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Baby onboard? Congratulations! With a new bundle of joy on the way, the "to do's" might seem endless, but if you've already got a four-legged "baby" at home, preparing for the transition is an important item to add to the list. Dogs and cats are particularly sensitive to any changes in routine and surroundings, including sights and smells, so you'll need to plan accordingly. Know what to expect from your pet when you're expecting - check out our tips before the big day arrives, and make sure keep your household remains a happy one!
Use the next nine months to address any obedience concerns, or even just to reaffirm the basics. What might have seemed like minor infractions before, such as jumping up on the couch or on guests, will be an even bigger no-no once the baby arrives. Best to nip any lagging behavioral issues in the bud now - and don't be surprised if you have to make a return visit to the trainer down the road as well.
Many local humane societies offer special workshops for pet owners who are now parents-to-be. These sessions provide in-depth guidance on the best methods and techniques for acclimating your pet to the impending change in the household, along with an intimate group setting where a trainer can address any specific concerns you might have, such as how to handle the transition with two pets. Visit the ASPCA to find a workshop in your area.
Take your dog or cat in for their annual exam before the baby arrives to make sure your pet is in tip-top shape and void of any dangerous parasites or bugs. While you're at it, stop at the groomer's as well and get pups a "pet-icure" to avoid any accidental scratches.
Set the Stage
Be sure to set up the nursery well in advance of the little one's arrival to give your pet time to get used to the furniture. Bring in some of basic supplies as well, such as baby powder and diaper rash cream (kept out of reach, of course) - this will give your pet a head start on some of the new smells that the baby will bring. Consider introducing a baby sounds CD for brief periods throughout the day in the time leading up to your due date to give your pet an idea of the audio impact as well.
If you have friends or family members with infants, see how your pet reacts to their presence. Never allow your pet to show any signs of aggression, and heap on the positive reinforcement for any and all good behaviors around any "practice" babies. If you're short on friends with kids, try using a baby doll wrapped in the blanket you intend to bring home the real deal in - it may feel a bit odd at first, but it's a tried-and-true trick that works!
Meet and Greet
Once baby is born, first have a family member or friend bring home something such as your infant's blanket or beanie to familiarize your pet with his or her scent. For the initial face-to-face meeting, your pet will likely be most eager to see the new mommy first, so have the proud papa hold the baby during this reunion. This might also be a perfect opportunity to bring home a new toy for your pet, to further mark the special day in a positive way.
It's commonly known that expecting mothers need to avoid the cat litter box as the feces can be dangerous, particularly if it's carrying a parasite called toxoplasma gondii, which can result in toxoplasmosis. While this disease does not pose a serious threat to adults because of their established immunity, children who are born with it or contract it as infants can suffer greatly, including hearing loss, mental retardation and blindness. Cat owners must continue to take precautions once the baby is born - always wear gloves when changing the litter, wash hands thoroughly and, of course, always keep your baby away from the cat box. Also make sure you dispose of diapers in a pet-proof container - otherwise they could easily become a new play toy for your pet and make them sick or, at the very least, create a big mess!
Private Pet Time
Once the baby is born, it's particularly important to make time JUST for your pet every day, even if it's only a 15-minute play break, belly rub or one-on-one walk, sans the stroller. This will help curb jealousy and bad behaviors that could come as a result. And remember above all, positive reinforcement goes a long way - praise your pet each and every time they exhibit good behavior with your baby (and on the flip side, correct any bad behaviors immediately). The repetition will catch on quickly, and condition your pet to recognize that minding its manners yields the most rewards!