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Beloved Pet, Meet Your New Best Friend

How to introduce a new baby or pet to your existing pet

When a new baby comes along, be prepared for some changes in your pet’s behavior. Any major life change requires an adjustment period, and pets are no different. We had our first grandchild in December and prepared Giorgio, our Maltipoo, by letting him smell the baby’s blanket before introducing her, as the treatment staff at West Russell Animal Hospital recommended. You can also apply baby lotion to your hands to familiarize your pet with the scent. Playing YouTube videos of a baby crying helped accustom our dog to the noise, but nothing prepared him for the unbridled joy he displayed when they finally met.

We knew the first encounters would be very exciting for Giorgio, so we were advised to introduce him in a controlled environment, leashed and at a distance. His good behavior was rewarded, and we gave him extra love and attention whenever the baby went down for a nap or went home. But if there’s anyone in your family who doesn’t like the idea of animals and babies, keep the interactions to a time when they aren’t around to escalate the situation.

Setting up the baby’s nursery early also allowed Giorgio to adjust to the change. Animals need consistency, and the slightest deviations can cause stress. When the room was ready, we used it as a play area before the baby came over so he would associate it with something positive. You could try wearing a baby carrier around the house to let your pet see that silhouette.

Our dog isn’t quite two years old, so he gets excited very easily. When the baby spent a weekend with us, Giorgio was alert to her every sound. If she stirred during the night, he went to the foot of our bed, peered into her crib, made sure she was okay, and looked to us for reassurance. However, older dogs may be indifferent whenever the baby is near and will simply walk away when they hear its cries.  

A few years back, we had a Rat Terrier who needed a companion, so we went to a local shelter and adopted a sweet Miniature Pinscher. We kept the dogs leashed around each other for a few days, fed them in different parts of the house, and watched as they slowly gravitated towards one another. When we rescued an adult cat a few years later, she was the boss from the moment she came home, and the dogs always kept their distance.

Cats need free reign so they can safely escape, if necessary, especially if another pet shows signs of aggression. Our dogs always responded to squeaky toys, and we could redirect their behavior by distracting them.

Your pet will pick up on your behavior. Calm invitations to interact and rewards for behaving gently around a baby or a new pet will make the transition easier.

Continue to provide them with mental and physical space to adjust, especially cats. Keep a gate in between baby and pets until you’re completely comfortable with their behavior. And no matter how gentle they are, always keep a watchful eye.