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August 22, 2006 > When baby makes four

When baby makes four

by Nancy Lyon

So you're going to have a baby and you're worried about how your dog or cat is going to handle no longer being an "only child." With all the preparations for the new baby, your four-legged family member may feel left out and forgotten. So your planning needs to include the realization that your divided attention will also bring about great changes in the life of your furry family member.

His previous place as the family baby, his routine and place in the pack - his family-- will be greatly altered. A new human can be as traumatizing for your family dog or cat as it is for human children who now must learn to share center stage. No longer being the focus of attention is a difficult role to give up without sufficient support from you.

So how do you prepare your present animal-child for the introduction so that things will go smoothly? It is possible, and the effort is well worth it and will help insure that he will be able to stay where he belongs: with his new, expanded family.

First of all, you need to evaluate your rules on what will be acceptable and if necessary, what must change. You are not going to have as much time for him but his exercise and emotional needs will remain the same so how are you going to meet those needs? Now is the time to plan ahead. You can do it, it just takes commitment, the most important part of the process.

If he is primarily bonded with mom, other members of the family need to make the effort to spend quality time with him so that when the new arrival comes he will still have the warmth of a trusted companion.

If you haven't taken the opportunity to do the basic obedience training such as teaching the meaning of "off, stay, and down", now is the time. They are basic to safe interaction between baby and dog. A dog that has been given these tools is more able to behave in the manner expected of him.

A few simple activities can be done in the weeks before baby is born. Set up the baby's nursery. Let your pet explore the new items and the new smells. Dust yourself and family members with baby powder or lotion so that the scent becomes familiar. Wash a baby blanket and let him become familiar with the smell of the baby laundry and such scents as dirty diapers, and the blanket in your arms. Later, add a doll inside the blanket. Keep baby toys and his toys separate and distinct. Give him the chance to understand.

The sound of a baby crying is upsetting, so it is important to expose him to these sounds by using a tape of a crying baby or invite friends with small babies to your home before baby arrives. You can practice responding to the crying--go to the crib, pick up the doll, rock it. He will become used to this routine and not be startled or upset when the baby cries. As with young human siblings, you should never leave an infant alone with a dog or a cat that may not understand the new noises and react inappropriately.

When you put the doll into the crib, say "Shhh, Baby's sleeping." A smart dog can learn this as a signal to be quiet. When you bring new the baby home, have the father carry in the baby. Let mom greet him lovingly. Ask him to sit and watch as you place baby into the crib or introduce baby into your arms.

In case you've heard rumors that cats will suck the air from a baby's lungs, rest assured that it is an old wives tale from the time when cats were looked upon as tools of the devil. And while toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease found in the feces of cats and undercooked meat, may cause concern during pregnancy, the reality is that it is rare in the United States and can be avoided by good hygiene and responsible cat care. Get someone else to clean the litter box or carefully wash your hands afterwards.

Make sure your dog or cat is spayed or neutered, has nails trimmed, vaccinated and health checked by your veterinarian, accustomed to baby smells, sounds and equipment, and given special attention when baby is present. Any existing behavior concerns need to be discussed with a qualified person months before baby arrives.

There is a wealth of information available on making baby/pet introduction a winning experience for every family member. You can start by checking the websites for the Humane Society of the United States and "Adding a New Baby to the Pet Household" at If you have cat concerns consider contacting Kate Gamble, a highly respected cat behaviorist, at or call (530) 887-1957.

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