How to introduce your pet to your new baby

Major life moments can be both exciting and life-changing, but this can also prove to be a source of stress for our beloved furry family members.

Pets can experience anxiety, stress and change their behaviour when adjusting to a new environment or routine. It is important to be aware of the potential impact that change can have on your pet, and how you can help them adjust in a positive way. After all, it's not like you can just talk it through with them!

When it comes to preparing your pet for a new baby’s arrival, Animal’s Voice columnist Dr Jess Beer recommends getting a vet check for your pet, “preparing to avoid nasty surprises also means addressing your pet’s health concerns before your baby arrives. This means ensuring your pets are up to date with their vaccinations, flea treatment, worming treatment, and medication for any other health conditions that may be ongoing.”

Bringing home a baby is a key change in the household that is crucial to prepare your pets for in advance. With the help of Dr Rosalind Holland (BVSc, MVM, MANZCVS), we've put together some helpful tips for making the transition as smooth as possible.

Introducing your pet to a new baby

Your first baby is a huge adjustment, and introducing your pet to your new bundle of joy will be an important milestone. When you bring a baby home, Dr Holland recommends keeping “introductions short, positive and safe.”

Your pets may not be used to sharing your attention with anyone else, so it's important to prepare them beforehand. Dr Holland suggests letting your pet sniff the baby's items, “such as blankets and clothing to get them acclimated to the new smells, all while offering treats to create a positive association.”

Don’t forget that there are classes available to help introduce your beloved pet to a new baby. Dr Holland says that “courses for helping pets adjust to changes, especially a new baby, are becoming increasingly common and can be helpful for some pets. Ask your vet if they know of any in your area.”

How to adjust a cat to a new baby

Before the baby arrives, Dr Holland advises cat parents to “start planning where pets will no longer have access. It is important that cats have spaces where they feel safe and can hide away if they want to. Cats often like to be up high so think about setting up a nice bed on a shelf or investing in a cat tree and reward your cat with some treats when they use this space.” 

While adjusting to a new family member, it’s important to keep your cat feeling loved and cherished. Dr Holland recommends “giving your cat some time every day cuddling or playing with them. This has the additional benefit of helping you relax while dealing with the demands of a new baby.”

It is important to supervise all interactions between your cat and your new baby, and as Dr Holland suggests to “not let them have any face-to-face contact”. It’s important to learn how to interpret your cat’s body language “so you can gauge how they are feeling while they adjust to the new baby, and for lots of other situations your pet will encounter.”

How to adjust a dog to a new baby

There are a few key differences between adjusting your dog or your cat to a new baby – namely when it comes to mastering the basics of training and addressing any behavioural concerns before the new baby arrives. 

Dr Holland suggests beginning training before the baby arrives, which “means you are less tired and have had more time to practise, and for your dog to adjust to the change.” This can include “teaching your dog how to walk alongside the pram several weeks before the baby arrives so they have mastered this behaviour and you have one less thing to worry about when you go out with your new baby.” While adjusting a dog to a new baby, it is also important to note that dogs and babies (or even young children) should never be left alone unsupervised.

When it comes to settling into day-to-day life, it’s important to consider the new noises which your dog might not be used to. Dr Holland advises that “unfamiliar noises from a new baby can be disruptive for dogs. If you think this may be an issue for your dog, you can start desensitising them before the baby arrives by pairing baby noises with a positive emotional state. For example, playing a recording of a baby crying while feeding your pet their favourite treats”. As with any new activity, “It is very important, however, to make sure your dog is finding the experience positive. Just exposing them to the noise could make things worse if they find it distressing.”

If your dog needs a little more outdoor time, ask a friend or family member to take your dog out for a long adventure or walk at least once a week. Not only does this provide your dog with some great exercise and allows them to burn off some energy, but it can also give you some one-on-one time with your baby for a few hours.

Change the routine in advance

If you can, start to adjust your pet's routine in the weeks or months before the change comes. Dr Holland recommends introducing changes gradually so that when the big change comes your pet will have an easier time adjusting. This could include feeding times, walking schedules and bedtime rituals.

Positively positive

Whenever possible, associate change with positive feedback. This could include treats, happy words or a favourite game. Keeping things as consistent and predictable as possible will also help your pet feel more secure in their environment.

For a new baby, this may look like having your pet in the room where they can see, smell, and hear the new arrival and offering positive interactions with treats and games.

Don't forget your first baby

It's important to remember that your pet was likely the first addition to your family and (although they may not understand it!) they may experience feelings of jealousy or neglect when a new baby arrives.

Make sure you set aside time each day to give your pet some special attention - even if it's just 10 minutes of playtime. This will help them feel secure and remind them that they are still loved too!

At the end of the day, you know your pet better than anyone, so trust your instincts and do what’s best for them. With the right preparation and attention, they will be able to adjust to any changes that come their way.

Protect yourself and your fur-baby

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the transition don't forget to reach out for advice from your vet. 

As you're helping your pet adjust to life's changes, it's important to consider how they are protected. SPCA Pet Insurance could help, whatever changes come their way, your pet can have access to the best possible care.