New baby? Help your pets adjust.

dog baby asleep

The arrival of a new baby is a most joyous occasion, but may not be viewed as such by the four legged members of the family!

How to make the transition to family life easier for all the family.

Unprepared pets may not respond with the same enthusiasm, may feel that their home territory has been invaded and may find the changes to their normal routine confusing. Start preparing as soon as you are aware that there is going to be a new baby in the home. Your pet needs to learn to associate the new baby with as few disruptions and changes to its routine as possible.

During pregnancy

If you are planning to keep your pet out of certain rooms or areas of the house after the arrival of the bay, then start doing this as soon as possible. When preparing an animal free zone (e.g. playpen) also consider giving your pets a quiet place where they can escape if they find the commotion too much. Cats appreciate a cozy hiding place where they can sleep undisturbed (perhaps utilize a cardboard box with a bed in placed in the under stairs cupboard or airing cupboard) and access to high spots (e.g. on top of a book case) where they can observe what is going on without feeling threatened. Dogs may appreciate having their own den where the baby isn’t allowed to intrude (e.g. an indoor crate with their own toys in, into which they have free access).

Obtain a sound cd to desensitize your pets to the unpredictable noises of babies.

If your pet is an ‘only’ pet, you will probably spend many additional hours together, especially during maternity leave Try to not constantly be together otherwise the pet may suffer from separation problems when it is apparently ‘neglected’ after the birth.

Ask your veterinary surgeon to complete a full health check on your pet and ensure that worming and vaccinations are up to date. Many pregnant women worry about the possibility of transmission of toxoplasmosis through the family cat. There is a small risk* and ideally another member of the household should clean the litter tray once a day. If this is not possible, wear gloves to deal with the litter tray and then wash hands thoroughly. Cat’s paws may also be contaminated so do not allow your cat to jump on work surfaces where food is prepared.

If you think your pet may have any inappropriate behaviour problems now is the time to seek a referral from your veterinary surgeon to a qualified animal behaviourist. Don’t wait until after the birth as you will be exhausted and it may be difficult to implement changes. Members of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors can be found in your area.

At the time of the birth

When the baby is born there will be lots of washing! However, before rushing to clean everything allow your pets to smell and investigate soiled clothing. This is an early introduction to them of the new baby. 

Likewise new items of furniture purchased for the baby, such as the cot, highchair and pram should be wiped, at your cat’s height, with cloths impregnated with your cat’s scent. This can be achieved by taking a clean towel and wiping along your cat’s mouth and by the base of the tail. Your cat should then be confident that the items are part of the household and your dog will get used to their presence as well. Practice walking your dog with the pram before you put the baby in. Getting your dog to walk calmly to the side will ensure it does not get run over by the wheels and likewise you do not get pulled to the verge by your dog.

Life after the arrival

Remember to acknowledge your pet in the presence of the baby and not just when the baby is asleep. Your pet needs to know that the presence of the baby is a good sign. Give your pet verbal praise, a stroke and perhaps a treat when it behaves well around the baby. 

Don’t force interaction, let your pet interact at its own pace, but always supervise to ensure the pet behaves appropriately and gently. Never leave a baby alone with your pet, no matter how trustworthy you may think they are.

Most importantly, enjoy this very special time, children brought up with pets learn very valuable lessons about nurturing and caring, in fact they even have better immune functioning because of it!

  • Further information from Cats Protection leaflet TOXOPLASMOSIS (680)


Pippa Hutchison MSc CCAB

Full Member of the APBC