When baby makes four … or more

Don’t forget you were Mom first to your four-legged baby

It’s Mother’s Day and if you’re expecting a baby, don’t forget your first baby—your cat or your dog. Too often we hear of the family cat or dog (or both) taking a back seat to the new arrival, or even cast off as being too much work or too curious or displaying unacceptable behavior.

A well-known pediatrician recently suggested that an expectant mother give up her cats, to the chagrin of an army of feline professionals.

Well, how would you react if this squawling, noisy creature with strange smells suddenly entered your safe and secure world?

Your pet will sense your anticipation well before the baby is born. A former den is turned into a nursery with all sorts of new furniture, clothing, toys and blankets to investigate. The lap in which she snuggled is getting smaller. There’s much preoccupation with the big event and less attention paid to her. A little preparation, however, can go a long way toward creating a compatible environment for both your pet and your new baby, starting well before B-day.

The following tips can be helpful whether you have a cat or dog (or both):

–A routine health check-up prior to the baby’s arrival can head off any potential physical problems

–Make sure your pet is flea free, not only as part of your regular routine, but also to prevent fleas from biting the baby and lurking around the nursery.

–Get your cat or dog used to having his or her claws clipped to prevent accidental scratching

–Play a recording of a baby crying and cooing to get your pet used to the sound. See www.preparingfido.com or www.soundsofbaby.com for helpful CDs. Also visit www.dogsandstorks.com, a national program that prepares families with dogs for life with a baby.

–Make sure your cat or dog has a special retreat, a crate or special corner where he or she can feel secure (especially once the infant starts crawling).

–Don’t shut them out. Excluding your pets from preparations and denying them access to you and the baby’s surroundings may backfire into behavior problems such as play-aggression and inappropriate elimination. Let them explore the nursery; after all, both you and the baby will be spending plenty of time there. Talk to them about what’s happening and use their names and the baby’s name a lot—they’ll understand more than you think.

–Let them sniff the clothing and linens so they get used to the new odors—it’s also helpful to bring home an article of clothing from the hospital before the baby comes home –Once the baby is home, be sure to make proper introductions and don’t deny your pets access to the baby. Pets have a natural curiosity and the more familiar they are with this new creature, the less likely they’ll feel threatened.

For cats-only households, keep in mind the following:

–Leave kitty KP to your partner while you’re pregnant. Toxoplasmosis, a parasite, can be found in cat feces, especially if your cat spends time outdoors and hunts. It’s a minimal risk these days, but if you must change the litter box, wear gloves and a mask.

–Obviously, it’s an old wives tale that cats suck the breath out of babies. While there are stories of cats and babies sleeping happily and comfortably together, the practice should be discouraged, at least in the beginning, because the cat is larger than the infant. Later on, it can strengthen the bond between them.

For households with dogs, keep these tips in mind:

–Make sure your dog knows basic obedience commands and that you address any behavior issues such as aggressive play or nipping. Consider a refresher training course—before the baby is born.

–Stick to a routine. Knowing that he’ll be walked at a certain time each day can help diminish your dog’s anxiety.

Once the baby is mobile, it’s a whole other ball of wax. Your cat may be quick enough to escape the grasp of a toddler and scratch only if cornered, but your dog may see the baby as prey or react defensively if teased. Toddlers move quickly, and even the most docile pet can be startled.Most importantly, constant supervision is essential and it’s never too early to teach a child the basics of pet-etiquette. The bond between a child and his pet can be a beautiful thing (and children raised with pets are less likely to suffer from allergies), but respectful behavior must be instilled from Day One.

Caring for an infant is demanding and time consuming, but try to give your pet some one-on-one attention in a quiet place—sans infant. It can be calming for both of you. When you adopted your cat or dog you made a commitment to his or her care just as you are now caring for a child.


About ExclusivelyCats
Sally Bahner is an expert in all aspects of cat care: Writer, consultant, speaker, instructor.

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