senses – smell, sight and sound! Help them get used to the new experiences a baby will bring. A few weeks before your due date, you can start to carry around a ‘baby’. A doll or teddy wrapped in blankets is ideal. This will help your pet get used to seeing you carrying something around with you. Try playing audio of crying babies to help your pet get used to the new sounds. Placing items from friends or family who have young children around the house or in the nursery will help your pet accept the smells of a new baby. Reward your pet with praise, attention or treats if they stay calm and relaxed. If they get excited or unruly, ignore them so they learn being calm gets praise and attention. Don’t punish your pet for behaving badly or they’ll associate the ‘baby’ with negative feelings. This could cause problems when your real baby arrives.
When baby comes home
- Keep up your dog’s exercise. Regular exercise is so important for your dog. It helps keep them fit, healthy and happy. If they don’t get enough exercise they can get bored, destructive and behave badly. It might be challenging, but try to keep your dog’s exercise routine the same after your baby arrives. Use a dog walker or ask friends and family to help if you can’t walk your dog yourself.
- Give your pets a safe space. Create a den or provide a space your pet can retreat to when it all gets a bit too much. Dogs usually like a den in a quiet room, behind a sofa or large piece of furniture. Cats feel safest when they’re high up – a cat climber in a quiet room is the puuurfect retreat!
- Introduce your baby when your pet is calm and relaxed. When baby comes home for the first time, you can introduce your pet to their scent by showing them your baby’s clothes or blanket first. Once they have been shown the scent, you can gently allow your pet to greet your new arrival in a quiet room with close supervision. If they become excited, it’s best to leave quietly and start again when your pet has calmed down a little.
- Don’t leave your baby and pet unattended. A baby should never be left unattended with any pet. You should be within reach whenever they are in the same room. Baby gates can help keep dogs out of certain areas. Cats can get through an open door very quickly and silently. Using a screen door or a tent that fits over the cot can stop your cat from getting too close.
The benefits of growing up with pets
As a pet owner, you'll have already noticed the positive impact your pet can have on your life. Growing up with a pet can also really benefit children's health and happiness. It's been reported that children with family pets are more sociable, outgoing and take fewer days off school sick. Caring for a pet can also teach them about responsibility and kindness.