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Introducing your newborn to the family pet

For many pet owners, their animals are a part of the family, often loved and cherished as much as any other member.

But when a new baby come along, things can change.

And as much as you might love your pet, it’s crucial to prepare them for the new arrival and ensure that introductions are done correctly.

We asked veterinarian Dr Liisa Ahlstrom from Bayer Technical Services Vet for her tips on how best to introduce your new baby to your beloved pet and what steps to take to ensure a smooth and safe transition.

Preparing your pet for baby’s arrival

There’s a lot you can do to prepare your pet for your newest member of the family before you bring your new baby home.

Life will be easier when baby arrives if dogs can respond to simple cues such as “sit”, “stay”, “come” and if pets understand their boundaries, for example, are they allowed to sleep in your bed, jump up on people, or sit on the bench tops?

It’s also good to introduce all things baby before baby arrives.

Don’t exclude your pet from the places your baby will be – let them discover baby wipes and nappies by sniffing, or apply baby lotion, cream or powder to yourself so these become familiar smells.

If your baby is in hospital, take some clothes home that your newborn has worn to expose your pet to your baby’s smell before bringing them home.

You could even record your infant crying and play this softly to your pet while giving them positive attention or food, to accustom them to this foreign sound.

To prevent bad habits, don’t let your pet play with your baby’s toys, as pets can become possessive and don’t let your pet sleep in or on any of the baby’s furniture, as this behaviour could be dangerous and hard to correct later on.

When you finally arrive home from hospital, have someone else hold your baby while you spend time to greet your pets. When they’ve calmed down, use a leash to introduce dogs to baby and only reward calm and positive behaviour. It’s important to never try and force any interaction between your child and pet.

Preventing pet jealousy and encouraging positive behaviour

To prevent bad behaviour through lack of attention, it’s important to set time aside for you and your pet to spend quality time together, like playing, brushing, patting and cuddling.

To help your pet make positive associations with your baby, make sure you give plenty of praise and attention to reward your pet for calm, positive behaviour around your baby.

Never reward or reassure aggressive behaviour by your pet towards your baby.

Do not punish pets, as this can make them fearful and they’ll associate this fear with the baby.
Instead, firmly say “NO” and create a distance between pet and baby or give your pet an alternate cue like “sit” or “go outside”.

Your pet must learn that if they want favourable attention, they must behave in a favourable manner towards the newest member of the family.

If you’re concerned about your pet’s reaction to your baby, talk to your vet or an animal behaviourist.
Sometimes pets need a bit of respite, especially as your baby grows into a toddler and pets become an endless source of amusement!

It’s great if you can create a safe haven or ‘child-free zone’ at home where your pet can retreat to if they want to be left alone.

Teaching your pet positive association with baby

As well as giving your pet plenty of positive attention when they’re being well behaved around the baby, it’s great to incorporate some fun activities involving pet and baby in your routine.

Daily outdoor exercise provides great mental stimulation for pets and is something the whole family can enjoy together – it encourages a positive association with the baby, helps calm yourpet and reduces stress.

Nappy changes are a good time to give your pet a treat or toy to positively reinforce the experience of you focusing on the baby.

Is it safe to leave your pet alone with your baby?

Pets should never be left alone with your baby until your child is old enough to behave appropriately, which depending on the child, could be up to 10 years of age.

Until this time, take care to supervise children around pets and help them learn how to pat nicely, while your pet also learns that your child will not hurt them – no pulling, no tugging and no hitting.

Although we love our pets like children and hate to think that they would harm a child, any pet regardless of breed, size or training can bite or scratch – especially if they’re hurt, not feeling well or are a bit sore.

So it’s important not to leave your baby alone with any animal, including your fur baby.

For more tips visit theadvantagefamily.com.au or talk to your vet or an animal behaviourist.

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