Preparing cats, dogs for baby

Sadly, some families think they must give up the dog or cat when expecting a baby or shortly after the baby comes home. In fact, the pet may have been a couple's first "baby," but now loses his or her role.

Compassionate awareness recognizes that a big change like a new baby is a big change for a pet, too.

Here's how to help pets adapt and become a best friend to new family members.

First, analyze your relationship with your pet. If your pet has been the center of the household's attention, you will need to teach him or her some new behaviors. 

Before Baby Arrives

Change any "baby talk" to "good dog/good kitty" words. Confusion sets in when you start cooing to baby and your pet thinks you are speaking to him or her. 

Enroll in obedience classes to strengthen positive responses to commands from you. 

If food is always out, stop free feeding. Feed at set times and pick up the bowl when your pet has had time to eat.

Initiate affection when you feel it's appropriate, not when your pet demands it by pawing you or jumping in your lap. Work on "verbal affection" because you cannot pet your pet when your hands are holding the new baby.

Change pet exercise time to the evening when baby will be sleeping. At other times, practice walking your dog with the baby stroller.

Carry a baby doll around and play an audio tape of a baby crying, varying levels and frequency over time so baby sounds become familiar.

Set up the nursery with smelly baby items, diapers, wipes, and such. Have your family use baby powder on their hands and arms so the smell is positive.

Consider netting for the crib or a screen door. Pets will still be able to see, hear and smell everything. Help your pet adjust to being behind gates with interactive toys.

Give your pet a safe place to get away such as an extra bedroom or laundry room with water and food bowls, bedding and favorite toys.

Schedule a checkup with your veterinarian and have your pet spayed or neutered for best behavior.

After Baby Arrives

When coming home from hospital, have the person less attached to the pet hold baby. Warmly greet your pet, and then casually let your pet see the infant when the less attached partner is sitting with the baby. Do not force the introduction.

Always supervise your pet and baby when they are together. Never leave them alone, regardless of your pet's good disposition and trustworthiness. Don't hesitate to consult an animal behaviorist if you need help with any issues.

When visitors arrive, have them greet your pet as usual. Ask visitors to give treats when they come inside.

Teach the command "leave it" for baby toys and give treats and praise rewards for doing so. Secure the diaper pail.

Put treats in the nursery so good things are associated with the baby room.  

When feeding baby, use verbal attention with your dog. Use the "down-stay" command. Reward for lying patiently next to you.

Give cats extra time to adjust. Make sure the litter box stays safe and clean.

Find emotional and physical outlets for your pet without the baby around. Consider asking a neighbor to take the dog to the dog park or use doggy day care. Also go  on outings together as the expanded family you now are.

• Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals to help "Keep Tahoe Kind." Dawn Armstrong is the executive director of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA.


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