Making Baby-Friendly Pets—Even If You Don’t Have Kids

The mantra for so much is “plan ahead.” And this is especially true when the stork is expected.

We all want for there to be a Lassie/Timmy connection between kids and pets, but that doesn’t always happen. It is more likely to occur, though, with a little help.

And the way that families can prepare pets for babies has changed.

The old way: Either the pet acclimates or he finds another home. Or worse.

The new way: Plan ahead, and by doing so minimize or even prevent fear, anxiety, and stress at the start, creating a Fear Free Happy Home.

Ideally, preparing for the new baby should start the moment families acquire a pet – even if they don’t expect to have a child for years down the road. At the very least, preparation should commence when the doctor confirms a little one will arrive.

If you’re 60 years old, keep reading. You may one day welcome grandchildren or nieces or nephews, and you want them to be able to visit and to feel safe around your pet.

Set Yourself Up For Success

Here’s how you do it. When puppies and kittens are exposed from the start in a positive way to babies, odds are that by the time your own baby appears, the pet will celebrate the new arrival.

Ask friends, relatives, or neighbors with a baby to visit as often as possible. Puppies and kittens are curious, so unless you have reason for concern, sniffs at the baby are fine. After a quick sniff, distract with a high-value treat or toy. Each time a baby comes over for a visit, bring out the best treats on the planet. If possible, take baby and dog for a walk. For many dogs, few things in life are better. And dogs do bond with whoever joins them on their walks.

What if you have a 3-year-old or, for that matter, a 13-year-old pet? The pet may not have had a positive experience with a baby, but that doesn’t mean there’s reason for concern. This is your opportunity to readjust your pet’s point of view or maybe even create a positive first impression for pets without previous experience.

Out of an abundance of caution, keep your dog on leash at first. Have the heavy artillery available –low-fat, low-salt lunchmeat or small pieces of turkey hotdog for pups, and for cats dollops of tuna or small tidbits of sardines – whatever works.

Some pets get agitated when babies fuss. Instead of letting that happen, instantly toss treats all over the place as the baby fusses – it’s a free for all!

Your job: Convince your pet that the small, funny looking, strange smelling human is also a treat dispenser. To do that, sit with the baby, and put treats on the baby’s hands. While the baby isn’t capable of tossing them toward the pets, the pets don’t know that. “Help” the baby to direct the yummies in the direction of the pets.

For adult pets, help to reduce any mild stress from the baby’s visit by plugging in a pheromone diffuser, Adaptil for dogs or Feliway for cats. Pheromone products are a natural way to help pets to feel more comfortable.

If your pet demonstrates even the slightest hint of aggression, nip it in the bud now. First, put the dog or cat behind a closed door while the baby visits. Afterward, immediately contact your veterinarian, who can offer advice or refer you to a veterinary behaviorist; a veterinary technician or nurse with a specialty in animal behavior; a certified animal behavior consultant; or a positive reinforcement dog trainer.

One of the many reasons for practicing baby visits before you bring home your own little one is to assess your pet’s temperament. So many believe, “There’s no doubt my dog or cat will be wonderful.” But families should never make that assumption without knowing for sure. Finding out early means solving a problem before it becomes a real problem. And that early intervention may save your pet’s life.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT